Look at the Throw-Away Lines

Reacting to my post of yesterday about Bartimaeus throwing aside his cloak, my friend John wrote me a brief e-mail this morning commenting on how much he loves these “throw away lines,” which are often so rich. I replied that I was amazed I had missed the line about which I wrote so many times in my reading and prayer with that Gospel passage, to which he responded that he has had that experience so many time that now he almost looks for those throw away lines.

That seemed to me a practice worth sharing.

You know what I mean by throw-away lines: the lines that are part of the descriptive detail of the narrative story that we tend to gloss over in out haste to get to what seems to be the central encounter. So in yesterday’s Gospel: What will Jesus say to, or do for, Bartimaeus. And so it is easy to pass over Bartimaeus’ throwing aside his cloak.

I think there is a particular danger with passages we have heard so many times to glaze over until we get to “the good part” – the central part, the place where all the action is. If we do that, we can miss an awful lot.

I’m reminded as I write this of a morning where I was praying with the passage in John’s Gospel in which Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead. I got to the first line of the passage: There was a man named Lazarus who will ill, and I never got any further. I had a very powerful experience that took off only from that one line – I never got to the “good part,” the big action. I didn’t even get to the powerful exchange between Jesus and Mary, let alone the raising of Lazarus. Yet the prayer I had taught me an enormous amount. Something I would have missed if I skipped over the “throw away” line.

So, consider adopting my friend John’s practice: Look for the throw away lines.