It is one of life’s small and spectacular miracles that the context of a situation can change everything. I mean, have you ever wondered how you can read the Bible over and over again and yet still find something new each time. Yes, it is God at work through His word but it is also because your context has changed. When your personal situation in life alters, everything else becomes different in some way.
But let’s move away from the Bible for a moment. Don’t worry, we’ll come back to scripture in a moment. For now, though, let’s play to my strengths and talk Disney!
To be precise, let’s talk about one specific Disney song: ‘Just around the Riverbend’ from Pocahontas. In my opinion, a song unfairly put on disc two of Now That’s What I Call Disney. It is also a song that took on a whole new meaning over several car journeys. Why the change and why did it take several journeys?
A lessons from Pocahontas
Most of my recent car journeys have been to see my boyfriend. Such are the joys of a mid-distance relationship. Talk about a change in situation – I’d gone from being single and living within a relatively small area to driving over four hours every other week. My life had taken a sharp left onto a road I hadn’t expected… or should that be round an unexpected riverbend?
While my history with Pocahontas is rocky, it is one of my favourite Disney films as an adult. My favourite song might be ‘Just around the Riverbend’ but I still interpreted it as a struggle between an easy life of marriage and a life of adventure. Pocahontas is given two options: stay home with a husband to look after her OR strike out on her own to find adventure and dream new dreams.
It wasn’t until I was singing along during a drive that this understanding got flipped. What if the song wasn’t as literal as I thought. Instead of a binary choice between marriage and adventure, I felt the song was asking me if I wanted an easy life or one that had room for dreams.
This no-longer-that-new, not-so-baby relationship is my first one in eight years. I had been doing mental gymnastics, flipping between being uber-excited and stressed out/scared by the change. Being in a relationship wasn’t an easy choice and it will always require effort from both sides. As I sang along to the familiar tune, I had a realisation: marriage is not always the smoothest course.
As a long-term single, it was actually an unknown option that I had long since crossed off the list. If anything was the smoothest course, it was staying single because I knew what to expect in my life – there was a plan! I could relate to Pocahontas but in the opposite way: where marriage was off-putting to Pocahontas because it was safe, I found myself becoming nervous about my relationship becoming increasingly serious. (Fortunately, I have a wonderful and very patient now-fiance who has walked each step with me.)
Would I have come to this realisation without the song? I don’t know though I hope I would have. What is certain is that I would not have seen this reverse-side to the song if my context had remained the same; it would still be a song about marriage vs adventure. Instead, I’ve come to understand, that for me at least, marriage is the adventure and being single would be the smooth and steady route.
Unwrapping the layers of scripture
Let’s swap back to the Bible. How does the context that you read the Bible in affect how we understand and interpret it? I have to be careful here to not sound like I’m suggesting we force the Bible to say what we want. That is dangerous and leads to heresy. Yet at the same time, I have to accept that my personal situation does change how I view scripture.
Let me ask you, how many times have you passed over the woman with an internal bleed whom Jesus healed? I did, all the way up to my mid-20s. She was another example of how Jesus rewards faith in Him. That was until I wanted to come off the contraceptive pill, which I was on due to cramps. During that time, my vicar spoke on that passage and how the woman may have had menstrual problems. Like a sledgehammer, that passage took on a new meaning to me: Jesus cares about my periods, menstrual cycle and fear around them.
What about Psalm 139? One of the most famous psalms but it has meant different things to me at different times. When I have been my most depressed, I’ve found a reminder that no cave is too deep for God to reach into. When I’ve doubted if I’m loved, I have experienced the love of a parent. When questioning if there is a purpose to my life, God has reassured me there is rhyme and reason to my days.
Without the changes in my life – changes to my personal context – I would have missed out on these beautiful layers of scripture. A sceptic or atheist may say that this is pure coincidence, the result of me inserting myself into the text. Maybe that is true for something like a song in a Disney film. But scripture… that is something different. I firmly believe that God inspired and caused the Biblical authors to write in such a way that these many layers are there on purpose. We can find hope, love, reason, mercy, grace and so much more throughout these ancient texts because that is what God meant to happen.
Your word is a lamp to my feetPsalm 119v105 ESV
and a light to my path.
The Bible is a light to our feet. And just like a lamp shows us what is around us, Scripture reveals what is going on in our lives – both around and inside us. The next time you find yourself wandering around in the dark, not sure what’s going on, take some advice from Dumbledore and turn on the light. Only this time, the light isn’t found in Harry Potter or Disney or even a light; it is found in the Bible.