Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Journal Entry from the Past: The Challenge of Hearing the Scriptures in the Churches Today

Another journal entry: this one is from 11 Aug. 1997.  I'm commenting on Mary Oliver's poetry, with its constant intrusion of the surprising divine, and the occlusion of scripture for many us today who find more scriptural force, at times, in non-biblical sources (like Oliver's poetry, for me) than we do in the scriptures themselves.  In the Scriptures as they're handed and proclaimed to us by our churches, that is . . . . 

Here's my journal entry:

Mary Oliver, Blue Pastures (San Diego: Harcourt Brace, 1995):

So quickly, without a moment's warning, does the miraculous swerve and point to us, demanding that we be its willing servant (p. 29).

So many of Mary Oliver's poems turn on that sudden intrusion, that breathtaking entry in the most unexpected places, of the miraculous.  If Mary Oliver is scripture for me now (and she is, in key respects), then do her essays and poems point me to biblical scripture?  Why can I not read the latter and find the same nurture for my soul these days that I find in Mary Oliver, Rilke, Rumi, and other poets?

Well, because such unattractive, ugly men have made the bible their exclusive province and possession at this point in history, that I can't hear the text itself: their scowling, browbeating glares are all over it, when I open the scriptures and try to read.  And because my access to the bible has been for so long moralizing in the worst sense of that word.

That's how the bible's used, ultimately, by Southern evangelical churches, and to the extent that the American Catholic bishops have made common cause with those churches in the alliance that forms the religious right, it's increasingly how many American Catholics read the bible as well.  All the rest, the theology and salvation talk, is window dressing for the bourgeois morality they want to reinforce with biblical proof texts.  And is it really any different in evangelical churches outside the South?

Religion, the roots of religion, lie in art, drama, nature, poetry.  And art's about profligacy and excess, not bourgeois thrift and control.  It's about the sudden intrusion of the unexpected into our everyday lives.  It's about living in a way unimaginable to Western middle-class culture--even in its ludic postmodern phase.

The illustration for this posting is from the Academy of American Poets' photostream site at Flickr.

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