What a wonderful experience: to sit and watch my son eating ice cream! I found his favourite flavour, not because of my own ingenuity, but because the flavour I would have ordered was sold out at the local store. So I told them to surprise me. Now, here I am, watching him eating white chocolate ice cream for the first time.
“It looks like vanilla but it tastes like chocolate,” he states, while staring down into the bowl. He is interpreting a flavour.
What about children hearing a bible story for the first time? What is interpretation to a child? Like adults, they use their senses. Hearing is the gateway to interpretation. How are our senses involved when we receive a text? Do we look at pictures that explain it? What interpretation of the text do the pictures present? Do we rely on the voice of the reader? What does the quality of voice tell us about the text?
Children are not only interpreting text by listening and seeing: they are interpreting the moment in time in which they hear the text. They are interpreting the place in which they hear the story, the rug they sit on, the people around them, the face of the reader, the scent in the sanctuary, and the quality of the light through the windows. All of these things have an effect on our adult interpretations, though we might not recognize them. We can become accustomed to listening in the multifarious times and places where we find ourselves. We can become unaware of the context’s effect on our interpretations.
Maybe biblical scripture is the object of interpretation, but the substance of our interpretation is context community. Many children understand this instinctively.
How much of my son’s interpretation of this new ice cream flavour depends on the fact that I am watching him eat it, and that I am in bliss? I have wondered if there is much that is more satisfying then watching my child enjoy food that I give him.
May we enjoy the nourishment of scripture, recognize the effect that our particular times and places have on it, and allow it to transform us each we encounter it.