A Living Text

Once upon a time in a class, the professor said, offhand, in passing, not the main point, “so you have the juxtaposition of images – the source of all meaning …”

That basic theory has stayed with me, like a meteor crater, one of the things I really learned in seminary. The juxtaposition of images creates meaning. It implies that meaning isn’t something like an elixir, bottled up in the flask of the text, that we have to unstopper and drink, or a powder, that we have to spoon out the jar of the text and sprinkle on our food to give it flavor. If meaning arises from the juxtaposition of images, meaning involves creation and re-creation. Meaning springs up fresh every time, from the wellspring of new creation.

The Spirit from God is always brooding over the face of the deep.

I got thinking along these lines because our wonderful pastor brought up the theme of scripture as alive, “generative,” yesterday – something we encounter as constantly new, as moving with us through our lives, as speaking into the moment. Which is amazing, when you think of it, considering how ancient it is.

She quoted Debie Thomas, commenting on Jesus’s reading of Isaiah in the synagogue at Nazareth:

It’s not as if the Son of God is incapable of penning a new and shiny mission statement; he is the Incarnate Word himself. But he doesn’t improvise; he opens the book and makes the old words of the tradition his own: “God has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” As if to say: the Word lives, here and now. It is organic, it breathes, it moves in fresh and revolutionary ways. The Word of God is neither dull nor dead. It is alive.

Sometimes we have the experience of having someone put into words, a bit more precisely than we ourselves have yet, something that crystallizes and clarifies something we ourselves vaguely think and feel. That was what the sermon yesterday was for me: that kind of bringing things together. Not that we don’t say, over and over, that scripture is alive. “Everyone” knows that

the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, joint and marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.

Hebrews 4:12

Right? Everyone.

And yet. The juxtaposition of images – in which are included words, and places, and faces, and moments, and current events, and the thoughts rolling through our heads because of what we are now enjoying or enduring or pondering, and all that – is where the meaning springs up and lives.

And gives life.

One of those things I really learn, over and over, at church. Like, yesterday.

red line embellished

Image: “Plantanus occidentalis Green Ridge” by John B. from Highland Park, NJ, United States, CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons; I love seeing the white bark of sycamores in the winter, leaping out from the surrounding woods

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