“Move off the page!” implores the besieged pray-er, or perhaps it is a more of a demand than a petition. Throwing cautionary language to the wind, noted Old Testament Scripture scholar Walter Brueggemann has no hesitation in urging Israel’s God to action (Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann, 2002). Referencing the Messianic promises of justice being enacted, righteousness ruling, peace reigning, and evil being vanquished, Bruggemann longingly, beseechingly, wants those promises to come true: “Let the words live!” he begs, “Let them come off the page and be alive in our world; let them touch the trouble and the turmoil of creatures . . . ”
The problem is, we are co-opted in that prayer. After all, it is not by the hand of God alone that the kingdom, promised and so longed for, will be actualized. Present already, inaugurated and set in motion by the Christos, the Anointed One, the kingdom is both now and not yet, here but not fully. We are the ones who live in the interim, charged with the responsibility of co-operating in bringing that kingdom about. Believers, disciples, we live with the mandate to make the promises spoken by the prophets, the commands given by Jesus, to make them come alive in our world, in our time.
The saints have always known that the Scriptures are to live in us. Jesuit priest-poet and author Daniel Berrigan points out that Dorothy Day’s life work began when she took seriously a parable of Jesus: “She stood by the wounded one in the ditch. The shadow of those who passed by, passed by her. Her spirit entered the abandonment, the loneliness of the forlorn and violated and the wretched of the earth. She made the parable of the Good Samaritan true” (Berrigan, Testimony: The Word Made Flesh, 2004, p.92).
In Dorothy, Matthew 25 comes off the page and takes on life. It lives in her as, faced with the hungry and the homeless of the Great Depression, she offers them bread and lodging. “Love your neighbour” becomes concrete in the houses of hospitality that spring up across the United States, giving skin to the gospel command.
Berrigan also tells of his brother Philip Berrigan, anti-nuclear war protester and peace activist. Daniel’s poem, “My brother’s battered Bible carried into prison repeatedly,” is a poignant, powerful commentary about Philip finding his life’s inspiration in the inspired book that others saw only as a harmless collection of words (Testimony, 143,144). Beating swords into ploughshares becomes more than a pretty turn of phrase when Philip and Daniel, founding members of the Ploughshares Eight, march into a United States weapons factory in September 1980, hammer on a nuclear war nose cone and pour blood over it.
Move off the page! we implore the words of Scripture, but, concretely, they have to move off the page into somebody. . . . some BODY has to do them. Brueggemann’s insight is profound. Scripture is a living word, imbued with Spirit, and those words are meant to get up and walk around in actual bodies, the bodies of believers. Read faithfully, sinking into one’s skin and bone, they take on flesh as we translate them into deeds. “Do justice. Do not kill. Love your enemy. Forgive seventy times seven times. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned, free the captives.” Above all, “Love one another.” The words and stories of Scripture, the commands and the demands therein, are meant to infuse life into us.
At mass, before the gospel is proclaimed, it is customary for the congregants to sign themselves with the cross three times: on the forehead, lips and chest: “May these words be in my thoughts, on my lips and in my heart,” we pray. “May we think of them, speak of them and love them,” is what we mean. Perhaps we should add a fourth and fifth signing, on our hands and on our feet in order to say, “May we also do them.”
Only then will God’s word come off the page and into our world.
Prather, BEd, MTh, is a teacher and facilitator in the areas of faith and spirituality. She was executive director at Star of the North Retreat Centre in St. Albert, Alta., for 21 years and resides in Sherwood Park with her husband, Bob. They are blessed with four children and 10 grandchildren.