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Feb 27, 2013 | The Rev. Melody Shobe

Engaging Scripture Offers Deeper Experience of the Holy

[Diolog MagazineWe go to Scripture for many reasons: sometimes we are seeking answers, sometimes comfort, sometimes guidance. We turn to Scripture because we feel that we are supposed to (after hearing yet another gentle reminder from our clergy) or because we feel we have nowhere else to go. We look to Scripture as a record of our history, as a roadmap for our current path, as a pattern for our future. But how often do we turn to Scripture for wonder?


It might seem a strange question to ask, as we puzzle over what place wonder might have in our relationship with Scripture. Surely Scripture is a place for answers or reassurance, not wonder? And yet, when we begin to interact with the words of the Bible and the stories that it holds, we soon find that Scripture is chock-full of stories of wonder, in all that the word “wonder” implies. There are stories of curiosity, stories of amazement and awe, stories of doubt.


Perhaps the most amusing story of wonder is Exodus 16, when God provides manna to the people of Israel in the desert. At night as they sleep, a layer of dew covers the ground, and when they awake there are thin flakes, like frost covering the ground. It is “bread from heaven,” the food that God has provided for the people. And when they name it, they call it “manna,” which means “What is it?!” This is a scripture of wonder, as the people are filled with curiosity, awe and amazement, or even doubt. They encounter something that is from God that they cannot understand and immediately they are filled with questions—filled with wonder—for what they are seeing must be experienced to be believed. They even name the bread from heaven with words of wonder, not something descriptive, but with a question: “What is it?!”


The same is true again and again for the people of God in Scripture. They encounter God with many emotions: fear and faith, arrogance and humility, trust and worry. But underneath and through it all, there is the sense that they encounter God with wonder. How else can we understand Elijah’s encounter with God on the mountain in First Kings 19, when God is not in the wind or the earthquake or the fire, but in the still, small voice? In that moment, Elijah hides his face from God, wrapping it in his cloak, as he is filled with wonder. So too it is for Nicodemus in John 3, when he meets Jesus and is filled with questions. “How can this be?” Nicodemus asks again and again, as he feels, by turns, curiosity, awe and doubt. When faced with the amazing message of God’s great love for us, what can Nicodemus do—what can any of us do—but be filled with wonder?


This is not merely the record of Scripture it is the example that it sets for all of us about how to relate to God and God’s account of love. The Scriptures themselves encourage us to wonder: to engage them with curiosity, with amazement and awe, and even, at times, with doubt. The model of Godly Play, a Montessori-based learning method for children, includes “wondering” questions in each lesson. These questions are designed to draw children more deeply into the biblical narrative, and closer into relationship with God. “I wonder what you like best about this story?” the teacher might ask. Or: “I wonder where you are in this story?” These are not, if we are honest, simply children’s questions. They are our questions, the questions of the faithful. They are the questions of the Israelites seeing manna for the first time, or Elijah facing the whirlwind, or Nicodemus seeking salvation. They are the questions that we are called to ask and wrestle with and respond to as we come to God’s rich and precious Scriptures. They are the questions that might draw us more deeply into the biblical narrative, and closer into relationship with God, if we are brave enough to ask them. 


May we follow the example of our forerunners and faith and turn to Scripture not necessarily for answers or comfort or guidelines, but just for wonder. Who knows, perhaps in our wondering we will find the answers or comfort or guidelines that we didn’t even know that we sought. Regardless, we will have engaged with God in curiosity, in awe and amazement, perhaps even in doubt, and we will never be the same. “I wonder…”


Shobe is a priest currently serving at Emmanuel, Cumberland in the Diocese of Rhode Island. She is married to the Rev. Casey Shobe and mother to three-year-old Isabelle, who is full of the gift of wonder.