I could sit for hours in my bedroom, breathing in those words – reading and underlining and circling. I was starring the margins, circling entire sections, because I didn’t want to forget that Psalm or those words in Ephesians or that metaphor.
I kept my favorite Bible verses on note cards, taped my bedroom walls alongside photos from youth group trips and phrases clipped from Brio magazine, Focus on the Family’s teen alternative, because I wasn’t allowed Seventeen, nor, to be honest, did I want it.
I wanted Scripture cut pure like diamonds from their context. I wanted to hold them in my hands.
When it stormed, the rainwater on Maple Drive would gather at the bottom of the sloped street and against our house, and some nights it would seep into my room. I remember waking frantic and frustrated to the sound of water dripping down the white paneling of my walls.
I’d scramble to save my careful collage of treasures, but inevitably the water had already left my photos streaked and wrinkled. It left the thin paper of those magazine clippings disintegrated and ripped, and the ink on my Bible verse cards ran together like some dark watercolor.
After the rain, everything matted together, a sopping mess. And when it all dried out, it was almost impossible to separate words from photos, glossy magazine textures from photographed faces.
The water was like glue, and when I tried to separate truth from memories, everything tore apart.
My cynic voice is quieting, slowly, slowly. I hear more intricate melodies in most things these days: the complexity and hope of a faith that is a journey.
Except for in one place:
If I’m honest, I’ll tell you that I’ve only read it in bits and pieces over these past couple of years. A chapter here. A verse there. I open this book because I know that it is Truth and Beauty. Because I know that it is water and I am thirsty. But I read the words, and they sound like the old days.
The words that I know best as bumper stickers and Band-aids, they are found here first in the tissuey paper of my NIV. That phrase God won’t give you more than you can handle is misquoted from 1 Corinthians. That idea of being not ashamed of your faith that fueled much of my Christian t-shirt wearing, tract-handling, publicly-praying youth is right there in Romans, clear as day.
The rhetoric of Paul’s epistles and the cadence of the passionate voices of my evangelical youth sound the same to my ear, and now when I read them, I have a hard time separating memory from meaning.
Those were the years we stacked carefully-chosen Bible verses into brick walls to deflect arguments. We learned the answers before we ever felt the weight of the Questions. We wrote off the hard passages with simple platitudes and knowing looks.
And then the storm comes and the water gets in and nothing is left untouched.
It’s all a little matted together for me now, and when Jesus says in Matthew 28, “Go and make disciples of all nations,” the message is all mixed up with the Teen Mania missions guide I got in the mail my freshman year of high school. I am picturing loud, anonymous testimonies on foreign streets. I am feeling the shame of my disconnection to the countries I went to, of not being “on fire” to change the world for God.
I read it, and I’m fourteen all over again.
This week, the women’s Bible study at my little church started up again.
I go because I love the women at my church and because they have childcare. I go because they serve lemonade out of mason jars, and it feels like a kind of careful, thoughtful love.
We’re going through the book of John, all of us pulled together around a clump of tables in the church foyer. When we read, I find that certain phrases make me anxious. Testify, for example. That Lamb of God metaphor, with all of its bloody, Old Testament implications.
John the Baptist in general with his camel-skin clothes stumbling out of the wilderness like some emblem of the passionate, sold-out life – he is hooking my Bible baggage, and I feel it tight across my chest.
Outside the rain is falling. In front of me is this book, heavy with story and song, full of complexity and mystery and Love. I believe it is strong enough and wide enough to absorb all the baggage accumulated on this long walk of faith. I believe that the God of the Bible is big enough for my Big Questions and my small frustrations and my tainted memories.
And I believe that it matters, this book, and part of the work of disentangling from cynicism is being willing to sit through the discomfort. To feel it, to recognize it.
The Bible is open in front of me, and the women around me are open-faced and curious and kind. Someone is reading the passage aloud: “For from his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace,” she reads, and it almost takes my breath away — that phrase grace upon grace.
The rain is falling and the words are too, and slowly, quietly, all things are being made new.