When I was a first year teacher, years of use (and abuse at the bottom of my backpack) caught up with my Bible. The first part to fall out was James.1 Over the next few months, it reached the point where I was keeping my Bible in a Ziploc bag. So I bit the bullet and sent it away to be rebound. I was seriously lost without it.
When it came back, I was so excited, I ran into class and shouted, “Guys! Guess what!!!”
“You got engaged!” one of them guessed. Yup, I was so excited to have my Bible back, I looked like a radiant bride. That might be nerdier than it is holy….
But I think it says something that literally the only thing I’d be devastated to lose in a fire would be my Bible.
I mean, not to be weird or anything, but I love my Bible. Okay, yeah, I love the Bible, but I really particularly love my Bible. It has all my highlighting and notes (even the really embarrassing stuff like, “Worms, I hate worms” and highlighting 3 straight pages in puke green from when I was 13). I might not remember exactly what a verse says, but I know it’s highlighted on the right-hand page in the left column towards the top in an epistle that has a lot of footnotes on the page. Give me 5 minutes and I can find it–usually faster than I can google it because I often can’t remember more than the feeling it gives me.
I started reading the Bible when I was 13. The weekend I was converted (praise God!), I decided that if I was going to do this Jesus thing, I was really going to do it. I was going to read the whole Bible.
It took me five and a half years.
It was tough going, largely because I read straight through and got stuck in Leviticus for maybe a year and a half. But during that time I developed a relationship with my Bible. I began to find meaning in what had seemed irrelevant or dull. I “discovered” connections between the Old and New Testaments that seemed to make sense of everything. I started taking my Bible with me everywhere–just in case. I bought (okay, fine, buy) purses only if they’re big enough to fit my Bible. Eventually, I started reading it through once a year.
I’m a 28-year-old Catholic and I’ve read the Bible ten times.
Now, this is not due to some great virtue of mine. I just really love books. So much so that it’s currently past midnight and I have to be up at 8, but I know I’ll still read for at least an hour after I put the computer away. So I realize that I’ve definitely got an advantage when it comes to loving the Bible. But I think Catholics especially forget how important this book is. Because we’ve got so much richness to our faith outside the Bible, we often (as individuals, not as a Church) ignore the Word of God.
We can’t do this! Forget the fact that you’ll never get anywhere with a Protestant if you don’t know the Bible, this is the WORD of GOD!! It’s meant to be studied and memorized and loved and lived. After the Sacraments, there is nothing more important to the life of a Christian. So here are some tips for those of you whose Bibles are in mint condition:
- Read the whole thing–eventually. I think every Christian should read the Bible at least once. I really recommend the one year option above if you’ve got the dedication and the time (almost always less than 20 minutes a day). It breaks up the boring parts (and there are a lot of boring parts, especially when you’re a Bible beginner) with Psalms and Gospel passages. Plus, I’ve known very few people who manage to push through if they’re just going Genesis to Revelation.
- Start with the fun stuff. Most people really aren’t up for 2 Chronicles or Ezekiel when they’re newbies. So ease into it. Try reading a chapter a day from the Gospels. Or get a broader view by reading in this order: Luke, 1 John, John, Philippians, Matthew, Isaiah (maybe starting at chapter 40–that’s where it gets good), Mark, Genesis, 1 Corinthians, 1+2 Samuel, Romans, Deuteronomy, and go from there. It’s not a logical order by any means, but I think those books are interesting enough to get you acclimated before you dive into Ezekiel and the like.
- Study the liturgical readings. Take some time with the readings before Mass every day or spend the whole week looking at Sunday’s. Try to figure out how they connect or imagine what you’d preach on. It’ll transform the liturgy for you, too.
- Memorize. My life has been absolutely transformed by the memorization of Scripture. When I find a passage that speaks to me, I generally make up a tune for it and sing it over and over until it sticks. Then when I need it, the song pops into my head. This has the further benefits of making the Mass come alive when I hear a passage I’ve memorized and really impressing people when I can quote a whole chapter from memory.
- Mark it up. Don’t be afraid to write in a holy book! I spent a few years reading but not highlighting or taking notes, and while that means I have fewer embarrassing things in there, I also have less to show how God has blessed me through his Word. Marking up your Bible doesn’t just help you find stuff later, it also reminds you how you’ve grown and draws you deeper. I add quotations from Saints, point to other passages, or pencil in my own observations–in a lot of ways, my Bible is almost a journal for me. I’ve read the Gospels more than 20 times, but I still read with a pen in hand. As St. Gregory the Great said, “Scripture is like a river . . . broad and deep, shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” I will never exhaust the depths of Scripture and marking it keeps me mindful of that.
- Just read it!! Play Bible Roulette (flip and point), read a Psalm every day, find a Scriptural devotional, follow a daily verse on Twitter, pick a verse to meditate on throughout the day, check out Pinterest Bible boards, or walk down the beach reading people’s tattoos.2 But do something to make sure you’re in Scripture every day and let it transform you. As St. Jerome said, “Ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ.”
At the end of my life, I want to take a lot of laugh lines, a heart broken and remade over and over again, and a beat up Bible before the throne of God. Join me?
PS Anybody know a good book rebinder? I’m not sure how many times you can rebind a book, but I think I need it to last longer than 6 years if I’m going to hang on to this Bible for a lifetime.
- I actually discerned whether I ought to be Protestant, James being a book Luther particularly disliked. I tend to read too much into things. [↩]
- I once had a student who was a Chinese national who had a Bible verse (part of 1 Pt 4:8) tattooed on his back. I commented on how much I liked it and he told me–in very broken English–that he didn’t know what it said and didn’t realize it was form the Bible. I guess it’s like when Americans think they’re getting “loyalty” or “family” tattooed on their shoulders when really it says “pork fried rice.” [↩]