Thursday, April 21, 2016

A "Narrative" Approach to Scripture

Everyone is connected to multiple "narratives" in our lives: the family narrative - who our parents are or were, where they came from, what they did and what kind of personalities they had; the connected national narrative - how the family narrative weaves into the historic narrative of our country; and then multiple narratives having to do with religion, ethnicity, race. These narratives shape our identities in very profound ways.

I don't think I realized when I started reading the Bible how important it would be in connecting me with yet another larger narrative, a narrative of people seeking to connect themselves to God, to see their lives as part of an overarching and deeply meaningful plan. I started reading it when I was about 9 years old after deciding that it probably was the most important piece of literature ever written or rather assembled. I always knew it was not the work of one author. It was a hodgepodge of pieces transmitted orally for centuries, then written down and preserved and added to. After starting out on the King James version my grandfather got for me as a child, I soon put it down for years. Then, when I was 23 and very much an atheist and political activist, returning to college to get a Master's degree in English at UNC, Chapel Hill, I bought a beautiful Jerusalem Bible. It was in fact the first thing I bought when I went to Chapel Hill. Again, I started reading it from page one and read it through as if it were a novel. It didn't bring me back into the Church I had briefly joined and then left in 1964. But I loved it as literature, mythology, poetry and history.

Some thirteen years later, after I'd gotten my Masters, been married, had children and then divorced, I started reading it again; but this time I was in a different, more open state of mind. And I was reading it along with the writing of early Friends' (Quakers') accounts of their conversion experiences and realized that they saw in the Scripture narrative an array of "types" or "figures" that not only led through the Old Covenant to the New Covenant in Christ, but also reflected an interior spiritual experience that was archetypal in many ways.  It told of the whole journey of "man" (all of us) from creation through sin, to a spiritual exodus through a massive desert, guided by rules or law, through more shallowness, unfaithfulness and conflict to a place of rest and peace. Virtually every early Quaker wrote of the journey through the various "ministrations" of God to a resting place "in Christ," in his resurrection. These early Friends were not called "narrative theologians" - that term was not yet in the landscape of religious discussion - but they were.  Indeed the writers of Scripture and the apostles of Jesus were "narrative" theologians, seeing this story play out in the life, death and resurrection of their Lord.


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  2. G'morning Rene
    You write so clearly. I stumbled on your blog today while browsing and I need to spend time reflecting on spirituality. It's been so busy here the last year I've not given myself the time for reflection. Soon things will level out. Take care.....