I look back at the Bible I owned then, a New American Standard as big as a clock radio—or at least as big as clock radios used to be. (Are there even still clock radios? Or is everything phones now?) The leather covers are torn as though by an act of violence, and to look at it, I took seriously the Jewish sage Yochanan Ben Bag Bag’s oft-quoted dictum to “Turn it and turn it, for everything is in it.” (Though he was speaking strictly about the Hebrew Scriptures.) The thin pages are wrinkled from reading, and the margins are laced with blue ballpoint commentary I can now barely read. Verse upon verse is underlined.
I jest about the Bible culture I received along with the faith, the ways the Bible itself (and I mean the object) became an icon (and far too often, an idol) expressive of our belief and hopes—and ultimately our pride. I do not, though, believe any less in the value of daily Bible readings, read—yes—every morning.
Now I read the Bible on my phone instead: Yes, via a simple online sign-up through the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of North America, I have the daily readings of Epistle and Gospel delivered to the glowing blue virtual lozenge I hold in my hand.
Her children, who are growing up Orthodox (Caroline is a convert), receive the Bible in a different way — but receive it they do:
The “real” Bible, meanwhile—the one with gold leaf and bonded leather—rests atop a table at my home altar, under an icon of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet. I have taught my children to search out chapter and verse, and am working on having them memorize the order of the books, but the Bible is something chanted for them, breathed in and out of the Liturgical year, and witnessed in brilliant egg tempera on frescoes, not a legal document leafed and interleafed for illustrations and exceptions.
Their understanding of the Bible both predates the West and postdates logo-centric culture.
I love this. When I was growing up, that was the thing I perceived separated the Baptists from the rest of us: they really knew their Bible. Their peerless knowledge of Scripture is one of the very best thing about Evangelical Christians. I was 12 or 13 before I started reading the Bible — really reading it, I mean — and I was amazed by the things in it. Jesus was a lot more interesting than I thought. I remember thinking, “If the man in this book is really God, then why do we live the way we do?” That is not a bad thought to carry with you every day of your life.