Regular readers know that for the last couple of years, I have been facilitating a Lectio Divina group at my church on Sundays before the service.
I tell you, it has been an incredible gift. Every week we get together and read the gospel lesson for the day, and then prayerfully invite God to speak to us through it. And every week something extraordinary happens. The Holy Spirit shows up and we all more or less sit in awe and thanksgiving at the miracle of God's love.
I am finding that Lectio has impacted me in other ways... specifically in my ability to grapple with difficult passages in the bible.
Today, for example, at bible study, we were reading Acts 5. This is a brutal chapter about Ananias and his wife Sapphira dropping dead when it is discovered that they withheld on their donation to the Christian community. (I joked that this should be our Stewardship scripture passage this year... but my priest said no, darn it.)
It is a challenging passage, to be sure. But after a couple of years of regular Lectio, I have learned to resist the temptation to judge a scripture, and instead, let it speak to me. Engage with it. Grapple with it, yes, but in an open minded way. When I do this, crazy stuff can happen.
I always approach bible stories from the perspective that God is Love. That means that in stories where God appears to behave badly, I assume that I am not getting the whole picture. In the case of Ananias, though, it doesn't ever say that God struck him down. Nor does it say that Peter cursed him and he died. It simply states that when Ananias was confronted with the fact that he was holding back from God, he died.
I can put myself in his place. I know that there have been moments in my life when I was confronted with the contrast between Jesus' sacrifice and my own shittiness. Last year on Good Friday I spent the whole three hour service in such a state of distress that by the time I got to the confession with my parish priest, I was beside myself.
Let's imagine that Ananias and his wife were actually around when Jesus got executed. Let's imagine that they truly loved God... that they understood the power of Jesus' death and resurrection. But somehow, in the midst of their lives, they lost their connection to God just long enough to let petty fear get into their hearts. Fear of economic loss. Fear of the instability that happens when you give up everything. And that fear caused them to hold back on their donation, just as it does for me, sometimes.
When Peter confronts Ananias, in the blazing moment of realization, I can imagine being so grief stricken as to simply
The Jews believed that when you encountered God, the energy was so great you couldn't survive it. You were annihilated on the spot. Is it possible that Ananias and Sapphira saw God in that moment? That, perhaps, it was not only the moment of their deaths, but also the moment of their redemption? I pray for his and Sapphira's souls that that was true.
In Lectio Divina, we invite God to speak to us through the scriptures. We open ourselves to how the scripture relates to our own lives. Today, I began to think about ways that I have been letting fear creep in and distract me from God.
Maybe this story speaks something totally different for you. That is the beauty of this living word, this gift from God.
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property.
With his wife's full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles' feet.
Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?
Didn't it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn't the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.”
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.
About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.
Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?”
“Yes,” she said, “that is the price.”
Peter said to her, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”
At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband.