Denise Dombkowski Hopkins is professor of biblical theology at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C., and Michael S. Koppel is professor of pastoral theology and congregational care at Wesley Theological Seminary. In an effort to relate the Old Testament to real-life issues of pastoral care, they struck up a cross-disciplinary conversation and wrote Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices.
A Chinese proverb says: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” In actual translation (and Michael knows because he speaks Chinese) it says: “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the ground beneath your feet.” Beginning with the ground beneath our feet means beginning wherever we actually are, rather than at the place from which we want to start. We begin not knowing exactly how to get where we are going — not knowing when, or even if, we will arrive at our destination. Yet we gain energy with each step. So it was with us, Denise and Michael. We began our journey more than five years ago when we said to one another, “Let’s teach a class together sometime.” And that is what we have done, twice now.
That destination itself, teaching a class together, marked just another place in time where we were, just another piece of ground beneath our feet for starting another journey. Out of our collaborative teaching grew our book, Grounded in the Living Word: The Old Testament and Pastoral Care Practices. Since that first step we have walked side by side writing and teaching together out of our different disciplines: Denise teaches Old Testament, and Michael teaches pastoral care. These two areas of study don’t often get together for continuous conversation, but in our volume we speak as two authors with one voice. Sometimes we speak together, and sometimes we speak individually, but we wrote and edited each chapter jointly. This harmonized voice represents an intentional — not an accidental — approach.
Now we have arrived at the “destination” of this book’s completion, aware that we are beginning new journeys with readers, students, family, friends, and colleagues in conversation. We hope readers will find ground and light here for their own fruitful encounters in faith. We want the questions for reflection and group exercises in each chapter of our book to encourage them to think about how their life situations connect with the stories and characters in the Bible. Recognizing these connections can help all of us know who we are and how we might grow in our relationships with God and one another.
We chose the picture by artist Wayne Forte of Jacob wrestling with God by the Jabbok River for our book cover, because Jacob has greatly influenced our work on this book. Just as Jacob wrestled with a shameful past that included cheating his brother, Esau, and tricking his dying father, Isaac, all of us wrestle with our negative stories. When in Genesis 32:30 Jacob calls the site of his God-wrestling Peniel and says, “For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life is preserved,” he shows a dawning awareness of his own brokenness. He becomes more fully present to himself, to Esau, and to God. He reminds us that it takes a persistence akin to wrestling for both care givers and care receivers to move toward healing.
Jacob is just one Old Testament character whose story can inform our spiritual care practices. As the authors of a book about the Old Testament and pastoral care, we hope that our cross-disciplinary approach will help readers recognize the many parallels and connections between the lives of the many biblical characters and their own.