Monday, June 26, 2006

Dayenu

On Maundy Thursday, my pastor and I co-led a Seder dinner in our Fellowship Hall. It was a lovely, well-attended event. Each table had a hosting couple who were responsible for setting a beautiful table and inviting people to join them around it. We used a haggadah (order) and we all learned a great deal about our Passover heritage, which made our observance of Communion around the tables that much more meaningful.

One of the portions of the haggadah was the "dayenu." The dayenu is a litany that declares that God is enough (dayenu), with or without any of the blessings God bestows on us.

I thought of dayenu this morning as I read this post on Douglas Groothuis's blog, Culture Watch: Thoughts of a Constructive Curmudgeon. Here, he proposes:
For one month, all Bibles and all biblical material on the internet and in other books disappear. There are no biblical texts available. We are thrown back to our memories alone. How would this Bible evacuation affect your daily routines, the teaching and preaching in the church, your email messages, your conversations, your prayers?

Who would miss the Scriptures and why? Who would you seek out to if you wanted to hear the Word of God from memory? (I would go to my wife. She recently memorized seven single-spaced typed pages of Scriptures. I also read that John Piper memorized Romans 1-8.) How much would you have stored in your own soul to draw from? How would the teaching in seminaries change?
First of all, I think dayenu informs our answers to this proposal, or at least it should. It is enough that God, revealed in Jesus Christ, simply is. Our frequently careless, cheap treatment of the Bible as a tool for besting our opponents is shameful. If that's the best thing we do with it, better that we should make it disappear for a while until we learn better. But I think what Groothuis was getting at is that too many of us also take a very casual approach to learning the Bible, growing to love it, and never really appropriate it. And bless him for observing that, while he is all for memorizing Scripture, memorization is not enough.

Some of the most dangerous, frightening times in my life (which I won't share here or now) have driven me to the Bible, which has never failed to be a lifeline. At such times, I read as if my life depended upon it, and perhaps it did. I've never forgotten the passages, many of them lengthy, that kept me connected with the One who gives us the Scriptures as a most precious gift. No, not all of these passages are memorized, at least not perfectly. And besides that, I use a number of different translations now. Memorized in one is likely to be considered "wrong" by someone who memorized the same passage from a different translation. But I digress...

The point is, God is self-revealed and I am self-revealed through the Bible. I know both God and myself better for having claimed the Book for myself. I have come to know and love the God revealed therein by knowing and loving the Book itself.

Such treasure is not to be kept to myself. And here, I think, is where, like our passover haggadah, it is time to say "lo dayenu" ("it is not enough"). It is lo dayenu to merely memorize the words of Scripture. It is lo dayenu to proof-text our "superior" opinions with Scripture. It is lo dayenu to assume that sword drills make our children Bible-literate. It is lo dayenu to observe a quiet time where we systematically read through the Bible in a specified length of time.

It is dayenu that the God of Scripture is with us. It is dayenu that the Holy Spirit teaches us what our reading cannot. It is dayenu to live the sacred words, breathe the sacred words, teach both the sacred words and the application of them to faithful living. And it is certainly dayenu to do all this without thumping the Book that contains these sacred words in such a way as to negate the words' credibility to a doubting world.

9 comments:

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

This post is wonderful! I have several thoughts as off-shoots. For example, I've know of people who have attended a couple of Bible studies each week, besides church and Sunday School and their Wed. night church activities. At some point, it seems to me (with my nose in the air) enough is enough. Go out and DO something for the Lord, for other people.

I also think about the extensive verse memorizations I did (and older generations did) as a child, which my children didn't have as rigorously. What we learn as children sticks with us longer and deeper. You can't take that away from somebody, but it is really hard to add it later. Yes, it can lead to proof texting, but it can also lead to verses we lean back on when we have trouble.

I read a book by one of the Iran hostages, Kathryn somebody, (perhaps Kuhlman??). She recounted that one of the things that got her and some of the others through the long imprisonment was the verses and hymns that they had memorized. They even attempted to write down all that they could remember. She was very glad for her church upbringing.

There's so much more to ponder on this topic!

P.S. (an after-thought) said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
P.S. (an after-thought) said...

Sorry, I accidently double commented, that is why one is removed.

Kirstin said...

Amen.

Psalmist said...

Hi, Proclaiming. I agree about the memorization, actually. What we do with what we've memorized is terribly important. One of the things I enjoyed so much about Disciple Bible Study (a UM resource - there are four years' worth of courses now plus some shorter-term studies) was that we memorized a verse per week from the book(s) we studied that week. We got context at the same time we were memorizing a good summary verse from that context. That, along with some excellent video lectures and study materials that required both group discussion and application reflection, made for an excellent balance (in my humble opinion). In fact, the second year Disciple subtitle is "Into the Word, Into the World." There must be both.

Sure do appreciate your reading the entry and your insights. And I'm glad you mentioned the hostage's experience with both scripture and music memorization. (I don't recall her last name either, though it wasn't Kuhlman). I credit Handel with giving me my earliest memorization experience, still some of the most powerful. I loved to listen to my home church's choir rehearse Messiah when I was a child (went to my parents' rehearsals). It's a remarkable compilation of messianic prophecies and the passion narrative, along with some glorious Revelation thrown in. And as a Wesleyan Christian, I claim some of the most remarkable hymnody in Christian tradition as "ours." Well, it's everybody's, but between John's preaching and Charles's hymns, we do have a pretty remarkable legacy (she said, only a bit proud).

Psalmist said...

Thanks so much for reading and commenting, Kirstin. I enjoyed my visit to your blog as well.

P.S. (an after-thought) said...

One of my positive traits that I sometimes carry so far as to become a negative trait is persistance.

So I looked up the hostage book. It is Guest of the Revolutions: The Triumphant Story of an American Held Hostage in Iran by Kathryn Koob.

revabi said...

Just to let you know that when we have gone to China to adopt, we have gone without any bibles or Christian literature. Because I am a Pastor I had to sign a document that said I wouldn't do that, nor that I would prozelitize, I think that means try to save anybody. There were times that I was immediately drawn in my mind and heart to text that I had committed to memory or learned as a child, dadgum them So. Baptists. But it was powerful. It is possible to do, and most profoundly it drew me closer to God and not just the words.
"Dayenu" We sing that too at our church.

Psalmist said...

Thanks so much for sharing your first-hand experience of this very thing, Abi. How wonderful that you were able to both obey the law and feed your soul--and presumably others' souls as well. And I honor your for adopting.

Very cool about singing "Dayenu." I'm not familiar with musical settings. I'll have to look for some. (We did not chant at the Seder meal.) What setting does your church use?