Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Friday, May 16, 2014


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith From a Place of Winter for the Years of Winter…

I once memorized the Gospel of Mark.

It’s not as great a feat as it might sound. At one time candidates for the ministry in the Church of Scotland had to memorize the Psalms, all of them. I tried that. I couldn’t do it.  They were too much alike. I could memorize Mark because it had movement, a story, a beginning and a middle and an end, and another beginning…

I memorized the King James Version, because I read that British actor Alec McCowen had memorized the KJV of Mark and was performing it on stage. I did a little acting at the time, in community theater, and I thought that would be a neat thing to do, to perform Mark.

I was also a long distance runner in those days, and the long miles on back roads got lonely and boring at times. I thought memorizing Mark would give me something good to do as I ran. I bought a dozen little paperbacks of Mark, so that when one got sweated through from being carried in the waistband of my running shorts, I would always have another in reserve.

I chose Mark and the KJV for the same reasons McCowen did, because it is the shortest, and the KJV is the most dramatic, most stage-worthy version. I also chose it because Mark is the template for the other Gospels.

I did perform Mark a few times, but that turned out to be just a byproduct of the memorization. The real payoff was seeing the Gospel story as a whole.

Hans Frei has said that our current misuse of the Bible comes from “the eclipse of biblical narrative.” [The title of his book.] One of the reasons for that eclipse is that we look at the Gospel, and the Bible in general, only one pericope, one story, one saying, one passage at a time. [1] When we hear the Bible read in church, it is usually without any context. We have no idea where those words from Lamentations or Matthew or Revelation fit in the total biblical story. Thus the Bible becomes not the narrative of God’s relation to the world, but an anthology of generic observations.

In the winter of my years, I can’t memorize a grocery list of three things, like bread, bread, and bread. But because I memorized Mark, I know that the Bible is not just God’s grocery list of unconnected items, helpful hints for pious living, but God’s STORY of salvation. That story includes me. And you. And everybody. That’s really all I need to remember.

John Robert McFarland

1] The MSW sphelczhek is not very knowledgeable about biblical and theological language. It changed pericope to periscope. It also changes pastored to pastured.

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