In seminary, I learned the Greek word, “pericope.”
In the past two weeks, I’ve been dealing in snippets… pericopes… of the life and times of the Episcopal Church in Central Pennsylvania and assembling a new life for myself in a place that is brand new to me by collecting experiential snippets.
Snippets and pericopes are bits. Bits of stories, bits of scripture, things (words, stories, experiences and places) that are not fully representative of the whole to which they belong, but are integral tads that tell part of the story.
When we go to church on a Sunday, we hear the lessons from scripture and they are small snippets of much larger books. Sometimes- most usually, in the epistles and the gospels- we hear these lessons seriatum: week by week we get the next part of the story, in order, eventually making our way through the book. In this season of the church year after Pentecost, we also have the option of making our way through a book of the Hebrew Scriptures (the first lesson) in a seriatum manner, as well. At other times of the year, these first lessons are usually selected to illuminate the gospel.
But even seriatum reading of scripture in church on Sunday is a little maddening. Who remembers from week to week what we heard… last Sunday? What if we miss a week? Is it helpful to hear only part of the story? If we follow the Daily Office, those of us with “advancing age memories” have a better chance of stringing the story together - the story advances day by day, and the developing story is easier to follow. These days, as I read Morning Prayer I’ve been enthralled, again, at the stories of David, Samuel and Saul; this morning Saul came to a bloody end at the tip of his own sword, unwilling to fall to the Philistines. Heavy stuff to digest before one’s even finished the first cup of coffee.
As I make my way around town, I am collecting snippets of experience that are informing my impression of Harrisburg and Central PA… and guiding my way forward as I (we) choose a place to live. I discovered St. Thomas Coffee Roasters at the rotary in Linglestown. Delicious coffee; soft sofas; generous pieces of custardy quiche; a cozy, hip vibe and a generous front porch on which to sit and watch the world go by. I got to drive from Mount Hope back to Harrisburg last Sunday through some amazing farmland. The clouds were puffy white, the silos stood in the center of the farm like sentries, keeping watch; the fields went on and on and on in wavy rows of corn, not quite as high, yet, as a elephant’s eye. It was a pastoral “snippet” that made my heart sing. I found the post office on Jonestown Road and mailed a package.. Now, this is not an award-winning achievement (and, truth be told, my GPS got me there) but it is another snippet. Another dot. Another piece of putting a life together here, in a new place, that goes into the mix of experience, and adds up. Next time, I won’t need the GPS.
Most importantly, I’ve been listening to stories. Stories of diocesan leaders, parishes, bishops, events and places that are helping me to form a picture of this place where God has sent me to lead. I’ve heard about church picnics, concerts, floods, people rallying together to support the sick, and joining together to build parish houses. I’ve heard about youth events, mountain bands, vacation bible schools, choirs and preachers. I’ve heard some stories of betrayal, disappointment and loss. And I’ve heard snippets of great joy, delight and deep satisfaction.
These are pericopes of the past, mostly, and they are helping me to understand where you’ve been. No one story tells it all. And every story is essential.
I’m looking forward to the day when I can tell some stories. When I can share my snippets of life here, as an Episcopalian in Central PA. and know that they are part of the whole truth. But now, I’m collecting- snippets, bits, tads, pericopes. And it is all good. I’m listening.. .and I’m learning.
Ponder about the stories that you might tell about what you’ve seen… about the place that you hold as your own in this collective story. What pericope is yours? Which snippet do you claim as integral to the story of you and your community? And what might someone “from away” learn from you- only you- that is important and essential?