Friday, July 30, 2010

Spiritual Hiccups - Still More on Holy Conversations

I once heard someone from the Alban Institute say that one of the problems mainline congregations have is, "People come to us looking for an experience of God, and we give them information about God."  On a day when the reading from Acts is the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, I wonder if the way we approach the Bible doesn't sometimes contribute to this problem.

When our primary concerns revolve around what the Bible says, whether it is historically true and so on, we are focusing on what information is contained in the Bible.  The problem with this is it seems to reduce the faith to knowing the right information.  But as the reading from Acts shows, even disciples who were taught personally by Jesus, who witnessed his ministry first hand and experienced his resurrection, were not able to be the Church until the Spirit lived in them.  The Apostle Paul spoke of something similar, of being in Christ and so something completely new.

How might we approach the Bible so that it could be an encounter with God rather than information about God?  Approaching Scripture as a conversation partner rather than a reference source may be a good start.  But we need to go further and realize that Scripture can speak to us beyond the words on the page, to expect that Scripture has more than information to impart.

Interest in "spirituality" has grown tremendously in recent years.  I believe that, in part, this arises out of the failure of informational approaches to the Bible.  Practices such as lectio divina, divine or spiritual reading, provide means of encountering the text rather than asking what information is there.  Scripture becomes a conversation or prayer partner in which God is experienced, in which new insights and guidance are found quite apart from what a casual reader of the text might see.  This is a rather different kind of knowing from the typical, Western, rational sort of knowing.  (A web search on dectio divina will provide you with numerous articles on it and suggestions for how to practice it.)

I could read every book ever written about a historical figure, be it George Washington, Alexander the Great, Amelia Earhart, or Jesus, but I will never actually know any of these people on the basis of this information.  Knowing about someone and knowing someone are very different things.  And I believe the Bible, set free from being a reference or history book, has the power to help us know God.

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