By Ann Fontaine
Last week the paternal side of my family gathered for an impromptu reunion. Brothers, sisters, cousins, kids and grandkids shared a potluck meal. We lined up the grandkids for the traditional photo. I noticed a change in the line from the generation of my children. The next generation of children chose to stand beside their first cousins rather than by height. At first my brothers and I said, “Oh, no, that is wrong,” but then realized that the second cousins were strangers to one another and a bit fearful.
Today as I look at the dozens of photos of the event I can see small gatherings of relatives sharing stories and edging closer to one another. The children are racing around the yard and playing with the toys getting to know each other in their way. A digital family album is emerging to go with the various print albums that are stored on our families’ bookshelves.
As part of this gathering our daughter added to her compendium of genealogical information. She along with one of my brothers and a cousin in Norway are trying to obtain stories as well as birth, marriage, and death dates. Family stories give us our identity.
My brothers and I are first generation children of immigrants. Our stories tell of leaving home to try new things. They tell of people starting out with no idea of what they will encounter but believing they will find a place to work and dream. The stories tell of trying things before having full information of the consequences. They also reveal that we were concerned with what others thought and how they acted as we tried to fit in and become part of the dominant culture. We lost our sense of being part of the “old country” as new generations were born here. We try to reconnect with those who stayed behind. These are just a few of the messages from our album.
It occurred to me that the Bible is like a family album. Images, stories, clippings, and mementos of encounters with a common story are gathered into its books. The Bible tells of encounters with the Holy and tries to make sense of Divine-Human relationships. The stories are saved to show future generations the way to live as a people of faith. They explore the questions of immortality, community, and the meaning of life. Like the family album we may have stories about the pictures and know the names of the people we are viewing but there is always a level that cannot be seen or understood because we were not there when the photo was taken or the event occurred.
When I read the Bible with this sort of lens – I stop arguing with it or trying using it as a template for life in God. When it contradicts itself, I can see that this is because there were different points of view about events, like when people are interviewed after a wreck and remember totally different versions of the same event.
For instance, Etienne Charpentier, in How to Read the New Testament, says, that the book of Revelation is like modern art, trying to convey ideas through metaphors, feelings, and images. It is not representational or photographic. When we try to apply scientific, rational principles to works of art we miss the point and end up analyzing the paint. We can easily fall into a paint by numbers version of a painting rather than the rich glowing depth of the artist’s offering.
So it is with the Bible. If we study it as our family album we can gain a sense of where we have come from and who we are being called to be as a people of God. We learn how people made choices, what they used as a basis for those choices. While their conclusions may differ from ours we can learn from the process that is revealed. We travel the same path of faith with very different landscapes but our beginnings and our endings come from the same source. Leaf through the pages, savor the stories, learn about your spiritual family.
The Rev. Ann Fontaine, Diocese of Wyoming, keeps the blogs Green Lent and what the tide brings in. She is the author of Streams of Mercy: a meditative commentary on the Bible.