Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Reading the Bible with My Kids

We started reading the first book of the Bible, Genesis, with our kids this month. Up until now, besides praying with them and the occasional aside about God's love and being kind and other such directives throughout the day, we've left the Bible up to their Sunday school classes. Illustrated pictures and crafts are easier to handle, and really, I don't think our kids were ready to hear and make any sense out of the Bible. Now that we've moved and aren't part of a traditional church currently, I felt like we should be doing something.

I also read Life Together by Dietrich Bonhoeffer to kick off the new year with some what I assumed would be butt-kicking spiritual writing, and I was right on that part. I didn't expect the how-tos of living in community to be as direct about daily readings with your family, even with young children. If you are looking for a simple, clear and inspiring account of what Christian community can look like and how to get there, read Life Together.

The trick with all things that seem clear and simple is implementation. "Love God and love one another" is so simple and yet here we are, wars, terrorism, greed, selfishness, murder, violence, etc.

I expected resistance from the kids and instead found anticipation. At dinner time, they remind me that we haven't read from the Bible yet today, and so I open it up and dive in.

The strangest truths come out of my mouth as I'm reading. Not so much the text itself, although they are fascinated by it, but my midrash of it. Beyond just reading what is on the page, midrash is a practice in Judaism of interpreting and analyzing the text, filling in the gaps where details are only hinted at. For instance, one might extrapolate "the beasts of the field and the birds of the air" to include the wallaby and the peacock, the platypus and the jellyfish.

We are only four chapters in to Genesis, and a lot has happened already. There was creation, to start. That was something. Then you've got the temptation and deception in the garden, the discovery of shame, sex and babies, murder, lying, pride, arrogance, and bigamy. That's a lot going on up in here. Without any kind of guidance or extrapolation, how are they to know what to take away from this book?

I've discovered by reading this to them for the first time a renewed energy and excitement over biblical texts. I am remembering why I read the Bible, how this book is sacred because it tells us about God's faithfulness even when we royally screw up. In this way, the bulk of the Bible is not "Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth," but one of the biggest soap operas of all time interwoven with the most faithful and true love story in history.

I tell my kids, "Every time we read the Bible, God's spirit speaks a new truth or conviction into the heart of the listener." We are talking about reading the Bible over ice cream at Sweet Henrie's. "It's the only book I read over and over again."

It is a living and breathing book because we are inhaling and exhaling it together with the Holy Spirit, bringing new human knowledge and information from all across the universe to expand upon a text that was written thousands of years ago. This combination of general revelation and divine revelation expand awe and wonder rather than deflate it. The narratives and poetry teach us how God relates to us and how we can relate to him. It gives us a common reference point in a world of stories, all of which seem to me to be mini-gospels, mini-Bibles of people pursuing truth, goodness, and beauty in its many colors and iterations against a backdrop of darkness.

I tend to find slivers of God in everything, even when the other person didn't intend for him to show up. We are walking Bibles with our own bruises and injustices, arrogance and pride, our own stories of how God has intersected our lives and when we have heard him and when we have not and when we've outright ignored him. The Bible gives us access to common stories across the ages we can relate to (or not relate to) in order to see God's grace.

These strange truths leak out as we're reading stories that are on the page confusing and odd, but I have the benefit of decades over my kids, years spent reading and being taught by others, and so I can explain bigamy in the Bible. I can talk about cultural differences. I can show them God's protection and provision over Adam and Eve and Cain and beyond. I can talk about how just like in science our understanding and knowledge of God is an ever-expanding universe of detail and depth and size, and even in our sacred texts we can see our own knowledge of God unfolding. It isn't God but our understanding of God that unfolds, like a flower bud, over these thousands of years.

Yeah, I've imparted all of this wisdom on my kids four chapters into Genesis.

Their journey is just beginning, their capacity for understanding is just opening, and I am excited to be a part of that. I expect they will spin their own midrash in our readings and reveal other truths to me as well so that we can all grow together. This coupling of knowledge and wonder, this life together, it is wonderful.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

The Book of Knowledge and Wonder

When Steven Harvey was in his thirties, his grandmother gave him letters his own mother had written between 1945 and 1960. It wasn't until Steve turned 61 that he began to read the letters of his mother, who had committed suicide April 6, 1961, when Steve was eleven.

Most of Steve's memories of his mother were obliterated in her death, though some survived--dark, haunting memories that connected him only to the fact that she was gone, a shadow in his past. "Her suicide exploded in my life like the flash of a camera at close range, darkening everything around me and casting me into blindness, and when the light returned she was gone. She did not fade, or slowly walk away, or whisper goodbye. She was there and then she was not, and there was no getting her back. Ever."

Except there are these letters. "And then, when I was old enough to absorb the blows, I sat down with the letters, boxes of them, and attending to her voice over the course of several weeks, my memories, lying like ashes in me, were sparked. ... The letters unburied our past together."

Steve's memoir maneuvers through these letters, his own memories of his childhood, and what he knows now, decades later, about his family. Intertwined are excerpts from The Book of Knowledge, "ten hefty volumes bound in maroon leather each filled with questions from 'The Department of Wonder,'" which his parents had bought when Steve was three. The excerpts and their interaction with Steve's mother's life and death resonate together, unfolding the power of knowledge to bring understanding to the world while leaving space for the awe and wonder that keep the world precariously balanced. It is through exploring both the written recording of his mother's voice and the excerpts of The Book of Knowledge that Steve is able to discover his mother.

This memoir is a kind of resurrection, far more than just a suicide story. It is an effort to know someone deeply, and any time we seek to truly know someone, we almost can't help but find compassion, love, empathy, and intimacy with that person, discovering the ways we are similar, the ways we differ, and the powerful influence we have on each other.

While reading one particular letter, a memory returns to Steve of making animal shadows on the wall with his parents. Steve tries it again, decades later:

"Sometimes I forget that my mother gave me more than this handful of shadows I carry around in my genetic predisposition to dreams and nightmares, but this little trick of wings on the wall reminds me that the debt for much of who I am now runs deep in my childhood. I raise my hands so that the shadow will ascend the wall, but when I lift them to eye level it is my own hands I see, not the shadows, with thumbs linked, though the shadow brought them to light for me, and the wonder is that they are her hands, alive now in mine."

The Book of Knowledge and Wonder is not just a suicide story. It is a story of the power of knowledge to amplify wonder. It is a story of pursuing, and finding, love, where only shadows were thought to dwell. It is a beautiful story.

Sunday, January 4, 2015

Goals and Resolutions in 2015

Given the new job/new house/new routine thing that transpired in 2014 and the lingering sinus congestion that is fogging up my head, my resolution/goal list for 2015 is feeling a bit unambitious and uninspired. However, there are a few things I know I want to aim for in 2015.

New Year's Resolutions 2015:
  • Read or listen to 12 books (I did it in 2014, I bet I can do it again in 2015.)
  • Give thanks and pray daily, find a study or routine to revitalize spiritual life
  • Finish my MFA (August 2015, baby!)
  • Start a garden at the Copley house
  • Read books 5 and 6 of the Harry Potter series with Lydia (Maybe 7? Dare I think we could finish those massive books together this year?)
  • Restart biweekly date night with Brandon
  • Establish an exercise routine in the new schedule - at least two days a week of some kind of intentional fitness activity
  • Write something. Anything. Whenever I can jam it in.
New Year's Hopes for 2015: These are things that are almost entirely out of my control but what I would love to see happen this year.
  • Sell the Ashland house
  • Get an agent or editor to love my book
Those aren't preposterous, right? It could happen.

A Look Back:

2014: Resolution Time! I failed at the blogging goal, but everything else, hurrah! Check marks!
2013: Resolutions - Walk Instead of Run
2012: My Thirtieth Year
2011: Harry and Henry
2010: Key West Bound and Lydia-isms
2009: Happy New Year