I love to open a side drawer at a motel and find a Gideon’s Bible nestled there. The Gideons have been under pressure in recent years, driven out of the schools by those who agitate that the Bible has no place in a pluralistic society, or worse, that it is hate literature. Those who say such things have likely never read it. I am grateful to the Gideons for placing those Bibles. Those who bother to read, will find treasure buried within its pages.
I also keep a big Bible on my side table. It’s one of those ones with the large print, the original King James 1611 translation. I don’t necessarily read it every day, but it is there waiting for me to pick up where we left off, just like an old friend.
There used to be such a thing as a family Bible. In the days when books were relatively expensive, most folk lacked a legitimate library. So the sixty-six books which comprise the Old and New Testaments were a primer in genealogy, ethics, history, and a source of stories and life wisdom. The family Bible was put in a place of honour where it would not get dusty or lost. It would generally have some family history transcribed back into its pages, births, christenings, marriages, deaths - the great comings and goings of life.
I also have personal history intermingled with the pages of my Bible. Some of this is in wear and tear, where pages are bent, and things are underlined. The book of Psalms is well worn, for times I have found solace there from the storms of life. There are scattered notations which align Old Testament with New Testament scripture. They remind me how seamless a document this is, crafted by many hands but with one Author.
Here and there, pictures are wedged in to mark passages I want to revisit. The various pictures are also a snapshot of my life. I have combined the deep meanings found inside the pages with things I have come to cherish. There are shots of my girls. One is from a picture booth in the little fun zone behind the movie theatre. Their faces show me the passage of time and how we are surrounded by fellow passengers in this great cloud of witnesses. They remind me that I am not alone. My kids are now grown up, but it makes me happy to look at the pictures and ruminate. A reminder to be thankful is built into my Bible that way.
There is also the first picture I have of my wife, taken with me as a token of remembrance and love. I have kept it there like a port in a storm for the stretches we were apart and separated by long distance. I have it sandwiched within the love story of Jacob and Rachel found in Genesis. It makes me celebrate the perennial nature of love despite the many changes life can bring.
Tucked in the back, is a eulogy I wrote for my mom when she died. I was looking for words that were true and lasting, sorrow intermingled with the knowledge that we shall meet again. It brings back a vivid memory of the very last time were driving in my car, singing “I have a mansion up over the hilltop” together. My mother has moved into that mansion now and I hope she is cooking roast beef when I get there.
There are also various pictures of things I have built. Craftsmanship is not necessarily something you would associate with a Bible, unless you go to the story of the building of the Temple in Exodus chapter 31. It tells the story of God’s craftsman Bezelal, which reminds us that God has honoured artists with the responsibility to craft things of beauty.
Sunday at church, we sang Amazing Grace. It’s likely the most widely known popular hymn ever written, and yet the words have now been changed. The lines we learned as kids where it says “that saved a wretch like me” had been replaced with “that saved and strengthened me”. Presumably someone thought that “wretch like me” was offensive, that singing those words would suggest a person might actually need that amazing grace.
John Newton, the author of the song, thought so. He had been a famously wicked ship captain whose life was turned around, and he spent his latter years as a minister of the Gospel. He did not trust his own natural tendencies, so his plan was to fill himself up with the Bible so that there would be ever more of it and less of him. He thought that if the man stays in the book, the book will also stay in the man. I need to remember that.
Gideon Bibles are prefaced with some sage words about the contents:
“Read it to be wise, believe it to be safe, and practice it to be holy. It contains light to direct you, food to support you, and comfort to cheer you.
It is the traveler’s map, the pilgrim’s staff, the pilot’s compass, the soldier’s sword and the Christian’s charter. Here too, Heaven is opened and the gates of Hell disclosed.
Christ is its grand subject, our good its design, and the glory of God its end. It should fill the memory, rule the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently and prayerfully. It is a mine of wealth, a paradise of glory, and a river of pleasure.”
It seems that my life has flowed into the pages of my Bible and the pages of my Bible have also flowed back into me. It is a story that goes both ways, and one day when the two stories merge, I hope it will be a story worth telling.
SPOILER ALERT. You may find yourself within it’s pages. There is no fake news here. Just the good kind.