~ “The Living Word” Is Not a Metaphor ~
I don’t know if the French Government has done anything about it yet, but five years ago we could see the cluttered Gypsy trailer camps on the outskirts of Paris. Gypsies have long been a part of the European subculture. Recently their own way of life has been impacted by evangelical movements in many camps.
Begging still supplements the meager income of these transient families. But unlike beggars who sit silently in American cities, many European counterparts provide a service in return for alms. Children, for example, jump on and off the Paris metro (subway) with their accordions and skillfully play traditional Parisian melodies, walking the aisles. Most riders would avoid eye contact and wear a scowl on their lips, obviously annoyed. Some, mostly the tourists, would look charmed, as though this was part of their tour package. An occasional camera would flash, of course, for a trip souvenir. Once in a while I would recognize that unmistakable but hard to describe look of Christ on the face of an almsgiver. (I would typically be more interested in the responses of the passengers to the Gypsy children than in the children themselves.) I believe these few almsgivers would see the face of a hungry Christ in those children, wooing their caring attention with music.
The prophet Isaiah talks about God writing His words on the hearts of people. These words are invisible to those who cannot read hearts. The Bible is still the top-selling book in the US, but probably one of the least read. It’s probably at the bottom of the least read books when we factor in the hearts along with the eyes of people who own them. People who don’t see the face of Christ in others cannot be expected to see Him in the print of Bibles.
Children of God are born from those words in the sacred texts (1 Peter 1:22-25). Those words are described as literally alive, active, and able to cut “as deep as the place where soul and spirit meet,” with greater sharpness than a two-edged sword (Hebrews 4:12). In those words are “God’s power of redemption” (Romans 1:16). God proclaims “my word that goes out from my mouth will not return empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11).
Such incredible words of manifest power! So how can so many people turn to a page and start reading, for instance, “In the beginning was the Word. The Word was with God and the Word was God…” and immediately start to get bored? How can the printed word be literally alive and piercing?
The print or sound of the words is not what infuses the soul with Spirit. Were it so, the biblical text would be magical, not spiritual. That’s the grave mistake of fads that appeal to the impatient and demanding ego, like saying the “prayer of Jabez” every day for a monthly incantation to get what you decided God wants to give you. Same with those who repeat the “Lord’s Prayer” at rapid speed without reverent pauses for thought. The lips are on automatic pilot while the heart is no where near the Holy of Holies and the mind is bored. There is no magic and no power of any kind except to induce sleep or maybe provide a vague religious sense of doing some kind of punitive but redeeming penance. Talk about using God’s holy name in vain!
Oneness with God or unity of Spirit mentioned so often by Christ (John 17) in both His discourses and prayers is vital for life and a result of sanctification. Jesus also taught how ugly and dangerous biblical scholarship without personal sanctification can be, using the biblical scribes and Pharisees as prime examples.
Exegesis is the method of extracting meaning from Scripture. With the dawning of the Renaissance era and the slow birth of a deep division between science and spirituality, rationalism and mysticism, biblical exegesis turned into a science that is stubbornly entrenched today. An unfortunate, no, devastating effect was having the face of Christ dissected so we no longer encounter Him in the flesh in the words of Scripture. All the words in the sacred texts, when compressed, come into one: the Word – “through Whom all things were made and in Whom all things consist.”
This is what Christ meant when He explained He did not come to destroy or nullify the law or sacred texts, but to fulfill them. The Word of God, Christ, is the totality of Scripture. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul talks about the veil that covers the minds of those who read the books of Moses. “But whenever a person turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. This Lord is Spirit. Wherever the Lord’s Spirit is, there is freedom. As all of us reflect the Lord’s glory with faces that are not covered with veils, we are being changed into his image with ever-increasing glory. This comes from the Lord, who is Spirit” (2 Corinthians 3:16-18).
Therefore, modern exegesis will not open the life of the Scriptures to us. They will remain incomprehensible, boring, or even offensive. They will remain as dead as the ink on the page. The greatest commandment to love God with our total heart, mind and strength is not for God’s sake, but ours.
Witnessing or feeling love is awesome and powerful. Christ can only be understood in terms of Incarnate Love. “For God so loved the world that He sent His only-begotten Son…” The Word became flesh and the Word remains with us in Spirit and in flesh...in the tangibly spiritual sacraments and in Scripture, whose words are "alive and active.”
Exegesis must be contemplative, just as love is. We are constantly holding our loved ones in our hearts and minds. We even talk to them when they are not physically near us as though they were. Jesus was in love with the Father, so the two Persons communed together always, and in solitude on Jesus’ customary all night prayer vigils. Prayer is presence, is communion; it is flesh on words of spirit; it is love and power.
Although many little kids threaten to kill themselves by holding their breath when they don’t get their way, none ever die. You must breathe. You cannot overcome the need or pressure to breathe by will power. And we must commune with our loved ones, if only in spirit. And we must pray. The Psalms and other Scriptural texts call the animals and plants to prayer, encouraging even the mountains to praise God. Paul writes that even the creation waits anxiously for the fullness of redemption. I do not believe, in this case, it is a matter of poetic license, but reality.
Though we must breathe, we can and often do breathe improperly…half breaths, shallow breaths, toxic breaths. Then the body is tired, sluggish, not fully infused with life and vitality. And many pray the same way; many read the Scriptures the same way. The spirit than just limps along, its devotion lukewarm, if it can be felt at all.
Love transcends mood and will. Tired or energetic, sickly or healthy, motivated or uninterested, we will still tend to our loved ones, feeding, sheltering, nurturing them and offering ourselves in sacrificial thanks.
Likewise we commune with our Beloved Lord whatever the mood or circumstance. We consume His words in Scripture out of love, not obligation or for a payment of a blessing or reward or in bribe for a favor. We pray His words. We contemplate them. We dwell for hours on perhaps two sentences. The longer we contemplate, we commune in silence, we pause to listen, the more unfathomable the sacred words become. We grow and they, the live and active words, grow with us. We contemplate the sacred passage for the thousandth time and it is still fresh with nurturing life. It keeps teaching.
Our faith, “the substance of things not visible,” then incarnates, becoming flesh like Christ did. Faith manifested in flesh moves mountains and redeems our souls, making us one with our All, our Love, our God.
John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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Weekly Reflections © August 10, 2002
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