A friend of mine (a priest who also happens to be a reliable source and exceptional Biblical interpreter) pointed me to Eugene Peterson's Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John and the Praying Imagination as a helpful guide to reading the Revelation to John. I have not yet checked it out, but I will, although I admit I've never been a huge fan of Peterson.
In the meantime however, she shared that the helpful lens Peterson offers for reading John's apocalypse is to read it as if one were reading an epic poem. That makes sense to me. Poets show us something, she also noted; they don't tell us what it means. It's left to the reader to interpret, but we do well first to develop the skills to pay attention. This is a really helpful thing to remember as our journey continues.
I also like the subtitle of Peterson's book, which is what I hope is being cultivated in me (and perhaps in you who are reading along) - a praying imagination. Our goal in reading, marking, learning and inwardly digesting any sacred text is not, including this one, is not so much to gain more information in case a question about the four horsemen of the Apocalypse is asked to us one day on Final Jeopardy, but to engage these images and this poetry in order to deepen faith, as we imagine the living God in new ways.
Too often we fall into the habit of praying as if we were little children sitting on Santa's lap with a wish list: asking God to do stuff for us, or maybe more often for those whom we love. There is nothing wrong with prayers of petition or intercession. But sometimes our repertoire is limited by these "requests" and we forget adoration, praise, thanksgiving, penitence, and oblation - all of which (it seems to me) are an integral part of John's Revelation.
How might these images help to form more creative, passionate, and imaginative followers of Jesus? Perhaps as this journey continues we might be led to deeper and more intentional prayers of oblation, that is to prayer by which we offer ourselves, our souls and bodies, to be a reasonable and living sacrifice to the living God. As we join that great cloud of witnesses in doing the work God has given us to do in this time and place, we do not lose heart.We refuse to be lukewarm, to be the living dead: but to be more fully alive in Christ as witnesses to the power of the resurrection, and the hope of the world.
I do need to add that numbers have meaning for this poet: especially the numbers 4, 7, and 12. Four has meaning beyond Israel's faith - across cultures there are four directions and four winds. Here there are four living creatures and later we'll encounter four horsemen. There are twelve tribes of Israel and twelve disciples of Jesus. But the most important and complete number here is seven: the Lamb has seven horns and seven eyes, there are seven churches addressed, and now seven seals to be opened by the Lamb that is worthy. One could spend a lot more time on the numbers, but perhaps it is enough to simply pay attention to how many times these numbers come up in the chapters ahead.