Saturday, January 31, 2009

You Are What You Eat

“I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’ So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter.” Revelation 10:9-10

What a weird passage! Whoever heard of eating a scroll, let alone a book? That doesn’t sound very healthy. It could give one indigestion—which, in this case, apparently happened.
It’s a strange passage, all right, but that’s what also grabs our attention. What if the Bible is more than “mere words”—inked symbols on a flat page? What if there is a power in this Book that lays hold of us, feeds us, and makes us new?

While on a brief retreat I recently read a splendid little volume that I heartily commend to you, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene Peterson (2006, Eerdmans). Peterson reminds his readers that in the Hebrew language of the Old Testament the word hagah, often translated “meditate,” can also mean “growl.” The growling in question is what a lion does while gnawing on its prey (those of us who’ve been around farm cats have heard that growling when there is competition at the dinner bowl!)

Peterson invites his readers to imagine what it would be like to “gnaw” on the scriptures, to ingest and digest them into our lives. He writes:

Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the holy community as food nurtures the human body. Christians don’t simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father, feet washed in company with the Son. (p. 18)

When we meditate/gnaw on the Word in this fashion, two things invariably happen. There will be sweetness in our mouths. The Book of Faith is “delicious.” It perks us up, fires our imaginations, sets us free, moves us out. This is “good stuff, Maynard” (remember that old Malt-O-Meal TV commercial?)

But this Word also will unsettle us. In Revelation 10 the scroll tasted sweet on the lips, but it was bitter in the stomach. Holy heartburn! We know that there are “hard passages” in the Bible, verses that rub us raw. But it’s bigger than that. The Bible itself is designed to get under our skin, kill the rebel in us, and raise up the faithful follower whom Jesus is always calling forth. Again, in the words of Eugene Peterson

This book makes us participants in the world of God’s being and action; but we don’t participate on our own terms. We don’t get to make up the plot or decide what character we will be. This book has generative power; things happen to us as we let the text call forth, stimulate, rebuke, prune us. We don’t end up the same.
Eat this book but also have a well-stocked cupboard of Alka-Seltzer and Pepto-Bismol at hand. (p. 66)

All of this will be “front and center” as our synod gathers in assembly, May 16-17 at Concordia College in Moorhead. Our theme will be You Are What You Eat, and our focus will be on the ELCA Book of Faith Initiative. Our worship, our speakers (Dr. Diane Jacobson and Dr. Mark Vitalis Hoffman), our learning opportunities, our deliberations, and our fellowship time together will all center us in God’s barrier-breaking, future-opening Word. Please consider this issue of our synod’s supplement to The Lutheran as the appetizer for our synod’s assembly as well as our ongoing engagement with the Book of Faith Initiative. Bon appétit!

Blessed Lord God, you have caused the holy scriptures to be written for the nourishment of your people. Grant that we may hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that, comforted by your promises, we may embrace and forever hold fast to the hope of eternal life, which you have given us in Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord. Amen. (ELW, p. 72)

Lawrence R. Wohlrabe
Bishop, Northwestern Minnesota Synod
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America
God’s work. Our hands.

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