Midrash

Midrash

The Jewish practice of midrash is a way of interpreting Scripture that asks questions more than seeks always certain and unchanging answers. It allows many possibilities, many levels of faith-filled meaning—meaning that is relevant and applicable to you, the reader, and puts you in the subject’s shoes to build empathy, understanding, and relationship. It lets the passage first challenge you before it challenges anyone else. To use the text in a spiritual way is to allow it to convert you, to change you, to grow you up. What does this ask of me? How might this apply to my life, to my marriage, to my church, to my neighborhood, to my country?

The German poet, Rainer Maria Rilke, seemed to grasp the value of this practice applied not only to a sacred text, but to life. He wrote to a young friend, begging him to “have patience with everything that remains unsolved in your heart. Try to love the questions themselves, like locked rooms and like books written in a foreign language. Do not now look for the answers. They cannot now be given to you because you could not live them. It is a question of experiencing everything. At present you need to live the question. Perhaps you will gradually, without even noticing it, find yourself experiencing the answer, some distant day.”

As Jesus modeled so masterfully in his teaching, welcome uncertainty and paradox. Respond to questions with yet more questions, like Jesus did with the lawyer who asked how he might inherit eternal life, but really only to “justify himself” (Luke 10:25-37). Let the wisdom written on your own heart lead you, through experiencing God’s love, toward mercy and justice.