A Personal and Social Transformation through Scripture
But it was not enough to criticize the old mode of biblical scholarship. What was needed was an alternative, new paradigm, a way beyond the anomaly. I was planning a "normal" scholarly sabbatical in Tübingen, Germany, when two of my former students persuaded me to look into a program in San Francisco with the Guild for Psychological Studies. Using Jungian-depth psychology as an aid in interpretation, Dr. Elizabeth Boyden Howes and her colleagues were studying the Bible in a wholistic context aimed at the transformation of persons. I visited that summer, found it the answer to my need, and reversed directions on my sabbatical.
The approach of the Guild for Psychological Studies provided just the distance I needed in order to fight free of the hold which the objectivist paradigm still exercised over me. From my studies during that sabbatical and during each of seventeen subsequent summers, I not only received necessary training in the Guild's Jungian approach for use in my own work, but I was also able to articulate an alternative to the current scholarly paradigm which, I hoped, might be at least one way to help free others who were caught on the same snag.
The heart of her approach was a Socratic style of biblical study aimed at human transformation. The leader’s role is to probe the group’s understanding of the text by means of carefully prepared questions. Insofar as these questions are themselves the fruit of the leader’s thorough exegesis of the passage, the questions are intended not to manipulate the group into coming around to the leader’s opinions but rather to guide the group to an opening or “clearing” in which the questions and realities that brought the text into being can be encountered once again. The leader is a guide, a person who has “been there before” and can therefore indicate something of what awaits the explorers. But it is the task of the group to discover the manifold wisdom and truth of what is there and to articulate the insights that emerge.
And because insights are first felt, long before they take the form of thoughts or words, the group regularly uses art forms--clay, painting, music, meditation, and written “dialogues.” These activities help to surface and embody the inchoate first stirrings of the Spirit’s new work, as it is mediated by the group’s reflection on Scripture. (Details can be found in my Transforming Bible Study, 2nd ed. [Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1990].)
More important, however, was what began to happen to me. I began to sense that I had to do something about the poverty of my own self. Otherwise, I would be unable to proceed closer to the mystery in Scripture but would simply continue to circle its perimeter, accumulating ever more information without my being changed by the encounter.
I am beginning to understand that no scholar can construct a picture of Jesus beyond the level of spiritual awareness that she or he has attained. No reconstruction outstrips its reconstructor. We cannot explain truths we have not yet understood. We cannot present insights that we have not yet fathomed. Our picture of Jesus reflects, not only Jesus, but the person portraying Jesus, and if we are spiritual infants or adolescents, there are whole realms of human reality that will simply escape us. In Rev. 1:19, the seer John is ordered, "Now write what you see." The problem lies precisely there: in sight. We can only describe what we see, and if we haven't seen it, we may miss the revelation entirely. It is my spiritual blindness that is the greatest impediment to my scholarship.
One of the early exercises in the first seminar I attended at the Guild in 1971 was to make out of clay my own inner paralytic (Mark 2:1-12). I had a Ph.D. and a prestigious academic appointment; I "had" no paralytic. Life was spinning along just fine, I thought. But to be a good sport I tried it. Shutting my eyes as they suggested, I let my hands have their way. After a period of time had passed, I looked to see what my hands had done. They had made a beautiful bird--with a broken wing! I am no artist and was simply astonished that my hands had done this. More significant still, I suddenly knew precisely what that broken-winged bird was in me: an atrophied feeling of function. Thus began the task of recovering my capacity to feel that was to last, in earnest, for the next several decades.
In time, my wife June and I began to lead workshops together, using not only clay and pastels, mime, and role playing, but also her own unique blend of meditation and movement. When I learned about right/left brain theory, it was like an epiphany. I began to understand why these exercises “worked” so powerfully. We had simply been “half-wits” and were recovering the brain’s full function.
Meanwhile, in the flow, I had hit another snag, as important as the first and as intractable. But by that time I had learned to respect my snags, to believe in them as a certain kind of voice. So I honored this one. I had, in my book, discussed the importance of "exegeting the exegete," of bringing under analysis not only the analyst's attitudes and reactions to the text, but also her social situation, her vested interests, and the political implications of his or her work. I had no clear idea of how to proceed, nor had any of my subsequent work helped me significantly. In fact, my preoccupation with psychological insights tended to eclipse social and political questions.