Friday, April 2, 2010

Operation March: Completed

Miraculously, I did finish my goal of reading through the entire Bible in the month of March. It was pretty close at the end, I ended up having to read almost the entire New Testament in two days. I cannot recommend this.

Then, when I got to the end and tallied up all the chapters I'd read, I came up 24 short. After a bit of searching my record I found 22 of them in Psalms; I had messed up my "read through Psalms in a month" plan. I still haven't found the other two missing chapters but I'm pretty sure that the mistake is in my tallying, not my reading. On the other hand, I may have read the Entire Bible Except Two Chapters in one month, but I can't convince myself that I should be concerned about it.

So, at the end of this silly idea, what did I come away with? That's what I'm asking myself.

For one thing, the Bible seems to have shrunk some. I have conquered my childhood feeling of it being an impossibly long book that I might hardly read through in a lifetime. I also have come away really liking The Message version but with the conviction that what version is read matters very little in the scheme of things. It's not about which version, it's about God's words, Jesus' story, and the Holy Spirit teaching us from the inside out.

At the same time that the length of the Bible shrunk the amount and depth of information, as well as the general delightfulness of the stories grew. I loved reading through Paul's writing in common American English. For once I could identify in many ways.

It was no longer some old frowning scholar from another world laboriously lecturing over the niceties of the Gospel. Instead it was just a man, like men I have met and heard, speaking boldly because God had told him to use the authority God gave him. He felt many of the things I felt as I taught what God had taught me: love, urgency, hopelessness, exhilaration, inadequacy, boldness, and above everything trust that God would complete what He started. I noticed and could understand how in almost every letter he mentions that he longs to be with them and that letter writing isn't sufficient.

With the New Testament in general I was reminded that Jesus is amazing, and of course loving, but definitely not nice. I was reminded that I live a mystery, a wonderful, scary, ludicrous mystery; Christ in me.

I noticed that in the Old Testament it seems as though God promised good things for whole-hearted obedience but in the New Testament Jesus teaches that trials will come just because you follow Him, promising only internal and eternal rewards. I didn't reach any sort of conclusion about this, just noticed it.

I realized that God is not only sarcastic to me personally but that He always has been. This delighted me and made me feel a bit smug. Not all sarcasm is bred from insecurity, sometimes it's just the best way to get the point across. (And coming from God, it is most definitely a Love language.)

Overall, I think that God has answered a few of my questions from this post about reading the Bible.

What am I to look for as I read it?
I don't need to look for anything as I read it. If I already have something on my mind then I'll know what to look for, if I don't, just enjoy the read.

What am I to do with all the questions that surface as I read?
Ask them of course! But don't get worried if they aren't all answered. It's not about understanding everything, it's about knowing God one day at a time.

Why is it so important to keep reading this book?
I really love the answer to this one. You've probably heard people say that the Bible is a letter from God to us, they usually go off about how awesome this is and how deplorable it is that we don't believe how precious it is.

I can tell you why I never could feel the preciousness of this idea. One really old, really long 'letter' from God and not even to me personally, was all I got till heaven? That is about as good a deal as getting to eat old bread crusts for the rest of your life without even getting any water.

The problem with a letter is that it usually means the person isn't there. It's just something to let you know they're still alive while they're off vacationing. The problem with that idea is that God isn't off vacationing, He's with you, in you, communicating and presently available for two-way conversation. So, why would I read a letter from Him if He's already here?

But, a book, a story written by a person I know and love, even a memoir, I would read that even as they were sitting in the room with me. I would eat it up and read it aloud to them and laugh at their jokes and ask them questions, and learn more than I might have ever known about them from a conversation.

Once, I saw a poem that Cassie, (my very dear friend who has been writing copiously ever since she could hold a pencil) wrote hanging on the bulletin board on her wall. I would guess that we were about 12 at the time and I had never really noticed any of her writing until I saw this poem. I don't remember what it was about or anything it said. What I remember is thinking, "She is thinking some of the exact same stuff I've been thinking about but we've never talked about it."

I mentioned something about it to her and told her I'd like to see more of her writing, to learn more about the Real Cassie. That year for my birthday she gave me a book of hand copied poems of hers with this inscription in the front:
To My Very Dear Friend
{Who expressed the desire
to know the real 'me'}

You can bet that I treasure that book and that I did learn more about her from reading them. I learned that when you read a person's writing you get to see and know a part of them you might have totally missed otherwise. Is it just me or does it sound better to you to read a book because it's written by a dear friend of yours, then to read a letter by someone you will meet someday?

Another thing I've learned about reading the Bible is that if you go to it without an agenda, without the need to search for something in particular, without being driven to deduce or apply whatever principles might be lurking, it can be soothing. Not in a silly, vague, sense but very realistic comfort, like a mother soothing a scared child with a touch of her hand, or a wound being soothed with the right ointment, or being reminded, when it looks like all is lost, that Goodness does prevail. It restores hope and gives courage freely.

The Bible can be returned to again and again not because it's become comfortable or familiar but because it fits, it's right, it's real. In an upside-down world where most things are terribly wrong and even the right things aren't quite as they should be it reminds me that life is bigger than what I see in front of me and God is more active than my feelings tell me.