hold on

Last night was another session of the bible study which I should have named ‘A Reckless Romp through the Old Testament’.

Reckless because we have been going too fast.
Reckless because so much depends on the overview given in week one, and not everyone was there.
Reckless because I am fascinated by the OT, but it is not really my subject, and I should have spent far more time preparing each session than I have.

Reckless because I have been cavalierly speaking of the gap between event and writing; ‘fact’, and theological retelling; generally playing with fire.

And last night, I found the flaw in my plan. If I am not careful, I’m going to deconstruct things, and then ask people to take a break for the summer. By the time autumn comes, they will all be off reading Richard Dawkins, having been driven from OT henotheism & emergent monotheism to atheism by way of despair.

So, we’ve decided on an extra session which I will think of as ‘holding onto God’.

The study of theology and scripture is exciting because it dismantles our assumptions and exposes the ways we restrict God. Confusion is necessary as we move out of our comfort zone and play with ideas that are– with the one who is — too big to grasp. But when you’re in the midst of it, it can feel pretty grim.

So, for those who are beginning to sympathize with grumpy Israelites wandering through the desert, a word of encouragement: stay with it. After a while the darkness glimmers and a flash of raven’s-wing becomes more captivating than all the bright certainties you thought you knew.


And occasionally, you might even be allowed to catch a feather to play with and to call your own.

10 thoughts on “hold on”

  1. Sounds interesting. Are you using some published study guide (if so, could you give details?), or have you written the course yourself?

    We’re just about to tackle another of the wee bookies published by the Church Times. This one is called “Yours sincerely: exploring the letters of the New Testament”. My past experience of these is that they’re generally instructive, but seem to vary considerably as to their suitability for group discussion. (“The mighty tortoise”, about the Church, and “Embracing the Day”, about daily prayer, both went down quite well).


  2. Sounds like a wonderful biblestudy! (I always have sympathy for the grumpy Israelites – seriously, I love desert imagery and lots of stuff about desert theology and am really enthusiastic about journeys and wilderness and stripping away at the beginning of Lent – for about two weeks! Then I get grumpy. Not so much with patience).

    I love your Raven’s wing metaphor and glimmering darkness, it immediately reminded me of this (which I came to via Madeleine L’Engle of course):

    There is in God (some say)
    A deep, but dazzling darkness; as men here
    Say it is late and dusky, because they
    See not all clear;
    O for that night! where I in him
    Might live invisible and dim.
    – Henry Vaughan

  3. Robin, it’s just been thrown together. I usually plan a curriculum or series carefully, but this time it was almost ‘what shall we do tonight?’.

    The most useful thing seems to be the OT timeline, which I’ve used a few times now, where the group is asked to sort event-cards in chronological order (under guided questioning where needed) and the leader then sets the dates down summarizing the story. Then the group starts again with writings-cards, which they try to place against the time line (guided questioning and many hints from the leader again). If you’re interested I can email it to you.

  4. Grumpy Israelite or no, I am finding the sessions fascinating (challenging, mind boggling!) and Richard Dawkins doesn’t beckon up to now.

    Playing with feathers? yes please.

    Please do not assume that the consuming of vast quantities of your excellent coffee, interspaced with beating head against the wall, is any sign of despair. These outward demonstrations of anxiety can reasonably be attributed to atrophied grey cells!

    You are doing a grand job.

  5. Coming from virtually zero knowledge about the OT I accept that the oral telling of history would have been accurate but I do find that writing/rewriting/inserting the history years (centuries?) later to fit various scenarios, disturbing.
    The timeline is very helpfull and revealing, the lessons are fine, we just need more of them and dare I say it more homework! Don’t beat yourself up, its all good.

    Who is Richard Dawkins??!!

  6. So, the question is: would it be less disturbing if you thought that every last detail of how to decorate the altar, the cubit-width of the temple, etc. came straight from ‘the mouth of God’?

  7. No I don’t think so, I would have trouble believing that God would be so prescriptive in deciding dimensions, materials etc. Would it not be more like a ‘Client Brief’ e.g I need to cross this river please come up with some options? Ford, bridge, ferry? The level of detail is then down to the priests and tribal leaders as to how much control they wish to exert on their peoples.

    This is a scary place to be! Looking forward to the ‘holding onto God’ session.

  8. Thanks for the offer. Yes please, I would be interested in seeing your materials if you’re willing to email them.


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