The term “exegetical” means to pull out the original meaning from a text. Given that, exegetical methods are techniques that help one properly pull out the text’s meaning in its original context. These methods include grammatical analysis, textual variance, redaction criticism and historical analysis. The aim of indoctrinating one in these methods is that it helps illuminate understanding of the text.
This summer I took an exegetical methods class and most of the time it felt like intellectual boot camp. I spent hours each week doing tedious technical assignments that taught me these various methods so that at the end of the quarter I could combine the methods for comprehensive analysis. Many times I questioned why I was exerting the time and energy to pour over differences in the synoptic gospels in Greek and dissecting passages of Paul. But as I questioned my efforts, an interesting awareness floated to the surface like clotted cream that was in addition to my increased understanding of scripture.
It appeared exegetical methods was teaching me some techniques for my own writing. As I examined how each Gospel writer chose to shape events of Jesus’ ministry to communicate a specific theological viewpoint to a particular audience, I began to think about my own redaction process when I write. As I currently write a book myself, I have excess chronicles and data which I can only use if it serves to communicate my main points and to assist my audience in the understanding of them. Although creative, it is a highly technical and tedious process to write a book that requires the same discipline as the scholar. It also requires an enormous amount of patience. Like the weekly assignments I did for exegetical methods, each chapter I work on is its own “homework” assignment. Often, the material feels fragmented and inaccurate yet I have to trust that I will eventually be able to string all the components together to create a document that is accurate and true to the context of my ideas and vision.
I remember once reading that Steve Jobs dropped out of Reed College and decided to audit classes instead. He stumbled into a calligraphy class where he was exposed to fonts that he later incorporated into Apple software. It is so interesting how things that seem random and not connected to one aspect of our lives are in actuality deeply interconnected.
Is learning to study scripture ever a waste of time in terms of our spiritual development? No. Nonetheless, this summer I questioned my time spent in exegetical methods and whether it was interfering with my “writing” time. Who would have thought that exegetical methods would actually be expediting the writing of my book? All things do indeed work for our good…
Now if only Hebrew will do the same…
Today I went surfing and did rather terribly. My timing was all off, I was pearling and a mess. Turning to a friend, I said, “What am I doing wrong?” “You’re paddling too hard.” Okay. That made sense. For the last month or so I have been surfing on a shorter board than my own. In order to catch a wave on a shorter board you have to paddle harder but today I was back on my 9 ft. Heeding the advice, I stopped paddling so hard and immediately caught a wave.
I wonder how much we get in our own way. Why was it so easy to catch a wave doing so much less?
I also wonder why I paddle so hard through life forgetting that God is the wave not me.
“The Mighty Being is awake and doth with His eternal motion make, a sound like thunder, everlastingly.” Wordsworth
Last night Rachel Maddow interviewed past president Jimmy Carter, which I found to be a breath of fresh air and sanity in our modern political circus. A number of things about the interview struck me but what stood out most was that Carter came from an era when politicians referred to their running mates as “my distinguished opponent” with some modicum of respect. I actually remember those days. I was a little tyke but I remember when the men in suits at the podium acted like human beings even if they looked mildly annoyed with one another. Yes, kids pick up on more than we give them credit for.
It was also astonishing to hear that in both of his campaigns (and the campaigns of his “distinguished opponents”) the only money raised for the campaigns came from the little box tax payers checked off if they wanted to donate $2-$3 dollars to the presidential campaign fund. There was no outside money raised in those days.
When I was a little girl I watched movies and television shows from the 50’s and wished things were like they were on “Happy Days” with the Fonz. I had an overly simplistic view of life and figured those days must have been better than the 70’s, the decade of my childhood. Now I watch films and shows from the 70’s and think, “Things were so much simpler back then.”
Nostalgia is a slippery slope. However, I acknowledge that politics has changed for the worse. The horrendous bipartisan hostility that currently exists, not only in government but in the general public, is destroying our nation. In last night’s interview Carter said that during his administration people voted against their party lines all the time.
I remember those times. I also remember being in high school classes where everyone had to argue both sides of gun control bills and abortion legislation. Believe it or not, my peers and I could present intellectual positions for both sides regardless of our inner convictions and we could do it without clobbering anyone.
My aunt lives in Colonial Williamsburg. Recently she said that if our founding fathers were alive they would be rolling over in their graves at the way we conduct ourselves. Despite disagreements, the Colonists were able to found a nation, draft up a Constitution and sign a Declaration of Independence.
As the interview came to a close, Maddow asked Carter his thoughts about the role of religion in political platforms. Carter, who is a very devout Christian claimed that it is unconstitutional to keep anyone out of politics based on his or her religious beliefs and that this goes counter to the way our government was designed. We are not a Christian nation.
In the last year I have been to New Mexico, Arizona 2x, Seattle 2x, San Jose 2x, Colorado, Washington D.C., Maryland, Virginia 2x, Israel, Jordan and now Iowa. And although I love to travel, the more I do I realize how much I adore San Diego, which is where I live. In fact, I’ve grown increasingly sentimental about the place. I don’t know if this is because of my recent travel or age or both but I’m beginning to wonder if I’ll ever want to move away from here despite feeling like a tumble weed most of my life.
When I was growing up I went through a phase where I was real snobby and thought San Diego was inferior to “cultured” cities. By the time I was in high school I wanted San Diego to be Paris or London or New York and of course it wasn’t. Yet I get a little irritated with folks now when I hear people say that San Diego has “no culture”, “no intellectuals” and “unfriendly people.” Okay. I agree that Southern California lacks some of the solid qualities of other regions. We have people here more into plastic surgery and highlights than the New York Times, nature, faith or philanthropy. We also have a host of economic problems and our public schools and libraries are going to pot. However, I know many people who are cultured, intellectual and kind. They just happen to like warm weather and have moved here.
At the end of the day though I think I’m feeling increasingly attached to San Diego because this is where I grew up and both of my parents are dead. Therefore it is the geography and culture here that ties me to any sense of family the same way Wisconsin will always remind me of my grandparents with whom I spent my summers. I find it astonishing how certain places can connect us to our memories; how simply the smell of Eucalyptus and jasmine can transport me to my childhood home. Below is a picture of my mother and I when my parents lived in a modest little apartment so indicative of those found in Southern California. My dad had just started his law practice and my mom took care of me when not working at San Diego state. I grew up around swimming pools and later we had one. This is why I am now part fish.
San Diego is known as America’s Finest City and both of my parents adored the place. I guess for all my differences between my parents and I (and there were many), I carry their spirits in my love of this town. And when I’m on a plane making its dramatic descent into the San Diego airport where one can literarily reach out and touch the buildings and harbor, I know I’m home. Part of me feels five or six years old again waiting with excitement to see my mom and dad at the gate greeting me (in the days when visitors could be in all parts of the airport). As I gather my lap top bag and purse I remember the days when I traveled with a stuffed animal or doll and when my flight reading was Nancy Drew. I imagine my mom and dad and step-father and Rosy at the gate waiting for me and remember what it was like to be loved as a child.
I have a friend who was raised on the East coast but who now lives in Southern California. Like most transplants from the East coast or Midwest, he doesn’t think California has seasons. Granted, compared to places where there is predominant snow in the winter and red and gold on the trees in the fall, he is right. However, if you track the smells in the air, the degree of crispness at night and when certain flowers bloom, you have to acknowledge that Southern California does have seasons. They are just more subtle.
One point my friend makes though is that due to the vast amount of sunshine that drenches this region, we are not as prone to internal reflection or taking quiet time as people in other communities. On this I agree with him whole heartedly. In California there is an unspoken pressure to be outdoors and active. Every time the sun shines gloriously, it feels criminal to not be out enjoying it. Thus, people don’t sit around and read as many books as they might if they were caught in a blizzard with no where to go.
Now I personally need a lot of quiet time so the sunshine doesn’t keep me from taking it but I find on cloudy or rainy days, I give myself more permission to lie in bed all day reading. I also find I don’t have to make as many excuses for my behavior.
Seasons are important because they have different rhythms. Unfortunately though, we often don’t pay attention to them. I like to think about autumn though and what it means to harvest and prepare for winter. What it means to slow down and sleep and eat a little more. Here’s to what can come from a little reflection and tuning into Mother Nature and her seasons!
And now to watch a little football…
I once read a novel where the protagonist described her bed as her lover whom she longed to become one with on a routine basis. I remember busting out laughing because her imagery was so explicit and because anyone familiar with the rapture sleep can evoke would find her prose completely relatable. The author’s metaphor crossed my mind because it seems that during the last few days I’ve been having a menage a trois with my bed and my current novel.
Rather than debauchery though this has been more emblematic of a 72 hour sabbath that the Memorial Day weekend seems to have induced. Physical fatigue appears to have descended upon me leading me to a wonderful period of renewal once surrendering to it. I suddenly realized that it was time to let this field lay fallow at least for a few days.
So here’s to Sabbath. Seductive Sabbath that is so essential to our spiritual lives.