The Singing Heart

image from pixabay

The crowd stared at the naked young man, at the heart beating outside his skin, as it had since birth, and at the well behind him, from which he had been extracted by the elders. Twenty years ago, when he’d gone missing, an inhuman singing began here at the well at the center of the village. A chanting in the night.

The pastry chef, who was awake at odd hours preparing his sweets, heard it first and woke his wife. She told the neighbors, and soon everyone was listening in the dark, losing sleep.

By God’s grace, a small hunting party returned from the woods with news of demons–demons with hearts beating outside their scaly chests, singing a cryptic but pertinent riddle for the discerning:

Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart which safely exists in the center of all things?

{This was inspired by a prompt from Sanaa at dVerse for Prosery on May 10, 2021. Unfortunately, I’m much too late to join in, but I wanted to credit the source of the prompt. Prosery is a regular feature at dVerse that requires participants to create a piece of flash fiction of 144 words or less, using a line of poetry that is provided. In this case, the line is from “Heartbeat” by Rainer Maria Rilke. The line: Only mouths are we. Who sings the distant heart which safely exists in the center of all things? must be unaltered and included in the total word count.}

Writing Ideas: So, Where Do I Begin?

Today’s blog post began with me staring at a cursor and a blank page with an empty mind. Eventually, my brain got the message. “She’s serious. She’s going to make me do this.” And then it started helping me out with ideas. That’s how it works. Every time. Writing means sitting down in front of a computer and exercising your brain in ways that life rarely requires. Your brain wants to scroll your Twitter feed. Maybe read a good story. It wants to consume. What it doesn’t want to do is organize and synthesize ideas.

The truth is that I have lots of ideas. The problem is getting them out of my head and sharing them with the world, when my brain insists that there are so many more urgent matters. There are dishes to be done. Lists to make. Laundry. It’s tempting to simply keep all those thoughts to myself and meditate on them in privacy. I recently read about this phenomenon in an email newsletter by a writing coach who calls it “hoarding”. I’m not a hoarder in real life, but I often hoard all my ideas for future writing projects that never materialize. Anyone who has ever watched the show Hoarders knows how that turns out. Hoards lead to rot and decay.

I started this blog with a 21 Day Writing Challenge. There was a prompt for every day of the challenge. Some of my best content came out of that exercise, and it makes me wonder if I should attempt daily posts again. I’ve been thinking about how to blog more frequently, but one of my biggest challenges is coming up with ideas. By committing to writing more often, with or without a prompt, I may be able to prove to myself that the ideas will come, even when it seems like I don’t know where to begin.

If I were a blog reader, I’d want regular, frequent (even daily) content. Not lengthy researched articles, just a quick peek into the ever-evolving thoughts of another human. Their missteps. Their backtracks. Their tentative mental wanderings. Hopefully, a poem or some short fiction. The occasional glimpse into their personal lives. There’s an element of certainty and consistency but also surprise.

How to Read the Bible: A Non-Cringy Guide

The Bible is not an easy read. In fact, it’s downright daunting when you think about it. I say that as both a Christian and a reader.

Where do you start? And does it matter what the Catholic church teaches about it?

The Christian Bible is a collection of books (history books and letters and apocalyptic literature and poetry and prophecy and creation stories and parables and proverbs), and when you consider that the church was its first editor and compiler, I do think it helps to know what they have to say about it. The Reformers had something to say about it too, but that’s a story for another day.

There are a few questions I’ve been asking myself lately, as I consider how to write about the Bible on this blog. I feel equipped to answer them not because I am a Biblical scholar or theologian, but because I have had a lot of time to experience and interact with the Bible over the course of my life. I’m familiar with Catholic and Protestant theology and have spent time with both types of churches. The answers I’ve come up with are not meant to be definitive, but thought provoking.

Shouldn’t I be able to pick up the Bible and start reading it anywhere I want, in any way that I want, without any specific interpretation or guidance? Sure. Just like I could pick up any ancient text and get something of value. But I would also add that an interpretive guide would be an advantage rather than a detriment.

Should I ignore guidance on Biblical interpretation from the church if I’m an atheist or I’m distrustful of religious institutions? I would say no, because understanding what the church teaches about the Bible does not mean you have to agree with it (either in whole or in part). Your opinion of that teaching does not negate the value of learning it.

What about Jesus? How do my thoughts and opinions about Jesus fit into a Bible reading plan? No matter what your personal beliefs are about Jesus, an understanding of how the church sees him is fundamental to understanding much of the symbolism and thematic content of the Bible. According to the church, it is the key to unlocking many otherwise obscure and problematic passages.

What about politics and all that socially conservative cringe I keep hearing about? If any of that’s in the Bible, then why should I bother reading it? Bias affects everything we read. We search for, and most often find, evidence to confirm what we already believe.

The belief that it is inherently good to accumulate and protect one’s personal wealth at all costs with no consideration for the common good, that women must be submissive and restricted in their roles within the church and society, and that issues such as sexual preference are of the utmost moral importance, will lead people to find passages to support those agendas. They may be taken out of context (ie. misinterpreted), but they will find a few. And that will be sufficient for them to construct a theological interpretation that is based on them.

It’s not a coincedence that these types of biased interpretations also support and maintain existing power structures and benefit the most privileged among us. That does not make them the correct interpretation or application of the Biblical texts. If anything, it makes them suspect.

Like every other text, the Bible speaks for itself. It speaks about matters of the human heart and social justice. And if you contend that Jesus is the key to understanding it, as the church teaches, what he told his followers makes for the best guide of all, if you wish to get the most out of reading the Bible.

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:36-40 NIV (my emphasis)

The motive for reading the Bible should ideally include a desire to know God better so that we may love him (and learn of his love for us) and a desire to learn how we may better love our fellow humans.

Jesus leaves very little room here for self-serving, biased interpretations of the “law and the prophets”, if we’re being honest with ourselves. No one is perfect. And I’m not attacking social conservatives out of a desire to insult them. They deserve love and forgiveness, as we all do. However, the spirit of the Biblical text more often than not is in strong opposition to oppression in all its forms, and exhorts us to actively choose the side of the marginalized. It advocates for social justice over preservation of the status quo.

It’s also important to read Jesus’ words in context: He was being tested by none other than the infamous Pharisees. We have our own version of the Pharisees today. Why would we allow their interpretations of the Bible to taint our engagement with this fascinating and valuable text?