Read the Bible every day.
I think I have been trying to read the Bible regularly since I was about 12. It almost certainly started as an attempt to do the right thing, to be a good person, a good Christian. Reading the Bible was one of those things I thought I was supposed to do. But over the years my motivation evolved. There were times when I read out of a desperate longing to know God. Or out of a felt realization that I would be happier, more centered, more whole if I focused my life on following Jesus. There were also times I intentionally did not read, for fear or exhaustion or despair.
I think back over my years of resolutions, which have each been beautiful in their own way.
|Photo by Thomas Mathie|
I remember New Year’s 2005: I was 18 and confused about identity and life and relationships and meaning. I would lie on the floor of my dorm room, picking strands of hair out of the carpet I never vacuumed, and reading the existential parts of the Bible. There is nothing new under the sun; all is vanity and chasing after the wind. I would lie there for an hour just reading, and thinking, and putting off the homework and friendships that were so confusing. I remember my affliction and my soul is downcast within me, yet this I call to mind and therefore have hope: because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed. Tears were coming down and I was taking solace in the universality of these words from long ago. Answer me quickly, O Lord; my spirit fails.
Then there was New Year’s 2007: I was studying abroad, in Tanzania, slowly recovering from the weight of loneliness and fear and doubt and guilt. I would wake up early from jet lag those first few days in January, climbing to the hostel roof as the sun was rising, and read the beautiful words: There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ, for through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set us free from the law of sin and death. The banana and mango trees stretched vastly before me; the Tanzanian people were singing and laughing; I was rediscovering God’s love; I was recreating myself. I was unafraid. I was free.
Or New Year’s 2009: The year I moved back to Maryland, I lived with my parents for six months, commuting an hour and a half, struggling to find my niche back in my hometown, lonely. On December 31, I moved into a community house closer to work, cut my commute to 20 minutes, found new friends to surround myself with in the evenings. Buoyed by the new community, and on the strength of the first gut-wrenching laughter in months, I began to read the Bible again, reverently and joyfully in the mornings while sitting in the ugliest, comfiest easy chair you’ve ever seen. One of my new housemates noticed, and thanked me for my example, and began to return to the morning Bible reading herself. I thought, it is only because of her and these lovely people that I have the energy to care again, to take up this discipline myself. I thought, how beautiful that we help each other grow closer to God, that we need each other. How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity.
Next week I will be sharing my story of belief lost and found again. My story of the year that seemed to redefine my faith and the way I read the Bible and the way I related to Christian community. It was 2006, but sometimes it is like I am still feeling the aftershocks. This past year was definitely a valley for me in terms of my daily discipline of Scripture reading. Maybe it is because of laziness or loneliness or exhaustion, or maybe it is because the questions of 2006 are still nagging me, or maybe it is complicated.
It’s not that I value the Bible less than I used to. It’s just that sometimes I feel like I have read it all before, and it is hard to hear it in a new way. It just that is has become heavy: heavy with the scholarly and political debates; heavy with images and standards I no longer have hope of measuring up to; heavy with words that made me feel like I should easily snap out of fear, doubt, sadness, when I couldn’t seem to. It’s just that I am so tired. I am no longer the bright-eyed teenager who is sure that I will one day perfect myself, perfect my faith, be the person God wants me to be. On some days it is like I have given up.
The Bible is so rich, though—rich with stories and challenging words and a call to experience more out of life. It is full of journeying and honesty and compassion and love. Full of reminders that we don’t have to perfect ourselves. That grace and mercy are available. It is a text that is alive with the presence and mystery of God, alive in a way that means my relationship to it must always be changing. And that is why each year is different. That is why I can never read it how I used to read it. I can only step forward into a new and beautiful era.
So I have said it yet again: let me read the Bible every day. I am starting to explore an Anglican Book of Common Prayer that I found in my grandfather's house. I am starting to learn its liturgies and songs and prayers and readings. A little each day, plodding at first, until the discipline comes to life again. It takes work, but that is okay. It will become natural again, in the same way that running 8 miles becomes natural after a few weeks of grueling training. In the same way that conversation with a loved one because natural again after a few days of being reunited. This year, it seems right to read the Bible not in gulps as I once did, nor to pore over it in analysis mode (that will come next year in seminary), but just to let the words sing, a few at a time, with poetry and the Spirit and truth.