I just finished the second weekend of this preaching class, and one of the things that has hit me the most has been an approach to the text that involves imagination. It’s not imagination apart from the text, but a way of entering into the world of the text with our hearts and souls. Thinking about relaying the Scriptures in this manner has really jolted the way I read and study Scripture. It has helped it to come alive and injected a much needed energy boost in my studies.
Here are some of the suggestions I have seen for entering into the world of the text and stoking our imaginations as we do so. These suggestions are particularly helpful for Biblical narratives.
- Read the text from a variety of translations. Different versions value different aspects of translation. Some attempt to provide a more literal, word-for-word translation while others provide a more natural rending at the expense of literalness (word order, word choice). Paraphrases also present a unique perspective on the text and its meaning.
- Put it in your own words by writing your own paraphrase of a text or telling a Biblical story.Verbalizing a story or text helps to internalize it, and it requires interpretation and exploration to use your own words. At bathtime and bedtime, I have tried to start telling more stories to my girls. It’s been helpful exercise for me, and I really think they have enjoyed it.
Picture the story from the perspective of each character. Put yourself into the story and see it from their eyes. I have seen this done before, particularly with parables, with beneficial results. Henri Nouwen masterfully told the story of the prodigal son from the perspective of each character in The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming.
- Picture the faces of each character in a Biblical story. Imagine yourself at the story and picture the expressions and emotions that reside on the faces of individual characters.
- Read the passage from the perspective of various modern readers. Consider how the text would sound to a woman, a child, a homeless person, a rich man, a minority, an unemployed person, a homosexual, a Jew, a Muslim, or any host of other people. This exercise is particularly important for preachers who will be communicating the text to people from a variety of backgrounds and perspectives.
These exercises are not meant to replace Bible study but to supplement it. A thorough study of historical, geographical and cultural conditions will inform and guide the imagination. Considering the situation and/or community that gave rise to the story may help to see how it was originally intended. Finding connections to surrounding texts and other Biblical references adds whole other levels of meaning to the multi-layered story of Scripture. However, I was already utilizing many of these basic techniques for Bible study. What I needed most was to enter into the world of the text with my imagination, and doing so has refreshed and energized my study, sermon development and preaching.