Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Exodus: a Companion for Bible Study Chapters 13-31

What a crash course! I realize now that the idea of teaching a three week Bible Study, though admirable and efficacious, should probably undertake a portion of scripture a little less dense and powerful than Exodus. Reviewing the outline, I realize that though I was able to cover the major points, a great deal of the experience of Israel in those first months/years of the period of transit in the wilderness just can't be summed up in 50 minutes.

For one thing, the imagery is too rich. The column of cloud/smoke by day, the pillar of fire by night. The way the passage through the Red Sea had the people of Israel walking through on dry land whilst the chariots of Pharaoh bogged down in muck and in that hindered state were consumed by the returning waters as the passage closed over their heads.

I was able to speak to the wonder of the manna, the water rising from the cleft in the rock and how the quails descended in order to give the people meat. I also spoke to the challenges of leadership Moses faced, attempting to be both prophet, tour guide and judge to the multitude until his father Jethro intervened. Finally, I was able to begin the discussion about how God, with the theophany at Sinai, began to both set forth a mediated relationship with the people of Israel and forge the new reality that Torah would be both guide and governor for human beings in relationship with the One who inhabits eternity.

Chiefly, I talked about the concept of midrash, and how narrative guides and governs our lives and gives us a sense that the past has meaning that can communicate to us ways to both experience the present as well as giving us the tools of perception and discernment we need to move forward into what is to come.

Midrash is, simply, the way stories get handed down. One person/group has an experience, that experience is communicated orally with interpretation to someone who was not present at the time; that narrative then travels down through the telling, gaining meaning and merit along the way. Eventually, that narrative might find its way into print, and if framed as an experience of the holy-might even become scripture. Of course, that transition takes thousands of years...but in that time the story is actually something that becomes both true, and truth, to people/groups who are heirs of the story in the first place.

Example: everyone has a family story that is told over and over during some holiday gathering. "Do you remember the time Uncle Ted has us all up to the lake, and Alice was fishing for the first time? She caught that HUGE fish and had to ask grandma Wilson to help her take it off the hook. Who would have guessed that she would eventually become a professional in the bass fishing circuit!" The meaning of the story is not just invested in what happened years ago at the lake "that one time." It is the foundation of a wider narrative experience and gives meaning to the way things are today. Alice fishes at a professional level, but her identity as someone who participates in that sport had go begin sometime-and so that story is told. Doesn't matter if you or I were there or not...what matters is that the narrative completes and forges meaning for Alice and those around her.

That happens at the meta-level for the Book of Exodus. There is the experience of the liberation from Egypt. There is the story of the passage of the people through the Red Sea. There is the witness of the people being cared for and given just enough for the day in the wilderness by God. There is God's response to the people's kvetch about being hungry, thirsty, worried, hot, tired and wondering what comes next. There is the determination of the way live should be lived in relationships we have with God and with our neighbors.

It really does boil down to the story we share, the thing we have in common. Our story.

No comments:

Post a Comment