Read God's Book
Last Fall, Alison, Benedict, and I traveled to my cousin's wedding. While there, I saw one of those ubiquitous Catholic media CD displays in the back of the Church. A talk by Matthew Kelly caught my eye, so I picked up a copy knowing how much my sister enjoys his work. Alison and I listened on the drive home and something really stood out to me as Matthew was talking about what he thought our particular judgement would be like. He mused that God would ask us, "Did you read My book?"
As a writer, I kind of chuckled at the idea of that question. It's certainly one that I ask people from time to time and often the answer is no. That's to be expected for a new author who's been in print for less than 12 months, but an answer of "no" is somewhat less acceptable to the Author of the best selling book of all time.
As I've slowly weaved the practice of spending 10 minutes a day reading the Bible into my morning prayer time, I've also done something that the college version of me would stringently object to as a waste of time; I've been reading the footnotes.
Reading the Bible today without making use of the footnotes would be like taking a road trip and not looking out the window. You'll make it to the destination but you'll have missed out on the richness of the context, the exciting details in the periphery, and the joy of the experience. It's one of the reasons that I've enjoyed reading Fr. Jim Martin's book, "Jesus: A Pilgrimage” this Lent. Fr. Martin takes the stories of Jesus’ life and gives the reader the perspective of a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and his own personal experiences of God.
The Bible is a diverse collection of stories from a time and place that we have little historical experience of. I have never been to the Holy Land, I'm not Jewish, and I know almost nothing of Middle Eastern culture. In its 73 books, there's a great variety of stories, truths and characters. The entire Old Testament is the written history of the Jewish people. The New Testament is the history of the foundation and propagation of the Christian faith. To really understand the richness of the content, you have to read the footnotes.
Most of the references and phrases used in the Bible are no longer used in common vernacular. Sometimes meaning is lost in translation. Often locations are referenced that are no longer known by those particular names. In instances such as these, happening almost every verse, the footnotes can unlock greater meaning. For example, did you know that Gehenna was a place in Jerusalem that was essentially a town dump where people burned their trash? If you simply read the Gospels without the footnotes, you might just think it was a Hebrew turn of phrase for hell. Instead, it's a reference to an actual place that, frankly, everyone agreed was a true hell hole.
Reading the Bible is about more than just learning the history of the Jewish people or our own Christian heritage. We believe that the Bible is inspired by the Holy Spirit, meaning that every line, story, phrase, character, and word is important for some particular reason. This is a spiritual experience and it's one that will grow you intellectually and form you as a person. As you read, some passages will really jump out at you. They just might be the right message for you at the right time. You'll be moved by someone's deep faith, see yourself in a struggling character, or better understand the life that Jesus asks you to live.
Consider spending a few minutes a day reading God's book. Start with just one book of the Bible and take 10 minutes a day to read, digest, and reflect. Not only will you find what you need to find and hear what you need to hear, you'll be able to tell the omniscient and omnipotent creator of the universe that you read His book.