People came up yesterday after I gave my homily on the paralyzed man in church and said they liked to hear the scriptures, especially the gospels, explained in the light of archeology and the other historical sciences. I think this approach is a way of doing what older meditation methods called the “composition of place,” using one’s imagination and senses to enter the gospels and the scriptures.
Formerly, we would set a gospel scene as best we could, sometimes using the descriptions of mystics or artists who imagined the time and place as they would, often using the topography, the dress, the world they saw around them. Their depictions are still helpful, not so much because they accurately described things, but from the lessons they drew from their meditations.
The picture above from the 1500s or so of the beheading of John the Baptist is an example. Nothing like 1st century Palestine, but the little light in the distant sky tells us what the gospels say: God sees it all and will vindicate his prophet in the end.
Two engineers were listening to my talk yesterday. One said “There were two miracles in that story. Those fellows and the paralyzed man on the roof should have fallen through. No roof I know could have sustained that weight!”
And someone who knows insurance told me: “Peter wouldn’t have any worries if he had a good policy!”
I think we are on to something.