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Fish Stylesheet

Word Medicine

Origen, whom some believe was the first systematic theologian of the Early Church, is undoubtedly a master wordsmith, especially when he speaks of the meaning and function of scripture. Origen blends the medium and the message tightly together in a way that speaks for itself.

Speaking about the medicinal qualities of scripture, Origen makes an analogy between those with leprosy and other illnesses who came to Jesus in the first century and those who are sick of soul who come to the Word in the latter centuries. The Bible is fundamentally medicine for the soul sick. Here is how he puts it:

And because of Jesus, who is the physician, is himself the Word of God, he prepares medicine for his patients not from the juices of herbs but from the mysteries [sacrament] of words. Whoever, without knowing the power of the particular words, sees these Word-Medicines scattered through books like weeds in the field, will simply pass them by as worthless and uncultivated speech.

From my experience, I am amazed that I have studied the same book, the Bible, for over 30 years and still find it to be Word medicine. It is not always so because I pass by the words often in an unreflective manner, thinking that I know what they mean. The type of reading that Origen is suggesting cannot be taught by a reading clinician. Contemplating, absorbing, and being drawn to exactly the Word that heals, is a mysterious process. It requires an attitude of reverence to get it right. It is not the reverence of the literalist, nor is it the fascination of the scholar, but rather it is the humble attitude of one in recognition of their own sickness.

I can't help but think of influential Syrian general Naaman in the Old Testament who was required by a prophet to dip himself three times in the dirty water of Jordan (2 Kings 5:1-27). It seemed stupid and inane to him I'm sure. But Naaman's leprosy made him desperate. I guess I have to ask myself am I desperate enough to come to scripture willing to hear every word, even words that either make no sense, or seem banal. Will I let the simple things heal me? Strange as it seems, maybe I have to approach the Levitical codes, the genealogies, and the rest of scripture with the same reverence I would the healing stories. All I know, it's important for me to renew my respect for what I'm dealing with in God's revelation.

Origen makes an excellent analogy between reading a book of nature as a revelation of God and the words of scripture. He doesn't sound unlike a Creation spirituality theologian.

For just as in making the world the Divine skill is manifest not only in the heavens, and the sun, and moon, and stars... but is also brought about on the earth in all lowliest manner, so that not even the bodies of the tiniest animals are neglected by the maker, nor did he neglect the plants of the earth since in each of them there is something artistic in their roots and leaves, in the fruit they produce, and in the varieties of their qualities, so it is our conviction regarding all that has been written by the inspiration of Holy Spirit, that sublime Providence bestows super human wisdom on the human race by means of the letters, sowing, so to speak, saving thoughts and traces of wisdom in each letter according to its capacity.

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