I just finished reading Sandy Eisenberg Sasso’s book God’s Echo: Exploring Scripture with Midrash. Sasso is a rabbi who shares with her readers the Jewish practice of midrash. Midrash is a process of entering into the stories read in Scripture and at the same time allowing those stories to enter your own life and times. The resulting interpretations of Scripture often become imaginative retellings of the stories that explore the parts of the story that is missing in the scriptural narrative or address issues or concerns relevant to current situations the reader is facing.
In this small volume, she does a marvelous job of describing this process and then illustrating it with examples that have been meaningful in her own life. In each of the examples, she shares the original text followed by one or more of the interpretations from various published midrashic texts. She gives additional explanation of what the rabbis who wrote the midrash samples were addressing in their own times or points out the larger questions being explored in their interpretations. Each example also includes her own personal relationship with the story and the midrash and questions designed to help the reader begin their own exploration of the story in a deeper way.
The very fact that I read this book now is one of those synchronistic moments that are hard to explain away. Paraclete Press recently had a book sale that I happened to learn about through a Facebook friend who is published by them. The sale was so good that I wound up ordering a stack of books. This particular book was one that I was interested in but was hesitant to add to the stack because the bill was increasing faster than I wanted it to. I had never heard of the author at that point; I just thought the topic sounded intriguing. As I was viewing my “shopping cart” to decide whether I could really afford all of the books I wanted, I discovered that I could use a special code to get a free book of the day. The free book of the day turned out to be this very one that I wanted!
Days after ordering the books, I discovered that I would be able to enroll in a seminary course through my new employment, and the class I wound up taking is Introduction to Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. The day that the course enrollment was finalized and I purchased my textbooks was the day that I came home to find the box of books sitting on my doorstep waiting for me. So as I begin to study the Hebrew Bible, I have this gift of this book encouraging me to enter more deeply into the stories in this imaginative way to see them as my own.
But that is not all! I then found out about a local event that includes one of my favorite musical artists, the author of a book that my book club discussed this past weekend, and an author whose name I did not recognize. That is, I didn’t recognize it until I picked up this book over the weekend (after getting my ticket to the local event) to discover that Sandy Eisenberg Sasso is the third person at this event!
At that point, I figured I couldn’t miss the signs that I needed to read this book. I’m really glad I did. It gave me so much to think about and so much to enrich the reading and study I am doing for class. (And now I really can’t wait to hear her speak!) Having come from a background that emphasized the inerrancy of Scripture and its literalness, this encouragement to play with Scripture, to relate one part to another, and to genuinely struggle and question those parts that don’t make sense is liberating.
One of the passages that spoke to me most powerfully is one in which she is talking about how we each interact with the stories—and with God—in unique ways. She says:
“I have always been struck by the Jewish teaching that God is like a mirror, and everyone who looks into it sees a different face. After all, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob each looked into that mirror and saw different faces and so called God by different names.”
She goes on to talk about the different names of God and how the names that each of the patriarchs used fit their personal story and experience and then encourages the reader to explore their own relationship with God and choose their own name, either from one of the traditional names for God or from one of their own choosing, like Friend, Healer, or Mother.
This whole discussion lightened my heart to think that it is okay that I see a different face in the mirror than other people do. No wonder we all see God a little differently! And what a beautiful image this is for me when I struggle with those who see God differently than I do. But I am also deeply moved by the idea that I could choose my own name for God that reflects my experience. This is such a powerfully intimate thing to do that I never would have considered on my own, but now that she has given me the idea, I am irresistibly drawn to the idea.
The book is filled with gems of thought like this one—both in the main text and in the afterword by Sr. Joan Chittister. I need to re-read it again in order to take more time to savor and record all of the many, many quotable passages in this book, ones that are worthy of deep pondering and reflection themselves.
A Note on Comments: A chrysalis is by nature a fragile and vulnerable place to be, so I am committed to keeping this a safe place for me and for my readers. Comments sharing your own journey, even if your experience is different from mine, are always welcome and encouraged. Expressions of support or encouragement are also welcome. Comments that criticize, disparage, correct, or in any way attempt to undermine the validity of another person’s experience or personal insight are not welcome here and will be deleted.