Eek. It's Wednesday! The weekly fire alarm test, which alarmed me as usual, didn't tip me off at lunch time, so it's very late in the afternoon as I finally remember my practice of posting a
This afternoon, I have been preparing a reflection for worship with a congregation in Stirling this Sunday, in which I have decided to use part of my PhD focus letter to reflect on the lectionary portions declaring the Great Commandment.
Yes, it is a blatant exercise in consolidating time and energy.
It is also taking the story I am inhabiting and inviting it to make meaning today. This is the practice of my thesis, so I am using every opportunity presented to me to practice.
As I inhabit Paul's letter to the Romans this week, his words are becoming my words to the congregation in Stirling, his hopes my hopes, his prayer my prayer. I am finding it quite profound, actually, today.
It has not all been easy going with the letter, however. There are some parts of the letter I am finding I want to hold at a distance, that I can't so readily inhabit, that do not sit so well with me. I had begun to wonder whether I would have to abandon those sections; whether, in the end, I simply cannot stand before an audience and say those words. As a biblical storyteller, are there portions of the Bible I am 'allowed' not to tell?
I remember a brief conversation at the Network of Biblical Storytellers' Scholars' Seminar in August, when some of the male storytellers expressed their stepping away from telling some stories of women, for a time at least. There are some stories they feel, as men, they cannot inhabit, some voices they feel they cannot take on before an audience.
On that issue, I thought, gender ought not be a barrier for a storyteller – I certainly do not shy away from telling 'male' stories in the Bible, though my gender is female. I practically demanded to be allowed to present the monologue in the part of Jesus for our Palm Sunday storytelling meander through Edinburgh this year. As a storyteller, you do bring yourself to the text, so it is obvious that I am a woman telling the story of a man; or you are a man telling the story of a woman. And it will bring certain features to a telling, of course. The presentation of women's stories by men is, I admit, complexified by the history of misinterpretation of biblical stories for the purpose of diminishing, silencing and oppressing women. So I do understand the impulse to step aside and not become another man telling women's stories for them. I hope those men do find ways to step back into the stories of women, because there is potential power in telling women's stories as men in ways that actually empower, affirm and celebrate women.
Well, then, as a biblical storyteller, I may be 'allowed' to step outside of certain stories for a time, if I cannot find a way to get inside them. For the PhD, however, I have something of a commitment to produce a performance of this letter for audiences in two countries in six months' time. So my challenge is to find ways to get inside some of Paul's arguments that I don't understand or even agree with. I need to work out what the letter means in my estimation, for my audiences today, and then figure out how to communicate that meaning with those audiences.
This week's practice gives me hope that as I take on his words and make them my reflection on the lectionary texts for this week, my understanding of his hope and meaning in these parts of the letter will infuse my reading of other parts of the letter, and help me to understand them well enough to present them helpfully for my audiences in time.