It's how you read it
Updated: Apr 28, 2021
'Don’t grieve. Anything you lose comes round in another form.'
Reading the Bible has always felt to me like having to appease some capricious god who had written down everything he wanted doing in a big book and if you didn’t step up to the mark and get it all done properly, then you were toast.
Some people find a constant comfort in reading their Bible. I’d love to be like that. But one thing I’m discovering on my journey, is that I can’t make things happen. I can sow seeds and nurture them, place them in the sunlight and hope they grow. But I can’t make them grow. That miracle comes from some source of life that’s beyond me. I couldn’t raise Lazarus no matter how much effort I put in. He would still be dead in his tomb whilst I was crossing action points off my list.
It’s all a gift.
I can ask for gifts. And one thing I want to ask for is the desire to read the Bible, not as a piece of writing which is designed to catch me out, but as something which may, just may, help me. And, it goes without saying, but I’ll say it anyway, not to be frightened when I open its pages.
I’ve really tried to read it myself but always felt overwhelmed by the impossibility of the task. It’s such a big book. Or books. And some of it is really scary. I only have to wander off piste a page or two and I might find myself in an Old Testament battle where everyone gets slain, or a New Testament parable where people are being thrown into a blazing furnace. And in the church I came from where the Bible was to be taken literally – every word inspired by God and dictated by God, it was risky to explore. Other kids at school were wrestling with the intricacies of Janet and John Book 1 and I was trying to get my head around the eschatological implications of Revelation.
I am about seven and sitting in the serried ranks of my junior school class. The teacher, Mrs Nicholls, is explaining the beginning of the world.
‘It’s called evolution’ she says. ‘It was invented by a man called Charles Darwin. It tells us how the world began and how we are all descended from apes.’
I am horrified. I raise my hand.
‘But miss,’ I say tremulously (I’m not good at confrontation). ‘That’s not right. What about Adam and Eve?’
She smiles impatiently and continues with her lesson.
‘We are all descended from apes,’ she repeats, ‘and over millions of years have grown into the humans we are today.’
I raise my hand again.
‘It doesn’t say that in Genesis,’ I say firmly. I’m sure of my ground here. Maybe she’s never read Genesis. I’ve certainly not read all of it, but I’ve read the beginning and even an adult like her can’t argue with that. It’s all there in black and white. Then to add weight to my already irrefutable argument I add, ‘My dad says so.’
To my dismay, she shuts me down again, telling me to be quiet and to stop asking questions. This is the Sixties and children are only allowed to ask the questions that teachers want to answer.
But I am rattled. It has never occurred to me before that not every adult in the world believes what we believe in our church and it is my very first introduction to the whole idea of Biblical interpretation.
I think I should be grateful.
But now, decades later, reading the principle that asks that I ‘give priority to devotional study of Scripture,’ I want to cut and run. I want to draft my resignation letter to the Third Order and say ‘thanks but no thanks’ as I head for the hills.
But, once again, another way of viewing the world is presented to me. The reflection following this principle suggests that I search for the ‘hidden spiritual truth’ in my reading. It says that I can approach this study in an imaginative way through meditation and prayer, liberating myself from ‘literalism or fundamentalism.'
Bring it on!
Like much about my Franciscan journey, I am constantly surprised by joy. Things which I felt were beyond my reach because I felt totally and completely unable to step up to the mark, suddenly become within my grasp. There is no mark. So if I am being asked to use my imagination, to be creative, to be prayerful, be meditative in my exploration of the Bible, I might just be able to try.
I’m going to give it a go.
I haven’t lost the Bible. I’m just discovering it in a ‘new form’ as Rumi says. I’m finding what was there right in front of me all these years and couldn’t see.
Until I began to see differently.