A Bible Workbench Gathering in Colorado

In Letters to a Young Poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes:

Be patient towards all that is unsolved in your heart and try to love the questions themselves like locked rooms….Do not now seek the answer; that cannot be given you because you would not be able to live them. And the point is, to live everything. Live the questions now. Perhaps you will then, gradually, without noticing it, live along some distant day into the answer.

These words from Rilke offer insight into the Educational Center’s pedagogy. We are about living with questions.

As part of a Christian Education Conference a number of years ago, former Executive Director Bill Dols explored three texts—two from the bible and one from Dr. Seuss. At the end of the sessions, after having experienced the narratives through silence, movement, and art, one person asked, “Could you have warned us at the start about the danger of this kind of education?”

There is indeed a certain level of danger in maieutic education. When you open to the questions a story poses, you are agreeing to try to hear the text anew, open to letting the text have its way with you. It takes courage to be open to this kind of challenge. And courage abounded several weeks ago in Boulder Colorado when 9 of us gathered for a Bible Workbench retreat. Our text was John 20: 1-18, the story of Mary Magdalene at the empty tomb, weeping because “they have taken my master and I do not know where they have laid him.” Mary is looking at Jesus of course, but through her tears does not recognize him and believes him to be the gardener. At this point in the story Jesus asks Mary, “why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?”

Throughout our scripture narratives Jesus asks the tough and essential questions: could you not stay awake? Who touched me? What do you want me to do for you? Do you love me? And the all important who do you say that I am? So we crawled around in the questions posed in John 20. We asked ourselves, why am I weeping or when have I wept before? Who in our lives stands weeping? Who in our world is weeping? What about empty tombs? Are there empty tombs in our lives? Places where we stand outside, weeping for the might-have-beens or should-have-beens? Are there empty tombs in our culture, places or habits to which we return, thinking…this time it will be different? Where and how is Mary’s story our own story?

In a Bible Workbench session we let the text work within us. In Boulder we used clay to give form to our own empty tombs. We stood outside our own tombs and remembered a time when we stood weeping. We also listened to music, and we sat very still in deep silence. To let a story touch you, you have to turn down the noise. You must quit relying on anything you think you “know” about a story and again, let it have its way with you.

When Jesus calls Mary by name, she finally sees him and reaches for him. Jesus responds, “Do not hold on to me.” What might he mean? Countless artists have captured this moment in painting. We looked at works by Titian, Correggio, Bronzino, Tintoretto, and Dali. Again, we let the story speak to us. We asked ourselves “what am I holding on to?” An outdated notion? A hopeless situation? A delusion? Self-doubt? Mistrust? Anger?

When we let Mary’s story loose among us, it is possible that we, like her, might know something about transformation. We might be able to see with new eyes, not through tears. We might be able to feel the staggering power of the Christ. We might come to understand that it is only from the other side of the tomb that we can experience the resurrection. This is the work of the Educational Center.

If you are interested in having a Bible Workbench retreat or training session in your area, please contact us. If you are interested in other retreat possibilities, do not hesitate to get in touch. We can design an experience specifically for your group.

Sheila Ennis, Director, The Educational Center

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