We stuck, no breath no motion;
As idle as a painted ship
Upon a painted ocean.
(Samuel Taylor Coleridge)
There are times when the ship of my spiritual life seems borne along by the winds of divine favor and grace at a clip which allows me to do little save hold on for dear life. In such moments, God’s presence is real, enveloping, comforting, enlivening, and consuming.
But there are other times. Times when the air is listless and stale, the sun scorching, the heat irrepressible, the fresh water scarce; occasions when God’s presence feels like a mirage which vanishes the moment I draw close. “Stuck with no breath or motion; as idle as a painted ship upon a painted ocean,” to borrow Coleridge.
Benji and I chatted briefly this week and I confessed to him that I currently find myself in the latter category—pining in the doldrums. That leaves me, and anyone who finds herself/himself in a similar position, with the pressing question: what to do? God is sovereign and thus Lord of and in fullness and dearth; yet he’s furnished us with means of grace which carry us “further up and further in” into the richness of his presence: Christian community, celebrating at the Table (eucharist), corporate and individual prayer, etc.
This week, however, I’ve been thinking particularly about the “means” of Scripture in awakening God’s people to God’s presence, of uniquely enabling us to hear his voice in fresh and vital ways. To begin with an elementary question, for what reason do we read the Bible? Often (and I speak personally) our motivation for cracking open the good ol’ book is to learn—about God, about ourselves, about the world, about our mission, etc. Without attempting to gainsay this impetus, I’d suggest that “learning” isn’t enough. Scripture isn’t simply our schoolhouse where we Christians must go to listen to Isaiah or Jeremiah or Paul as lecturers as they spout off on this or that doctrine. Rather, the Word is where we go (fundamentally) to hear from and to encounter the Living God. If we agree that the Scripture is “God-breathed,” if we understand it as a Christian Book which has been written and collected precisely as God wished for it to be, then it amounts to far, far more than a repository of facts. It’s God’s Text whereby he (himself!) confronts his people. Indeed, our assumptions about the nature of Scripture inevitably shape (or contort) what we find.
So what does this have to do with the hot sun and stale air of spiritual doldrums? Everything. Pull out your oars and row as your back strains and your muscles protest and the sweat beads and rolls down your face. Row until you’re in God’s crosshairs. We must open the Text and read (and read and read) in order to listen to and hear from the Triune God to whom we belong.