Monday, September 15, 2014

Phrases as little compositions...

What's in a Phrase? Pausing where Scripture gives you a pause is a new book from Marilyn Chandler McEntyre and published by Eerdmans, available at McEntyre caught me with the first sentence in her Introduction: “Phrases have lives of their own.” Yes, they do. And it’s often fun or maybe a challenge to stop and think about those few words and what they mean in that space and time. McEntyre calls them “little compositions that suggest and evoke and invite.” And she has been looking through the Scriptures to find phrases and think about what they mean in their particular context.

Author McEntyre is a fellow of the Gaede Institute for the Liberal Arts at Westmont College in California, and she teaches at UC Berkeley as well. She has other books and this one caught my eye and attention recently. She divides her book into three sections: Assurance; Invitation and Admonition; and Mystery and Surprise. There are 50 headline verses, each with pages of phrases to fathom.

McEntyre reminds us that the Benedictines called it lectio divina or holy reading, and when we stop and listen to a word or phrase, perhaps it is an act of faith, calling us to attention, and “we may assume,” she writes, that it is “a gift to be received.” Perhaps the Holy Spirit is about to teach us something that we need to know.

“Incline your ear, O Lord,” from Psalm 86 is the first phrase under the Assurance section.. She suggests that while we may be asking for answers to our prayer, we may have the answer in what we have been given already. And, “if we lift our gaze beyond anxieties, we may see that God has been listening.”

Under Invitation and Admonition, McEntyre reminds us of Micah 6:8 “...and what does the Lord require of you, but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God.” She offers examples of doing each of these as we think of our own possibilities.

The final section, Mystery and Surprise begins with “in the fullness of time,” as in Galatians 4:4, and continues with “Praise him, you highest heavens,” Ps. 148 (NRSV). We are reminded that the highest heavens are moving, the universe expanding, stars exploding..... “What do the heavens have to do with us and our praises?” asks McEntyre. First, the visible heavenly bodies are daily evidence of the order and power of the Creator; second, the heavens have given helpful, practical navigational guidance “to wise men in the desert and sailors on the sea”; and third, the importance of statements in Scripture, such as “God is love,” and “God is light.” Could all of these, and more, be affirmations of  God’s own praises beside our praises? There is much to think about here.      

—Lois Sibley