A while ago I was reading through a listserv where members have been debating and discussing reading the Old Testament. I usually lurk on that list, only once in a while jumping in – mostly because I am not well-versed in the Bible. The post I read this morning which caught my eye talked about how everyone since the Enlightenment reads the Bible analytically. I responded in this fashion, (in one of my rare appearances on this particular list). I post my response here, because it gets to the heart of how and why I write (whether that be fiction, or fact), and how and why I function as an academic historian:
Actually it is possible to pray the Bible rather than analyse it. I was trying to find a way to say this without setting up ‘having a simple faith’ as the only reverse to this particular obverse. I would guess, anyone who is mostly ‘right-brained’ – that is to say, poets, artists, musicians, writers of fiction (or perhaps writers in general), and so on, are perfectly capable of reading the Bible without being analytical. Your are correct to a point – that the cultural training which predisposes everyone since the Enlightenment to analyse, analyse, analyse kicks in automatically now and then – but wrong to suppose that this is the default position for everyone. It is not, for me. Yes I will read the Bible – or read the posts here on the Bible and stop and say, ‘hey, wait a minute, that doesn’t make sense!’ – but mostly I read the Bible as poetry – as flashes of colour and light shooting across my mind – as images which together make one grand image. I cannot comprehend the grand image – in that I cannot see it all – anymore than by looking at the sky at night you can see it all in one gaze – you have to move your head about and see bits and pieces – but you get a sense of the whole, of the beauty intrinsic to the whole contained in the bits and pieces you can see.
I have, all my life, wondered at my abilities, but mostly lack of ability to function well in this analytical, left-brained world. Not until three years ago, when I was at the tender age of 58 did I finally become reconciled with, comfortable with, the reality that I do not easily see analytically – but my internal default is to see as a poet sees – to see either beauty or ugliness (sometimes they are the same – that is, there is a strange beauty in ugliness) —
I came up with a personal credo statement to express my (and that of others like me) difference. You might say a good motto for the analytical age comes from Descartes: ‘cogito, ergo sum’ (I think, therefore I am).
I found a neat, expressive Latin verb which produced my credo: ‘persentio, ergo sum’ (I feel deeply, therefore I am). This is how I read the Bible. I find the analysis here fascinating and awe inspiring in the work and learning and intelligence which goes into it – but I feel like an anthropologist engaging in participant-observation of a new tribe …..or to be more accurate, I am a former, not terribly successful, member of that tribe who has been away and has returned to realise suddenly how I was different all these years from my old tribe.