Playdates: Of Puzzles and Poetry

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Biblical exegesis is more studied and reflective than interpretation. It holds scripture up for contemplation in various ways. Sometimes it is like working a puzzle. Other times it is like appreciating art…Dr. Patricia Tull, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.
I bought it for Teddy for Christmas—this 2000 piece puzzle depicting Van Gogh’s Starry Night. We’ve been working on it for a couple months now, struggling to correctly place the blues and purples and yellows and browns.
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It has been harder than I thought it would. One day, in frustration, I turned all the pieces face up and spread them out on the dining room table. In this way, surely the right piece would jump out at me. But it was not to be. Still, I had to painstakingly look at the pieces surrounding the sought one—what color am I looking for? Are there characteristic marks? I hold the box picture above my work, moving pieces around accordingly; placing them on top of the whole until I can identify approximately to what area it belongs.
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I learned how to do much the same with the Bible this weekend.
It was Biblical exegesis class, one in a series of a 4 or 5 year program I am participating in to become a Lay Pastor. This one, I was dreading. The reading assignments were laborious and the written homework tedious. We learned about different kinds of Biblical criticism: historical, form, literary, blah, blah, blah. And we were each assigned a passage of scripture to pick apart according to certain techniques.
This is crazy, I thought, as I went over my assigned passage one more time. It’s not like I’m going to write a scholarly paper or something.
I was nervous. I can’t do this stuff.
Take the Word of God; add one passionate professor and a group of eager students–and those tedious procedures take on breath. The Word is alive.
Yes, it is like working a puzzle—looking at the context, reading the pieces before and after, keeping the entire canon in mind…asking questions: Are there characteristics that stand out here? Patterns? How does this fit into the surrounding context? What does it say to me today?
Gaps pull us into the story—we are not told everything, are we? Asking questions gets us engaged with the passage. (Dr. Patricia Tull, Louisville Seminary)
We talk about narrative and poetry and how different translations handle different literary genres. It is appreciating art and as we discuss Biblical poetry, I walk around the piece—study it from all angles.
Translations of poetry try to be true to the original language and also make it read eloquently in English, Dr. Tull says. And we look at some examples.
Her enthusiasm is contagious and the room hums.
I mean, just look at Genesis 12: 13, she exclaims. The text changes from narrative to poetry in the middle of God’s dialogue. So…even in God’s narration, there is poetry.
Of course there is.
A storm passes over the church where we study and rain pounds against brick and glass and wind wails outside. And right there in the middle of a discussion on anti-Semitism in the history of Biblical scholarship, the Divine knocks on the door of my heart and I am overwhelmed by this Being and the Kindness that keeps me company.
How about you? How do you embrace the God-joy? Every Monday I’ll be sharing one of my Playdates with God. I would love to hear about yours. It can be anything: outside, quiet time. Maybe it’s solitary. Maybe it’s loud and crowded. Just find Him. Be with Him. And come tell us about it.
Grab the Playdates button from the sidebar:

Sharing with L.L. Barkat today also:

On In Around button


  1. says

    Sounds fascinating, with the right guidance. Love Van Gogh’s Starry Night. If you’re going to work and work (or play and play) on a puzzle–good choice. btw, if you ever do write a scholarly paper, I’d try to read it. However, right now I’m enjoying Brody’s Story. I ordered it and Derek’s Story for my girls after we’d gone to a Children’s Lit. Festival. I saw them on your sidebar and thought they’d be good. So right!

  2. says

    Isn’t it amazing how all the puzzle pieces fit so beautifully together when we have the knowledge to apply HIS word.

    Blessings, hugs, and prayers,

  3. says

    Ah, your last words about experiencing God-joy really grabbed me. I linked up. I hadn’t planned it, but when you asked the question, well, you will see… I wrote about God-joy even in a sad & lonely situation.

    I reckon we experience it when we reach for it, especially with empty hands.


  4. says

    The puzzle is so reprenstive of our lifes and the weave that God does in them. How wonderful to know at the end it is so beautifully fitted perfectly together to create a gorgous picture

  5. says

    If I laid out a 2,000 piece puzzle on our dining room table expecting it to be there when I got home from work, my cat would take the pieces and hide them all over the house. Then, the puzzle turns into a treasure hunt to find all the pieces so I don’t have an incomplete picture. I guess that’s how I view looking at the Bible putting together the pieces and at times hunting for treasured verses in order to get a complete picture of God.

    Great blog!

  6. says

    It is amazing, what we find when we lay His Word out and let His Spirit speak into the words we see, isn’t it?

    I discovered it in college, after a year of Bible training, how to read my Bible and find God and not the lessons I’d grown up looking for…

  7. says

    Love the idea of how the picture SLOWLY takes shape as we piece together the pieces. Like a poem, revealed one line at a time.

    Ephesians 2v10 say that ‘we are God’s workmanship’, this word workmanship can also be translated poem. We are God’s poem, slowly being revealed. One piece of the picture, one line at a time.

    Gorgeous Laura 🙂

    Claire x

  8. says

    I actually posted 2 links on your “Play Dates with God”. (Both are on the theme of Experiments in Art.) One of the links doesn’t seem to work right. I hope you’ll read both posts when you reach my blog.

    Laura, I’m glad you got to appreciate a thoughtful exegesis session. And any time we connect with God, is a milestone, a miracle, and a blessing. The big picture in the puzzle of your life is known to HIM. God be with you today in joy and in strength.

  9. says

    I may jump into the link sometime – right now I just like reading you. And you are so right – it is like a jigsaw and every piece has a place – the poetry, the parable, the prophets – your class sounds awesome. Your heart for God is obvious. Thank you for this. God bless and keep you and all of yours.

    P.S. And you know what – I’ll include a poem – I don’t write them often they take so much work – but I’ll link up a poem. It’s like a little play time because I don’t play with God in the form of poetry often.

  10. says

    P.P.S. I changed my mind – the poem has already been on another linky – I’ll join the playdate later with something more original. God bless.

  11. says

    So you did fix my link! Thanks. I still don’t understand what went wrong; I thought I did both of them the same way.

    To answer your query, posted on my blog, about whether I’ll share the results of my art-creativity—-

    I hope so, I truly hope so. But I seem to start new projects more readily than I finish old ones. I finally printed out the angelfish from my post some weeks ago, so now I can paint them, and someday maybe they’ll get glued to a watery-art background.

    If God likes us to have playdates with Him, then I’m “in”. While the adage says “all work and no play makes Jack a dull boy,” it seems like Christians sometimes expect us to “work for the night is coming.” (But he also says we need to be like little children, to enter the kingdom of God. So maybe in our play, we are coming and coming in.

  12. says

    I love this post! And I love the analogy between jigsaw and exegesis. And I love your professor’s quotes – what a great class and what a great goal for you. I’m just retired after several years of pastoral ministry – you’ve got some good stuff to look forward to and some great stuff to appreciate all along the journey.

  13. says

    I love jigsaw puzzles. During Christmas vacations, my family would usually set up the card table and start one which my mom and I would work on into the wee hours of the night. There’s something addictive about finding just that one more piece. Beautiful analogy, Laura. And, if there’s anything in all the world worth investing our time and attention, what else compares to the word of the Living God?

  14. says

    This sounds like an awesome class. Intense, yes. But awesome. I love looking at one or two verses at a time, especially with a group, and really digging into it.

    And the puzzle analogy is perfect here.

  15. says

    Lovely the way you connect putting the puzzle pieces together with studying God’s word, looking at it from different angles. And in the end it all fits even when the individual pieces don’t make sense.

  16. says

    Oh! I love that you have so many linkies…and yours was the one blog I got to read today:) that’s all/if that I get amidst this travel, etc.

    so glad to be here and read this and love that exegesis is coming alive and fun!! seminary time was about the most ‘fun’ I’ve had my whole life in a certain sense…so nice to track and say, ‘yes’ this is a delight and so, so, fun to see HIM…know Him, hear Him and learn/grow in how to more!

    my story stalled at the last part…I will finish soon! on a tuesday and you will see it here!

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