January/February 2017 – Opening The Book

Christian writer Kathleeen Norris tells “the scariest story I know about the bible,” in her book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Norris recalls a conversation she and her husband once had in a local steak house with one of their South Dakota neighbors, a grandson of “dirt-poor immigrants” who now owned several thousand acres and bought new cars for his family every year; a man who had now begun treatment for a probably terminal cancer. That night this man of few words who usually spoke about business when he did speak, began telling about receiving a wedding gift, many years before, from his devout grandfather. Norris says:

His wedding present to Arlo and his bride had been a bible, which he admitted he admired mostly because it was an expensive gift, bound in white leather, with their names and the date of their wedding set in gold lettering on the cover. “I left it in its box and it ended up in our bedroom closet,” Arlo told us. “But,” he said, “for months afterward, every time we saw grandpa he would ask me how I liked that bible. The wife had written him a thank you note, and we’d thanked him in person, but somehow he couldn’t let it lie, he’d always keep asking about it.” Finally, Arlo grew curious as to why the old man kept after him. “Well,” he said, “the joke was on me. I finally took that Bible out of the closet and found that granddad had placed a twenty-dollar bill at the beginning of the Book of Genesis, and at the beginning of every book … over thirteen hundred dollars in all. And he knew I’d never find it.”

***

I knew little about how to practice Christian faith when I first began attending church, in my early twenties. But I had heard the bible is The Book for Christians. So I started reading… It didn’t take long to figure out the bible is a book made up of many shorter books, booklets, gospels, and letters, in all, 66 books-within-The-Book in Protestant bibles (more in Catholic and Orthodox bibles), written by many different authors over a range of times. And it almost goes without saying that I found some of the bible much easier to read than other parts.

Some of what I read in the bible made sense immediately. Other parts began to make sense with prayer and more thought. Still other parts made little sense even after quite a bit of prayer and pondering. But I don’t usually mind pondering… And I was aware Christians have seldom if ever been entirely all of one-mind as to what the bible means… So I read the parts I liked often, the other parts less often… A few parts not at all…

Till one day, reading the liner notes of Duke Ellington’s first Sacred Music Concert record, where Duke wrote saying he ‘began to understand the bible a little, after reading it cover to cover, three times.’ Equal parts shamed and inspired by Duke, I resolved to read through the bible three times – reading three or four chapters a day of the Old Testament along with daily readings of a few psalms, and a chapter each of the New Testament gospels and letters. (This got me through the Old Testament once and the New Testament several times in a year.)

Forty-some years later, I’m still reading the bible nearly every day, and still learning what life and the bible are about every day… There are still parts of life and the bible I don’t understand well. I have been given gift bibles, and though I haven’t found money stuck inside the pages of any of them, I have found in all of them the gift beyond price… (See Matthew 13:44-45…)

I still don’t understand all of the bible – but I have come to understand – reading the bible prayerfully and studying with other believers are two sides of one essential spiritual practice for Christians – and prayer, worship, witness, and works of mercy, justice, and love, our other most basic practices – all depend on listening to God through God’s word.

May God give us grace to open wide the scriptures – and find treasure far beyond price.

The grace and peace of Jesus Christ our Savior be with you,

Pastor Tim