On that day the table was rustic, rough hewn
in a Texas pub made to look like England you asked
“what are you passionate about?”
I was surprised, slow to answer.
On this day the answers hid beneath our covers
shouted “boo!” at me and jumped
from the van, eager to fill the bag and box you tenderly
prepared between “Arthur” and breakfast, running to gather
paper expressions of love in containers made by love.
We sit at table still.
Conference table by morning, dinner table by night
and I hear your question again and look at you and
know my answer without hesitation.
Friday, February 10, 2006
I’m a lousy eater. It’s true in the most obvious and plain sense conveyed by those words. My eating habits were formed in the south. I love anything fried, lots of carbs. Gravy can be appropriately slathered on just about anything – especially biscuits. If it’s not good for me, I probably love it.
Eugene Peterson has helped me see that I don’t do much better when it comes to the Bible. His recent release, Eat This Book, seizes upon an image used in scripture for taking in the word of God. The prophet Ezekiel stands out among those who were commanded to “eat” God’s word. God’s call to Ezekiel involved a vision – a hand outstretched, holding a scroll. The Lord commands Ezekiel, “eat whatever you find here. Eat this scroll and go speak to the house of Israel” (Ezekiel 3:1-3).
Peterson explores this metaphor thoroughly – literally chews it up. To read the book is to actually observe him doing the very thing he’s writing about.
I love the book, but I come away knowing I’m a lousy eater. Too often, I deal with scripture like I deal with meals. I eat on the run. I eat late when I’m tired. I eat the fast stuff as much or more than I eat something carefully prepared. I gravitate toward certain things.
Listening to Peterson is like having a doctor tell me some really bad news about stuff that’s collecting in my veins, conspiring to keep me from ever meeting my grandchildren or seeing my kids get out of college. Any idea I might have had about things not really being quite that bad in my scripture diet (after all, I’m a pastor!) was dispelled when my bible reading plan took me through Exodus – right at the same time I’m getting the tough reality check from Peterson.
When I started reading the last half of Exodus I could sense the resistance within myself. This is where God gives Moses instructions for building the ark of the covenant, the tabernacle, the furnishings for the tabernacle, the priests’ garments, on and on. It’s excruciating. It’s tedious. It raised my sympathy (only a little) for my six year old daughter who refuses to eat a green vegetable.
But there in the middle of what seemed to be tasteless and bland, I found something delicious. It’s quietly present in the text, not put out on display. It is assumed in the course of the story. I found in Exodus the essence of what is often called “the Christian life.” As people are bringing supplies and offerings to accomplish all this tedious work we read “all the men and women, the people of Israel, whose heart moved them to bring anything for the work the Lord had commanded by Moses to be done brought it as a freewill offering to the Lord” (Exodus 35:29 ESV).
They did what was commanded. They did it because their hearts moved them. God's command and heart's inclination, perfectly wed. When these things are not held and joined together we get a sick spirituality: a spirituality of raw compliance with what God commands, void of heart and passion and joy in obedience; or we get a spirituality defined by whatever our hearts want – which changes regularly, roaming and restless. To live life well before God and with God is to live in such a way that God’s commands and the inclinations of my heart are joined.
The proximity or distance between God’s command and heart’s inclination varies almost daily it seems. We spend a lifetime trying to join them consistently in our living. In Exodus it appears effortless, at least for that season. Israel had a hard time with this too, and the Hebrew scriptures describe this in all its sordid detail.
But I’ve learned something about eating well. Don’t skip things in order to get to the “good parts.” Eat a little slower. You never know where you’ll find the delicacies God has for those who can come to the table and stay a while.