by the Rev. Robert H. Tucker
May 13, 2002
"And Time Stood Still"
"It's now time." That moved the young husband to pack the few necessities,
step out the kitchen door with his wife, walk across the neighbor's back
yard, and enter the old large house that the small rural community had converted
into a hospital. When the physician said that delivery was near, he asked
the husband if he wanted to be present during delivery. This surprising out-of-the-blue
opportunity (at that time fathers were placed on a sliding scale between
being peripheral and being dangerous to the health of the baby) was taken.
When my tiny, seemingly fragile daughter was placed in my arms, her perfect
little finger transfixed me--'and time stood still.'
To adequately describe my feelings at that moment, I have to use a figure
of speech, "intentionally departing from straight-forward, literal use of
language" as one definition states it. In other words, I lied--time does
not stand, and time does not stand still. I lied, in order to tell my true
feeling, because literal, factual language could not adequately do that.
Reflecting on that moment, I discovered what the poets have always known,
the only way to adequately and truly talk about the profound experiences
of life--whether the joyful or the devastating, the exhilarating or the wrenching--is
to tell stories, speak in metaphors, or use figures of speech.
With that understanding in mind, I find I now read the Bible in a much different
way. For example, Moses, in describing his profound experience with the Holy,
as standing before a 'bush burning, but not consumed,' is not describing
a factual happening. Rather, Moses is telling a 'and time stood still' story.
For decades, I took the story literally and tried various ways to 'explain'
the biblical account rationally. What made most sense to me--although not
really convincing--was Moses seeing the hillside bathed in a fiery red sunset
so that the bush appeared aflame but, of course, was not burned up.
Now, the matter seems very clear to me. Moses was a tortured soul. We might
even assume he was an emotional and moral cripple-abandoned as a child, adopted
into a 'foreign' family, probably made fun of by his childhood peers, killing
another person in cold blood ("he looked to the left and he looked to the
right and then slew the Egyptian"), fleeing his homeland, and spending his
days in the loneliness of shepherding. Being a deeply spiritually sensitive
person, how could he not be 'burning' with the memories of abandonment, rejection,
murder and longing. Yet, he found no relief, not even in death. Then, one
day, Moses had a 'time stood still' experience. He felt the past being shed
like the skin of a snake. He felt the call of God to return home to Egypt
and to give his people what he had received--liberation.
How was he to tell others of his experience--his tortured conscience and
his exhilarating freedom? Moses told of his agonizing internal struggle in
the story of a bush with flames leaping high and with much crackling and
popping, yet, with no end to the burning and burning. (I have known that
feeling.) Like many who have been liberated, Moses wanted to share that 'good
news' with others, and so, he returned to Egypt.
The use of figurative speech, metaphor and story by biblical authors to tell
of the significant events in people's lives makes much sense to me. I now
read the Bible as a book of profound, but non-literal, stories, and when
understood in this way, I find continual connections with my own life. For
example, I have not been exempt from an oppressive guilty conscience, burning
desire, passionate longing, and earth-opening-up embarrassment. I, too, stand
with Moses at the burning bush. I, too, have found the liberation he found,
as well as have felt the compulsion to share my story with others.
For me, the literal Bible was a kind of burning bush, holding so much tantalizing
promise yet, when read literally, untouchable in my experience. Learning
to read the Bible as I would read any truly superb literature--as metaphor,
parable, figure of speech and story--meant that I was able to reach, grasp
--Robert H. Tucker
13 May 2002
© Robert H. Tucker, 2002.
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