I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the disconnect between our public posturing as Christians and our actual behavior. I wrote last week about the difference between talking tough about sin in our public gestures and actually having tough conversations about our own sin in accountable relationships. Well today I’m confronted by the gap between the way I talk about reading the Bible and what really happens when I read it. Or at least today when I read all 8 of the weekly and daily Lectionary passages (Old Testament, Psalm, gospel, and epistle for each), God didn’t give me a word in any of them and that makes me doubt not God’s existence per se but whether I have the right expectations for what His book actually does.
I really want all the stuff I say about the mystical encounters I’ve had with the Bible to be true. But today I read about David’s battle with Absalom, a woman with a crooked back who Jesus healed, the difference between Mt. Sinai and Mt. Zion in Hebrews 12, Jeremiah’s call to be a prophet, a psalm recounting Israel’s deliverance from Egypt, and several other things, and there wasn’t a word for me in any of it. And when I have experiences like this, it always makes me wonder if on other days, I was just under some kind of psychological self-hypnosis when I claimed to be hearing a living God speak directly to me in specific verses as opposed to just reading words in a book that God may have inspired long
ago but doesn’t inhabit in the way that I want to believe He does.
How much of what I write and claim about God breathing into us through His word and so forth is just stuff that sounds beautiful to me so I go with it whether or not it measures up to my actual experience? I don’t want to think that’s all I’m doing. But will the details of David’s battle with Absalom ever jump out at me with some kind of mystical truth that’s relevant to my life? If the Bible works as Augustine taught me that it does, then David’s battlefield choices should be able to speak some kind of truth into my life today, shouldn’t they?
When I first read the story of Jeremiah’s call in seminary, it was very huge to hear God say to Jeremiah, “Do not say you are only a child. You will go wherever I send you and say what I command you to speak. Do not be afraid of anyone for I am with you.” I’ve often related to Jeremiah in terms of my insecurity and also my sense that God has commanded me to be a prophet and will not let me humble myself out of it. But today it somehow felt contrived to say that Jeremiah 1 was God’s word for me today. It would have been me picking it out as opposed to the experience I think I’ve had before where a verse chooses me while I’m reading it.
Am I expecting the Bible and my feelings to interact in a way that is unrealistic? Do I say on days like today when there isn’t a word from God that I’m just in the wilderness and the purpose is to make me thirst more deeply like a famished deer searching desperately for some kind of stream in the desert? I’ve already been in a bit of a wilderness. Things at Wild Goose did not go as I hoped at least in terms of my music, I haven’t been preaching well the last few weeks, I’m terrified of the immense beast of my ordination process that I face over the next few months, I’m questioning my call to ministry.
With the wilderness I’m walking through, I really wanted a specific word from the Lord to grab onto, and I didn’t get one, at least not from the Lectionary scripture readings. But then I came out to this waterfall at Scott’s Run off of the Potomac. Somehow getting in the cool water made me feel completely refreshed and renewed even though nothing had been resolved. And that got me thinking about the nature of baptism and the way that I remember reading in an ancient text on baptism that the water should be as cold as possible. Ever since my family spent the summer in Finland in 1991 in a house with a sauna near arctic lakes, I have been infatuated with the purge that I feel in extreme temperatures.
It has felt like a religious ritual almost: my hot baths in the evening, sitting in the sauna after a workout, looking for cold waterfalls to immerse myself in. But it feels like a cheapo “spiritual but not religious” kind of spirituality, no more legitimately edifying than getting a manicure or something similar that might be advertised as a way to “pamper yourself.”
And yet I somehow want to call it “remembering my baptism” because when I scamper over the slippery rocks to get to where the water pounds on my head when nobody else is around and it’s just me listening to creation talk, I feel like a little boy playing with his Father in the backyard. Something in the water speaks delight to me. Something in the sound of it talks of God’s abundance and goodness (“My cup runs over”). The water never stops coming! Is that me just making up poetic nonsense or is God actually speaking love to me? I can’t say for sure but I’ve decided to go with it.