Revisiting Noah Story

One of the people I regularly follow is Richard Rohr.  Rohr is a Franciscan brother who is an ordained Catholic priest.  He heads up an Institute for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.  I use some of his books in classes I teach and I like to read the inspirational things he produces.  I have met Rohr, but cannot claim any relationship.  But I have a relationship with his ideas and his spiritual encouragement that comes through his writings. 
A recent reflection by Rohr on the familiar biblical story of Noah is one such piece I found very interesting.  I know all too well how hard it is to take a familiar story, like the story of Noah, and help folks get a new angle and appreciation for the familiar story.  Like most people, when I hear that someone is going to take a story like this, I say in my mind, “oh, I know everything about that story and I know how to interpret it.”  So I half read or listen and find I have a self-fulfilling prophecy: I learn nothing new!  And I am not inspired because I figure I have heard it all.  Of course, that is my loss.
I know the Noah story that we find in Genesis 7-9.  This is a favorite story for kids to be taught in Sunday School or Church School.  I am sure I learned it then, but I am also sure not much stuck.  If you asked most adults who think they know the story if they know the Noah story takes three chapters in Genesis to narrate, I am sure they will be surprised.  It is easy to assume it is a short story: Noah, his family and a bunch of animals get into the boat.  It rains and forty days later, Noah and crowd get back out to become God’s saved people.
However, Rohr takes me deeper into the story and in a fresh way.  I would like to share snippets of his perspective and build on that.  Hopefully, you will find it as refreshing and inspiring as I did.  The first thing I notice is the kinds of things Rohr notices that I apparently missed.  The first thing I missed happened fairly early in the story.
We know Noah and the animals climb onto the ark because God told them of the impending doom awaiting the sinners in the world.  At this point, Rohr offers his first insight to me.  Rohr notes, “Then God does a most amazing thing.  God locks them together inside the ark (Genesis 7:16). Check it out.”  Slyly, Rohr comments further, “Most people never note that God actually closed them in!”  He’s right!  But I think, “So what?”
Rohr proceeds to develop his insight into my “so what.”  Rohr says, “God puts all the natural animosities, all the opposites together, and holds them in one place.”  I truly never thought about it that way.  Certainly, there are animals that climb aboard who otherwise would not co-exist off the boat.  I probably naively thought they were one big happy animal family.  Instead Rohr interprets differently to make a theological point suggesting how he has changed his mind.
Rohr confesses, “I used to think it was about balancing all the opposites within me, but slowly I have learned that it is actually “holding” things in their seemingly unreconciled state that widens and deepens the soul.”  So Rohr is interpreting the animals in a kind of symbolic way to image the various spirits or aspects of ourselves.  I certainly know I have conflicting emotions, ideas, desires, etc. within me.  Maybe we all need some time on an ark!  Rohr’s analysis has hooked me.
He goes deeper.  “We must allow things to be only partly resolved, without perfect closure or explanation.”  And then Rohr adds a dramatic sentence, as least in my mind.  He comments, “Christians have not been taught how to live in hope.”  This brought me up short.  I wondered whether I really know how to live in hope?  I am sure my easy answer would be, “Of course, I know how to live in hope.”  But honestly, I am not sure.  So I dove back into the end of Rohr’s analysis.  He insightfully observes, “The ego always wants to settle the dust quickly and have answers right now.  But Paul rightly says, ‘In hope we are saved, yet hope is not hope if its object is seen’ (Romans 8:24).  The virtue of hope widens and deepens our foundation.” 
I want to think more about this.  I have even written on hope, but I have new things about which to think.  And now for Rohr’s closing remarks.  “Noah’s ark is not meant to be a cute children’s story; it is a mature metaphor for the People of God on the waves of time, carrying the contradictions, the opposites, the tensions, and the paradoxes of humanity—preserving and protecting diversity inside of a safe unity created by God.”
I find it fascinating to read the Noah story as a mature metaphor for God’s people living lives in the duration of time.  He describes me and us in a pretty accurate way.  What do we do with our contraries?  What do we do with the inner conflicts?  And especially, what can we do with all the others in our neighborhood and world whom we don’t like and would rather have simply disappear?  Rohr frames an answer that I like.  “God’s gathering of contraries is, in fact, the very school of salvation, the school of love.  That’s where growth happens: in honest community and committed relationships.  Love is learned in the encounter with “otherness.”
I am glad to have revisited the Noah story.  I am renewed and inspired.

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