Between Two Worlds Day 24 (of 40)
I couldn’t believe the thought that came into my head this afternoon. Once it grabbed a few brain cells I couldn’t get rid of it. Carley had asked me to say more about preaching using the mystical lens. My Bible professors would either be rolling in their graves or it would quickly send them there if they heard me say this. But the thought that wouldn’t go away was, “Carley, I’ve gone to using the ‘crazy shit’ hermeneutic.”
Let me explain. No matter how you slice it there’s a lot of crazy stuff in the Bible–virgin births, burning bushes, seraphim and cherubin, people floating up into the sky, and corpses coming back to life. I have never taken the Bible very literally. Even in my early days of weak sophistication I didn’t know how to read these stories, but I also was skeptical enough to wonder about their factuality–which shouldn’t be surprising as I grew up with an engineering father.
Eventually my wondering gave way to more certainty as I began to read the Bible more metaphorically. That satisfied my rational side while also giving me a way to speak to the spiritual realities of our lives. No, Jonah wasn’t really swallowed by a whale, but who hasn’t experienced trying to run from God (or Life) only find that God has a way of marching you right back to where you started! That’s preachable!
Preaching metaphorically worked for me for a long time. I didn’t have to take texts literally in order to still ask the question, “What is God’s message to me and to us here?” It didn’t really matter whether I took the Bible at face value or read it metaphorically. The same question applied in both cases. But what both had in common was the belief that God was saying something to us through the text. I haven’t abandoned this, but it’s shifted.
A few years ago my basic question changed. I started asking, “What was the experience behind the text that inspired the writers to come up with a bunch of crazy shit?” In my early years the crazier the stuff the less believable it was. The more outlandish the claims (think of the six-winged winged dragons of Revelation) the more I had to dig to find the message in the writing. I found myself avoiding the crazier-sounding texts.
But about twenty years ago I had my first of a handful of mystical experiences–experiences where I got lost in nature, or an experience, or even another dimension. I have never been able to describe those experiences adequately. I am usually at a loss for words with regard to them. I know the feeling. I know it’s true, but finding the words to describe these rare occurrences is almost impossible.
The best I ever came up with was how I described an experience in Greece where I was climbing a mountain trying to outrace a nasty thunderstorm as the sun was disappearing. At one point I stopped as I rounded a switchback and the sunset looked at me directly and without words just said, “I am honoring you tonight. You are strong and beautiful.” I heard her silent voice clearly. Later as I wrote about it, all I could say was that the “sunset was bowing to me as much as I was bowing to her.” It makes no rational sense and trying to convince someone else that the sun actually singled me out to bow to me would be an exercise in futility. Yet no one will ever convince me otherwise that that night the sunset and I exchanged a knowing look. We were both beautiful and took a moment to acknowledge that and bow to each other.
I share this because those mystical experiences have changed me. I see in the Bible the same struggle to find words for an experience that isn’t really meant for words. How do you explain that in Jesus you actually see the face of God? How do you write about the fact that Jesus just keeps showing up even though he was certifiably dead?
More and more I don’t look for what God’s message is to us in a Biblical text. Rather I look for the mystical, God-experience that must have been there for those writers to write all this crazy shit. The crazier the writing the more I find myself digging and trying to unlock the experience behind the text like searching for hidden treasure. The crazier it is the more I am convinced that something mystical, miraculous, awe-inspiring, and life-altering has happened.
I am no longer satisfied with just saying, “Here is what God might be saying to us.” Now I want to use the preaching moment to give a little sample, a little taste, a small sip of God’s nectar and hope that they will beg for more, much more, much, much more.