Wednesday, September 5, 2018

Proverbs: A Slow Reading


During my final year of seminary, I traveled back to Alabama during diocesan convention to interview with a few parishes. After attending convention and spending some time with rectors and delegations, I visited two parishes in the southern part of the diocese, including a Sunday-morning visit to the church where eventually I would be called as a curate. That trip was in the early spring, probably in February, just as Lent was starting. I had the chance to visit a Sunday school class that met in the chapel and that was taught by the organist. I had never known an organist who taught Sunday school, and I was delighted to sit in on his lesson on Proverbs. I can't remember exactly what part of Proverbs we were covering, but I do remember that, when I was ordained and arrived in the parish four months later, he was still in Proverbs and had only made it a chapter or two further along. Astonished, I asked my new boss how long that class had been going on, and he told me that he thought the Proverbs study was in its second or third year.

This Sunday, our Track 1 reading from Proverbs is short. It is only six verses, and the lesson will be finished almost as soon as the reader begins it. This week, I've had a chance to read those verses a few times, and each time I'm drawn deeper and deeper into their wisdom. (Isn't that the point of Proverbs?) As I prepare to hear them on Sunday, I am glad we're slowing down and only reading a little bit, and I wish we had even longer to listen to what the Spirit says to us through them.

The second couplet in particular has grabbed my attention these last few days: "The rich and the poor have this in common: the Lord is the maker of them all." Think about that. Sit with those words. Let the implications of that begin to wash over you. I am in the middle of a conversation with these verses. Do I believe that? Do we believe that? Of course we do, but do we really? Is this true in our minds? In our lives? In our prayers? Have the implications of this sunk in? What does this say about God? Nothing particularly astonishing. God is the creator of all things. But the implications of that are astounding! God made one rich and the other poor? How quickly I attach value--not just monetary but surely based on monetary value--to those distinctions. But why do I do that? Do I think God does that? Do I believe in a God who would value some of God's creation more than others? Surely not. So why do I allow myself to assign different value to different people, to different circumstances? Is it because I've forgotten what it means to believe that God has created them all? How will this change my understanding of poverty? How will my next conversation with someone who is seeking financial assistance be changed by this? How will I internalize the commonality that the proverb reminds us to see?

It can be dizzying, allowing the depthless wisdom of a proverb to tumble around in one's mind. It helps me understand why the Sunday school class took so long, and it also reminds me why I would have such a hard time teaching that class. I am not patient. I want to digest massive quantities of biblical literature. I want to leap from thought to thought, story to story, theme to theme. But Proverbs always resists that approach. It requires us to slow down. Like cricket or pot roast or a family reunion, one cannot really enjoy Proverbs if one is in a hurry. One must slow down. And read. And reread. And wake up the next morning and read it again. Imagine a daily calendar of Bible verses in which the same verse was repeated seven or ten or thirty days in a row. That's Proverbs.

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