Reading Thrones

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.  And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.

Revelation 22:1-5; text for Sunday, May 26, 2019

This is not a devotion about Revelation.  It is a rant about reading.  

Game of Thrones has ended.  

I never watched the show in full.  We don’t have cable.  And when I first heard of it, it sounded much too graphic for my cosy-Cotswold-cottage taste in tales.  But a few seasons in, I read a Washington Post review by Hank Stuever, an apology for his initial dismissal of GoT:  it turns out, he wrote, that GoT ‘accommodates both the casual viewer and the rabid fanatic’; that it ‘demands your attention but rewards any effort you give it, no matter how small.’*

I read this review in the midst of my doctoral coursework.   I was delving deep into the ways the biblical texts interweave, how they re-read and re-tell each other.  How the river of Revelation 22:1 ‘rose from the earth’ in Genesis 2:6, flowed out of the garden (2:10), through psalms and prophets, and all the way to John’s vision.  How Revelation’s ‘tree of life’ was planted in Genesis 2:9.  How light apart from sun and moon was the very first word spoken by God (Gen 1:3; sun and moon and stars do not appear till v.16).  I mention this confluence of my studies and Stuever’s review because it explains my reaction:  I was not so much interested in watching GoT as jealous on behalf of my own story, which — I stoutly maintain! — equally ’demands your attention but rewards any effort you give it.’  

‘Why do we assume people can’t read it?’  I railed, then, to a scholar visiting to present on the intertextual references in the gospels.  Why do we resist letting it be itself?  We simplify its complexity, turn it into a bumper sticker cliché, as if readers cannot digest anything longer than 280 characters.  Is it that we do not trust the readers?  Or that we do not trust the story’s power to hold?  So instead of telling the story, we tell it as about something else — a guide for right behavior, individual happiness, community construction, or eternal life. 

That particular rant past, I wondered about GoT.  I read reviews and summaries, watched clips online.  As build-up for this last season began, news coverage exploded.  I even read discussion on the theme of apocalypse — defined not as reversion to the way-things-were but as transformation to entire newness — and whether the show would turn towards this end.  I was particularly struck by the myriad of theories between the penultimate and final episodes.  Viewers were going back through the words and images and interactions of prior seasons of the TV show.  They were referencing passages from the books which had never been filmed.  They were even looking beyond the world of the narrative and into the world of the actors (So-and-so ‘hasn’t tweeted farewell to the character he played so is the character really dead?’).

They were reading.  Reading with all their heart and mind and strength.  Reading in service of understanding the dynamic of the story, trying to anticipate its final turn, its ultimate unfolding.  

Game of Thrones has ended.  The ending seems to have dissatisfied many, who want it redone, to which others retort It was never yours to do.

Revelation has not ended.  The book was written, yes, that part’s done, but the story’s final turn and ultimate unfolding is written not for the sake of the anticipated end but for now.  So that we can read it.  Our presence is requested; our participation is invited.  Don’t shy away for fear it won’t hold.  Lean in.  Trust it.  Be confounded by it.  Question it.  Study the text.  See how particular images and snippets of plot connect to images and snippets from elsewhere in the larger sweep (‘the season 1 promotional poster …’; ‘Dany’s dream …’; Genesis creation … ; Ezekiel’s vision … ).  Read beyond the covers of the book (tweets and talk show quotes; church tradition; individual experience).  This is our story to read, our story to live.  Story that rewards attention, that challenges, that sustains.  Story as God’s gift, given.  Read it devotedly and dynamically.  Reading it so, we can live it so.  And living it so — well that’s how we tell, and write, the ending God has written for us.

*Yes, I searched online to find and accurately quote Stuever’s March 29, 2013 review:

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