Wednesday, February 15, 2017

On being "Rubbish at the Bible"

Once upon a time the Dean, God bless him, sagely remarked                                                                   "The Canon Pastor is RUBBISH at the Bible. Great on the Sacraments but rubbish at the Bible!" *      He clearly knows me much too well – and so the task of talking about a Bible passage that has been important in my life played straight into all my personal anxieties about not being the “right sort of Christian”…because, you see, when I look back at my faith journey, God has generally spoken to me far more through music, poetry or other works of literature than through Scripture...though I have the sort of memory that holds on to huge chunks of beautiful words, including Bible passages, and can probably tell you when and where I was first conscious of them . I had an instinctive sense of ritual and can remember creating domestic liturgy (with which my parents generously went along) that involved my 6’+ father lighting the Christmas tree candles while I recited John’s Prologue – which I had somehow learned without trying (I blame "Carols from Kings") well before my 7th birthday.                                                                                                                                                                            "The light shineth in the darkness and the darkness comprehendeth it not."                                         But I pretty much SANG my way to faith, catching glimpses of God in the beauty of South Coast Anglo Catholicism in my childhood, but becoming certain of God’s reality in singing the Et Resurrexit from Bach’s B Minor Mass in Kings Chapel in my 2nd year at Cambridge. By then, of course, I’d been singing in churches, college chapels and the like for a good 10 years. I loved the business of worship, the feeling that we were always on the edge of something bigger and more beautiful than anyone dared to imagine, that we could be caught up in it at any moment. I’d had a very powerful experience of God through a John Donne poem that was part of my A level revision the day my father died….but it was Bach who sealed the contract. Against that backdrop, though, I was being reeled in subversively through a web of non co-incidences. In my first term, I was set an essay on Lancelot Andrewes. I LOVED his words…the play of light and shade on the page…the sheer cleverness that was always undergirded with a genuine longing to draw us in to the text…oh, and of course, that text was the Bible – for these were sermons. 350 years old, but sermons nonetheless….I loved them so much that I wrote my Part 1 dissertation on Andrewes – who was, of course, Chair of the Committee that compiled the Kings James AV. To write about Andrewes was to spend weeks up to my ears in “his” Bible, and when the dissertation was submitted, it went in with a title that referenced both Andrewes himself, George Herbert (who was to become my lifelong companion in faith) and, inevitably, Scripture too.                                                                                                               “Thy WORD is all, if we could spell”                                                                                                                 So, truly, "In the beginning was the Word" for me…A God who communicated in every possible way…who refused to leave my head or my heart but resided there with such discretion and grace that I took a while to realise that it was God at all. So – my passage remains John’s Prologue….which does the same thing in words as the pillars of Durham Cathedral do in stone…putting roots down into the deepest truths that there are…which offers us the heart-rending sense of God’s vulnerability “He came unto his own, and his own received him not”….which takes us back to the dawn of time but proclaims God’s constant unswerving involvement with humanity  “the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us”.
Later, with my call to priesthood, came the specific instruction to bear witness to the light, to hold the light for others so that they too could be warmed by the certainty that it will never, ever be put out.
*This was both so true and so funny, even at the time, that it has become a family saying, and is in no way a cause for distress


UKViewer said...

I think that I missed out on so much as a child. Yes, I had catholic worship and the Catechism, but the Bible was something used for readings at Mass?

Only when I became an Anglican, did I get to know the bible, particularly the book of Psalms, and latterly, due to my LLM Training, in much greater depth.

I still can't name all the books of the Bible, but at least know where to find a particular reading. My favourite old testament books are Isiah, Job and the Psalms. New Testament the Gospel of John, closely followed by Matthew and Hebrews.

Not sure whether this is a pick and mix approach, but it certainly sustains me.

And music is now another love. The Hymnal, particularly Wesley and Newman hymns, but mixed with choral evensong (which we are blessed to have in our parish), along with a lovely director of music and young choir makes attending worship, a thrilling and spiritual experience.

Mrs Redboots (Annabel Smyth) said...

At the church my grandsons attend, any baptised child is welcome to receive the Bread. The 3-year-old had a phase of "administering" satsuma segments to anybody around (including himself) with the words "The Body of Christ". Sadly, he's stopped doing that now - I do love "baby faith".... to say that God is so very much greater than the Bible.

One minister once said, in a sermon, "What if - and it won't ever happen, but what if - the Bible was proved to be a mediaeval fake, like the Shroud of Turin? How much difference to your faith would it actually make?"