Surrounded by the Scriptures

I was a “Preseminary Bible Major” at my evangelical college. While I regret the assumptions about spirituality which caused my switch to this major (not to mention my minimum wage jobs after graduating), I will never regret my Biblical studies and Greek classes. My professors dwelt richly in the Word of Christ, and I found myself heady and bright-eyed at learning the Scriptures through their teaching. I caught a glimpse of what it meant for the New Testament authors to “read” their world through the Old Testament texts and wanted, ardently, to inhabit my world surrounded by the Scriptures.

For my senior seminar, the capstone project, I chose to study the meaning of “freedom” in 2 Corinthians 3:17. I cringed at the way “Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” was tossed around to justify a modern view of freedom as simply willy-nilly choice. I wanted to explore what freedom meant to Paul in the New Covenant, and I had always been mesmerized by the way Paul wove together Moses and his veil, letters being written on the heart, being “transformed from glory to glory,” and so much more. Looking at that one verse in its context, of course, led into a glorious maze of intertextuality – Exodus 32 through 34, the New Covenant passages in the prophets, the Transfiguration. I reveled in it. I thought about it constantly. I even dreamed about it. In one dream, I lay sleeping surrounded by glorious light and a veiled Moses, while being battered on the head by glowing Greek phrases.

Later, I would struggle to explain that yes, I distanced myself from certain aspects of my college years, but I would never distance myself from the way I learned the Bible in that time. For some of my friends, joining a liturgical church tradition was a way to escape from the Bible (i.e. a truly unhealthy fundamentalist Biblicism) and keep Jesus. Some friends embraced a false dichotomy and substituted church history for the Bible – “Why would we limit ourselves to something so narrow when there is so much more?” I understood their hesitations, their sense of being jaded by the way Scripture had been misused in their lives. I also understood even the need for a break – that if you’ve only ever heard specific passages as wooden prooftexts, you may need not read them for a while in order to experience them with fresh ears and eyes.

But even as I struggled to figure out what daily interaction with the Scriptures should look like in my life, I was haunted. I would try to tell those friends that the Bible was like Narnia. I would remember that opening one door into a dead-end wardrobe might in fact lead into a whole world. I knew “its inside is bigger than its outside.”

In a recent walk, after reading 2 Corinthians 3 for the New Testament lesson in morning prayer, I was reminiscing about my senior seminar – picturing myself on my dorm-room floor, circled round by commentaries as I thrilled on the inner resonances of the text. I walked and found myself similarly surrounded, my mind weaving together the Scriptures of the daily lectionary, the Sunday lectionary, the collect of the week, the setting of the season. All of a sudden, I realized that my life itself was becoming intertextual – that the Prayer Book had given me an invitation to live surrounded by the Scriptures.

Not so long before that, we were with one of our Biblical studies professors from college. I was struggling to explain how our commitment to the Prayer Book was not a commitment to something different and separate – an addition to the Bible. But instead, we saw continuity. We saw it as a fulfilment of the kind of life and teaching we had seen modeled by that professor. We saw that the Prayer Book is an invitation to a life surrounded and steeped in the Scriptures, that following the daily lectionary, the Sunday lectionary, and the church calendar trains our souls in a habitual intertextuality which transforms the way we ‘read’ the world.

Along the same lines, I have talked to godly evangelical friends attracted to the liturgical year, but overwhelmed by it. It seemed completely foreign to the habits of daily Scripture reading and prayer that they had worked to build. In those conversations, I’m sure I was almost alarming in my enthusiastic insistence that a liturgical life according to the Prayer Book is not a matter of adding all sorts of extras. It’s not a matter of a special, separate knowledge. It’s a life of stepping into the Biblical text along with the Church, of living surrounded by the Scriptures. A liturgical life is one where we take even more seriously the command to the Israelites: “These words shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” (Deuteronomy 6:6-9).

So, to summarize, I see a Prayer Book life as a fulfillment, even an intensification, of my college ideals of living surrounded by the Scriptures. At one point, I read Gregory the Great’s dictum that Scripture ‘crescit cum legente’ ­– Scripture grows as the reader grows. This reminded me again of Narnia, specifically Prince Caspian:

“Aslan” said Lucy “you’re bigger”.

“That is because you are older, little one” answered he.

“Not because you are?”

“I am not. But every year you grow, you will find me bigger.”

As I think about the years ahead, Lord willing, of an intertextual life trained by the Prayer Book, I anticipate how the Word of Christ will keep growing, keep spreading, keep being written on my heart. I’m not counting on more mystical dreams with glowing Greek text, but I am trusting that this life where I am surrounded by the Scriptures will keep transforming me “from glory to glory.”

Amanda McGill

Amanda McGill lives in Southwest Ohio with her husband Jon and two young daughters. In 2015, she and her friends started link The Homely Hours, a liturgical living resource in the Anglican tradition. She is music director at her church, Christ the King Anglican Church in Dayton Ohio. If she has any free time, she’ll spend it reading and writing (after running).

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