May 7, 2021
Big Pictures and Small Details
When I lead a Bible study, I like to provide an overview, first of the book itself and the context in which we most readily believe it to have been written, and then, as we make our way through one chapter and then another, I like to focus on the overall trajectory of the stories, how they relate with one another, how they fit into the big picture of the book and of the Bible as a whole. This does not mean that I am averse to examining individual verses, but just that I like to keep in mind the larger context as we discuss those single verses.
I think that reading a novel is a somewhat similar endeavor. Although some readers have a thorough enough grasp of details so as to be able to point out the specific exchanges in dialogues between characters, most people gather the overall flow of the story, and remember enough details to help keep that flow in mind as the author leads readers down different pathways.
That being said, there certainly are times when I mark portions of dialogue in a novel, either because they strike me as being particularly appropriate for discussion at a book club meeting, or because the choice of words by the author has left me with the feeling that a certain thought is poignant enough so as to prompt further reflection after I am done reading for the day.
In our Scripture as Theatre workshop, we often deal with large portions of scripture, and attempt to examine them through imagined dialogues between characters in the biblical stories. We most often work with a minimum of five or six verses at a time, and frequently consider larger portions as a whole. So it was that as we began our current project, an examination of the day of Pentecost, I was taken aback as our Artist-in-Residence announced that we would be reading one verse at a time, and responding in our writing to those individual verses. It seemed to me to be a rather laborious approach, and one which would frustrate the process of writing a script.
Surprisingly, I discovered something much different as we spent three or four weeks working our way through the second chapter of the book of Acts. In fact, two things presented themselves to me. The first was that as well as I know this chapter of scripture, there were details that emerged for me that seemed so much more vivid when experienced one verse at a time. Secondly, by reading just one verse, and then writing in response to it, I found that the dialogue which emerged on my page was such that it brought added life to the story, expanding on Luke’s telling of the events through the observations and questions of the characters I envisioned. I was surprised, and pleasantly so, by the discovery of the richness of this approach of looking at one verse at a time.
What this has all helped me to see is the distinct value of both ways of viewing a biblical text, or a novel, or perhaps any kind of writing. The big picture is always important, otherwise we can get lost in the details and lose sight of where the author is trying to take us. At the same time, the inner richness of a work, biblical or otherwise, is often in the details, the small notes and turns of phrase that speak volumes about the trajectory of the story. So, I am grateful for both approaches, and will work to see the balance between the two in whatever I do.
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