Church wasn’t an option for me as a kid. If the doors were open, my family was there and I was in tow. VBS programs and Sunday School were part and parcel of church life during my childhood years. They were viewed by the church as formative in that they helped us youngsters ‘hide God’s Word in our heart.’ Memory verses were given and if we could cobble together the verse with some semblance of accuracy we were rewarded with some cheap trinket from the Christian bookstore.
As a teenager I was too old for VBS. I had graduated to adolescence, which meant youth group, Acquire the Fire, etc. Sunday School attendance continued to be mandatory. It was during my teenage years that it became clear that ‘hiding God’s Word in my heart’ was of utmost importance. Without arising daily to do my devotions (Evangelical-speak for fifteen minutes of Bible reading and a few moments of prayer), I was led to believe that my day and Christian witness would be in the toilet. The Christian school that I attended during my middle and high school years required that I take ‘Bible Class’–one of the main requirements being the memorization of lengthy scripture passages in old English, i.e., the King James Version of the Bible.
Not to be a braggart, but I became good at hiding God’s Word in my heart. Memorizing things came relatively easy for me. Getting up and reading a chapter out of my Bible, while at an inconvenient hour, was really no big deal. During that season of life and spiritual formation, I accumulated a lot of biblical knowledge. I learned not only the text, I learned some about the historical context in which the text was written. All of which ‘hid in my heart.’
The problem was that I had been taught to read, study and appreciate the Bible. Like my science book or multiplication tables it was something to be memorized. It was information that I would be graded on. And when you have been taught to read the Bible in preparation for a quiz or as something to check off your ‘growing Christian’ to-do list, it is hardly a transformative exercise. It is an exercise that yields information. Information that is hidden away, filed away in the recesses of one’s mind and heart. Information that is useful at quiz time, in ‘sword drills,’ in debates with ‘believers’ and ‘non-believers;’ but information that by-and-large is disconnected from daily life.
One of the presenters at the Missio Alliance gathering hit the nail on the head when he said,
“We don’t need to just read the Bible; we need to be shaped by the Bible.”
Of course that is easier said that done. If you’ve grown up reading the Bible for informational purposes–to have information in reserve so that it can be recalled should you be quizzed or need to win an argument–it is a struggle to quit hiding God’s Word in your heart and actually allow God’s Word to shape your life.
This is one of the areas where Evangelicals have largely missed the boat. In our ‘non-liturgical’ worship gatherings, we have opted for sermon series that are driven by felt needs and/or what the pastor would like to or is comfortable with preaching about. The lectionary, which most Evangelicals no precious little about, asks the Church to organize its life around various seasons–Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Pentecost, and Ordinary Time. These seasons, along with the Holy Days and the fasts and feasts, begin to give shape to our understanding of time. They become a means of ordering our lives around Scripture and the various aspects of the Christian story, rather than around cultural holidays and various ‘holy days’ that have been created by Hallmark in an effort to get us, the consumer, to buy the goods that they are selling.
The lectionary aside, there are of course spiritual disciplines that help to draw us into the story that is told in scripture and at the same time allow us to act out, rehearse and/or otherwise participate in the story.
I have benefited greatly as I’ve utilized the lectionary and the spiritual disciplines to help the information that I hid away as a youngster to become public, giving shape to my life and its rhythms. While I have come far on this journey, I still have a lot to learn. There is still a great deal of shaping that needs to occur in my life, which is why Christine Sine’s workshop on ‘Dirty Theology’ at the Missio Alliance gathering was so helpful and enlightening.
Christine’s thesis was that, “The disconnect between the story of creation and the story of God has damaged us immensely.” She went on to explain that we experience the story of God in the Bible and we experience it in the garden. (Christine argued that this is why the liturgical calendar reflects the seasons of the year.) It is her belief that,
The garden teaches us a great deal about the economy of God. Grow, eat, share. If you don’t share, the food spoils and becomes rotten… As we interact with the garden we begin to become the people that God has intended us to be… Every watering of garden is a baptism in and through which new life enters and breaks forth onto the scene.
I’ve been thinking about what Christine shared. Her words have relayed time and again as I planted my garden this year. Getting my hands dirty, pulling weeds, watering, and harvesting–there are so many lessons to learn while gardening. The lessons learned connect me with the biblical narrative, what Christine referred to as the story of God, but they aren’t lessons that are hidden away. They are embodied lessons. Lessons that shape my life, the rhythms of my day, the seasons of life.
O, that we would quit hiding God’s Word in our hearts and instead allow it to shape us, changing and transforming us, bringing forth new life.