Traveling the Text Part 2: The Daily Commute

Last month I began a series of posts on reading the Bible through the lens of various travel metaphors. You can read about Part 1here. I talked about the metaphor of flight and how, the advantages is that it enables you to make connections over long distances, you wouldn’t otherwise, and gives you a bird’s eye view of the big picture.

Fair enough, but flying over a place and seeing it from a plane window is different from going there. Unless you slow down and enter a place, you can’t say to have been there. Before our travels in the text grind to a halt (SPOILER: this is where I am heading) I wanted to look at another fast (though not nearly as fast) method of traveling the text: driving. This is the mode of travel that most of us use to get where we are going, most of the time. We drive to work in the morning, or catch a bus or train, in which case we are driven by someone else). We also use our cars to visit friends and family, take road trips, go to the grocery store and countless other ways in our day to day life. It used to be people drove for pleasure but now concerns about the impact of fossil fuel, and more pragmatically the cost, restricts how much we do that, unless our driving serves some other end. So without further ado let me offer some reflections on driving through the text:

  • Following a route or a map: Driving the text is what most of us do when we use a daily reading plan, lectionary or study guide in our engagement with scripture. There is a similarity here with the way drivers will consult maps, mapquest or their GPS to find the best route to take. Regardless of whether such tools are at your disposal, like most drivers your routes are constricted by the necessity of roadways (most of us can’t go offroading, and ditches and rails prevent our attempts).

    So it is for most of us, when we seek to travel the text in our daily lives. We have set routes laid out for us, or open to us as we seek to engage God’s word. This might be a personal rule of a chapter a day, a plan to read through the Bible in a year, daily readings from a devotional, or in-depth studies of a book of the Bible.Presently I am doing a through-the Bible plan which has me reading portions of the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms each day. Probably when I am finished this plan, I will go back to reading daily lectionary readings because I am craving a slightly slower reading pace. Using these guides are helpful if we want to travel the text well and get to our desired destination. This brings me to my second point.

  • People drive to get somewhere: This is true whether we are talking about getting to work each day, going to the grocery store or going home for the holidays. Most of the time, when people get behind the wheel of their car, they are trying to reach some sort of destination. At the very least, they are trying to get away from where they are!

    Reading the Bible is similarly a goal-oriented undertaking. We read for understanding. We read to know God better. We read to hear His voice. We read for transformation. Yes there are distractions that can cause us to break-down enroute, but reading with a purpose does help you get what you want out of it. I know I have read through the gospels with a green pen in hand underlining Jesus’s actions (as per a Dallas Willard suggestion), have tried to suss out the Spirit’s quiet role in different passages and have read hoping to hear God’s guidance. Does this mean every time I pick up a Bible I get what I want from the text? Nope, sometimes my daily readings don’t seem to address me or I don’t know what to do with them. However, I have found creating space through the practice of regular reading, allows God to show himself afresh to me. Thus having the purpose of regular communion with God in my daily reading takes me somewhere, even if I do not immediately see the fruits of such actions.

  • You must obey the rules of the road: If you do not yield, stop, merge, go the right direction in your automobile, you are going to die and it will likely really hurt. Road signs are placed there to help us navigate traffic, pay attention to other drivers and get us going in one piece.

    When we read the Bible, likewise we are constrained in our reading by paying attention to the road signs along the way. Your NIV Bible with the Faux pink leather did not fall into your hands for you to read into its pages anything you like. Rather it came from centuries of scholarship, translation, unearthed manuscripts and the churches theological reflection. Taking texts out of context and disregarding the ways in which they have been understood by readers for centuries, is to fail to properly read the road signs. At the very least, proceed with caution.

    So what are these road signs? For me, it means when I come to what seems like a new spiritual insight in the text, I ask myself, ‘how have others understood this text?’ This sends me to commentaries, theologians, church fathers, trusted mentors. I use their words as signs to see if I’m on the right track. Does that mean that I can’t be right while everyone else is wrong? Probably not, but I don’t think its likely. Paying attention to road signs means reading in community and it guards you from driving over a cliff

  • When you drive long distances you have to plan your stops
  • This point is more for the ‘road trip’ study of scripture than a daily commute. When you travel somewhere by car, you stop to see the sights, eat lunch, get gas. On a recent trip to Spokane, I found myself on a stretch of highway which was pretty barren. My gas gauge indicated I had slightly less than a quarter tank, and we began scanning maps to see where the best place to stop was, because if we didn’t stop in the right place at the right time, we could not keep going.

    So here is how I relate this to Bible reading. I know my Bible well enough to know where the beautiful vistas and challenging words are. I also know what sections cause me to feel dry (i.e. lists of buidling materials in Exodus, lists of names in Chronicles). If I hit those sections and run out of gas, I know its likely I won’t keep reading. So I have learned to plan it so when I hit a difficult and barren stretch of road, I can keep driving, making stop offs at places which are more breathtaking and nourishing. Here again a reading plan helps. If you are using a lectionary.

    What do you think? How else do we drive the text?

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