When I was in seminary, my homiletics (fancy word for preaching) professor, Dr Gail Ricciuti, taught us how to exegete a periscope. In other words, how to critically analyze and understand a scripture. One of the first steps, she said, was to forget everything you have ever heard about how to interpret a scripture. She taught us that by holding on to what we thought we knew, we would be blinded to the new revelations that the scripture could reveal to us. In retrospect, it seems that she was teaching us a similar lesson to Matsuo Basho, a Japanese Haiku poet, who once wrote,
When journeying upon the path of wisdom, do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise. Seek what they sought. Seek the meaning behind their footsteps, and not upon the steps themselves. For in seeking the footsteps you shall be glancing only upon the next footprint. And you’re sure to stumble upon an unforeseen obstacle. But in seeking the meaning behind their footsteps you’re sure to see ahead; comparable to looking up while walking. Thus allowing you to easily maneuver around the hurdles on the path you walk. …And if you walk like this long enough, you’ll one day, to your surprise, find yourself among the wise.
The teachings of Basho and Dr. Riciutti taught me to not just blindly follow the interpretation or recipe of others. Rather, both challenged me to seek the meanings and understandings, which laid beneath the surface? What was behind the recipes? What was the wisdom that was coming together in this mixture of ingredients? What was the context behind the scripture? What was being said? What was not being said? What did it mean then? How could I apply that to my everyday life today?
It is this ability to question what role each ingredient plays that has allowed me to reduce several dishes, such as quesadillas, risotto, grilled cheese, hamburgers, etc. down to its essentials and then opened up the possibilities for new and never-ending interpretations. The same is true for when I was preaching on a regular basis. The ability to look beyond all that I thought I knew about a scripture enabled me to see revelations and interpretations, which had previously been invisible to me. I remember when I was in Dr Ricciuti's Intro to Preaching class, I offered a sermon on the transfiguration and her response was atypical. She thanked me for offering her an interpretation on a scripture she had become bored preaching on year after year. She had been hungry for a new approach. I was so grateful I had been able to offer her that moment of insight and revigoration.
Sometimes, it is not a single recipe, but an entire cookbook, like an entire book in a sacred text. There are wisdoms, which cannot be found by examining a single section, but must be understood and appreciated within a broader contact. Alex Guarnaschelli often talks about how she learns a lot about someone from their cooking. By eating people’s food, watching them cook, reading their cookbooks, you not only have the opportunity to learn new recipes, but to learn about food, to learn about ingredients, to learn about techniques and to unlock your own wisdom and knowledge. The same is true of listening to or reading a collection of sermons or spiritual writing.
There are lessons to be learned about life and living in so many simple things in everyday life, we just need to learn how to see beyond what is on the surface and experience the wisdom and revelations that are leading on our own journey and the development of our own wisdom.