Ursula K. Leguin, in The Telling, writes,
“One of the historians of Darranda said: To learn a belief without belief is to sing a song without the tune. A yielding, an obedience, a willingness to accept these notes as the right notes, this pattern as the true pattern, is the essential gesture of performance, translation, and understanding.”
My friend Shawn has said this in a different way when talking about music. We attend the same church, and when someone played a song that I had written, and did it differently than when I introduced it, he said, “They didn’t play it the right way”. It was as if to say there was a right way to play a song.
And, I think we get that when we think about music. We hear a song, wherever we first hear it, and we believe that to be the right way, the way it was intended to be played and performed. If a favorite band plays a favorite song in a live performance in a way other than the way it was recorded, they didn’t play it the right way, whether they wrote it or not. This is why I can say I appreciated the performance given by The Head and The Heart in Chicago last month. They played the songs the right way, the way they were introduced, the way they were intended to be played. No changes. No need for me to suspend my own understanding (or their own understanding for that matter) and to accept a new rendering of an old tune. Just pure, unadulterated, and true.
You can’t learn a song without the tune, right? If I am simply given a bunch of words on a page with some chords written over the top, no matter how hard I try, I can’t play the tune. It’s technically impossible. You can’t play a song the way it was intended without having the tune first. This is precisely why bands record the songs that they write – so they can cement the intended way of playing/singing the song in time and space. It can be learned, listened to, and appreciated.
What I’m more concerned with, after reading the above quotation, is whether this is the same with belief. I think it is. You can’t simply learn a belief, whether its a belief in love or God or gravity or existence, without first believing it yourself. Learning a belief presupposes belief itself, much like learning a song presupposes a tune.
You can learn about the Bible, but it isn’t Scripture unless you believe it is so. That’s the challenge of the first half of this book I am reading for school (which technically started today) called Seized By Truth: Reading the Bible As Scripture by Joel B. Green. Its also a concept that I was first introduced to by Karl Barth (not personally), in his understanding that the Word of God is what happens between the reader and the page. In other words, the Bible isn’t the Word of God in and of itself. It’s simply words on a page. According to the above quotation, to synthesize this a bit, the Word of God-ness of the Bible happens when a combination of mystery and belief coalesce in a moment of reading. One can read the Bible and not read it as Scripture, or as the Word of God (in Barth’s language).
The only way to learn belief is to start with the presupposition of belief. It’s an understanding that we come at the book with, or the song with, that this is the right way, the true pattern, that allows us to really read and understand and be transformed by it. I guess the question is whether or not the book is reading you the way you are reading the book, at least when it comes to the Bible as Scripture. Is there a mutual interchange happening, or are you simply reading words on a page that bear no significance or life? That is the crux for many of us. Do we actually believe that there is a potentially divine-mysterious interchange awaiting when we crack open that book?
I generally don’t. Perhaps that is why I don’t often feel transformed in the reading.