Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Bible reading and fishing

I have tried to get into Joy Williams book, 99 Stories About God, several times. And I've given up. I was attracted by the title and I have liked others of William's short stories. This little book of the shortest of short stories proved nearly unknowable to me. I could read them but they seemed so obtuse I had no idea what they meant. After many attempts to get what she was saying I realized I was reading them wrong. I was reading them too fast, expecting them to give up their meaning in the time I had allotted to them. I was looking for information, a smart turn of phrase, instant wisdom. Something  profound communicated in 144 characters or less. Something I could smile over - that was good. A good use of my time invested in reading. In further -now slower readings, I have found associations I had missed. I saw things I passed over quickly since they did not give up their sense easily.

It's much like we read the Bible or don't. Recent surveys state an alarming drop in Bible reading among people who identify as Christians. Is that because we know what it says? Or, is it because it's too hard to get what the Bible is saying. We would rather have someone tell us what it means (we think we cannot get it if we have not had the proper training). The popular Christian view of God is One who reveals all God has to reveal in simple ways we can understand. Even though the disciples did not understand Jesus and no one else did either when he spoke in parables, and we still don't although we have lots of scholars to help us. There are lots of other stories in the Bible that are Williams - like. Jonah, for instance, a man swallowed by a big fish, or Adam and Eve, a couple that listens to a talking snake. The book of Proverbs is all short stories - parables - that are meant to be taken and "chewed over".  Meditated upon is what the early wisdom teachers said. Who has time to meditate any more? So much easier to take our news on Facebook.

Joy Williams stories are intended for meditation. Slow reading and thinking. Her stories like most of the Bible do not give up their meaning easily. The reader has to work on them, has to think, imagine, sit with them awhile. Enjoy them?

She has one story that baffled me. A noted humanist scholar was invited to give a talk on whether or not there was life on other planets. The humanist thought it was possible but believed a world devoid of human beings was not worth imagining.  Humans have the ability to appreciate beauty. After the talk, at lunch at a small, fine restaurant, he was served a speckled trout beautifully presented. From his plate he heard beautiful music faintly playing. Horrified, he jumped up, ran into the kitchen and attacked his waiter and the chef. Later, after he was taken to the psychiatric facility for observation he discovered no one appreciated his story of the beautiful singing trout. Williams concludes, "His ravings about the trout being no more appreciated than the ravings of any of the other lunatics there."

Perhaps, the reader of the Bible needs to appreciate the ways God chooses for revelation. Once Jesus got a lesson out of a fish's mouth. It can take some time to appreciate such things, however.