What You Putting In Your Bible, and When Will You Put It Down?

Once, a number of years ago, I officiated at a wedding in Captiva Island, Florida. I lived in Davenport, Iowa at the time.

At the rehearsal dinner, I sat with Reverend Dr. John Hall, formerly Dean of the Trinity Cathedral in Davenport and his wife Kay. I spent some time that weekend with John, hearing about his life in ministry.

One day, he said, someone he knows — a younger person — who is a serious evangelical decided she would come to the Unitarian Church in Davenport to join us at service. She had her Bible in hand. And, John says, she looked around, and no one else was carrying a Bible, which perplexed her. She turned to someone close by and said, “Where are the Bibles?” “Well, that’s not really part of our culture here, someone said. “But do you believe in the Bible?” And here, John as he told me the story started to chuckle. The person said: “We believe in many Bibles.” Perfect! What a wonderful response. We believe in many Bibles indeed. The sun in its sky. The water as our witness. We believe in lots of places to find inspiration. We believe that revelation hits us from sources near and wide, expected and unexpected. I love that story, and John got a great deal of enjoyment out of telling me that story. (By the way, the young woman found a church more more to her liking.)

What’s in your Bible? In mine: James Baldwin? Check! Toni Morrison? Check! Garcia Marquez, Billy Collins? I say yes! Milocz? Yes! Mary Oliver, Annie Dillard? Why not! All kinds of folks make the list. The books in the Book: Job, Ecclesiastes? Yes! The passage on love from Corinthians? The sermon on the mount? Yes, Yes. Julian of Norwich. Theresa of Avila. All, all of Thomas Merton.

The question becomes, how shall one decide what is worthy of our deepest attention, worthy of our deepest reflection? What would you put in the holy scripture of your life? What is essential to your way of thinking, believing, being, acting? What makes the grade? Why? What has shifted over time for you?

Where do you go for wisdom? You take a hike. You study the Bible. You pray. You talk to friends or your sister or your partner You ask your therapist. You think on it. Where do you go and why to figure out what to do?

Of course the Bible you create is the very stuff of your life. God speaks through us and to us in the everyday, the ups and downs, the losses and triumphs, the silence, the tears, the hand shaking towards the sky. In our own little world, we too are Job, Paul on the way to Damascus, Rachel crying, Ezekiel and Amos.

In the desert fathers and mothers tradition, the story of the ancient monastics, who sought God in the desert far away from all the others, there is a wonderful story. In Scetis, a brother went to see Abba Moses and begged him for a word. The old man said, “Go and sit in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.”

Henri Nouwen, the late 20th century Catholic priest, who wrote Wounded Healer, and whose only message was you are a beloved child of God, you are beloved and precious, and worthy, he tells a great story. A story that helps us figure out what is important in the midst of making a decision. What ultimately matters.

One day a young fugitive, trying to hide himself from the enemy, entered a small village. The people were kind to him and offered him a place to stay. But when the soldiers who sought the fugitive asked where he was hiding, everyone became fearful. The soldiers threatened to burn the village and kill every man in it unless the young man were handed over to them before dawn. The people went to the minister and asked him what to do. The minister, torn between handing over the boy to the enemy or having his people killed, withdrew to his room and read his Bible, hoping to find an answer before dawn. After many hours, in the early morning his eyes fell on these words:”It is better that one man dies than that the whole people be lost.”

Then the minister closed the Bible, called the soldiers and told them where the boy was hidden. And after the soldiers led the fugitive away to be killed, there was a feast in the village because the minister had saved the lives of the people. But the minister did not celebrate. Overcome with a deep sense of sadness, he remained in his room. That night an angel came to him and asked, “what have you done?” He said: “I handed over the fugitive to the enemy.” Then the angel said: “But don’t you know that you have handed over the Messiah?” “How could I know?” the minister replied anxiously. Then the angel said: “If, instead of reading your Bible, you had visited this young man just once and looked into his eyes, you would have known.”

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Roger Butts

Roger Butts

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Author, Seeds of Devotion. Unitarian Universalist. Ordained 20 years.