IT STARTED: It was early 1978. In a few short weeks everything fell apart. Someone I thought I was building a home with wanted “freedom.” To satisfy that we moved 2,000 miles. She took the kids and began the legal process that would ultimately take everything apart.
I had only despair. My livelihood was gone. I have never been so alone. In time I met a few friends. If I told you who you might be surprised. But I turned to writing for publication. Feature articles. Through those assignments I began to meet and interview a range of people. I began to see hope for myself. I could do something Maybe there was light, however dim it seemed now, at the end of this dark tunnel.
FORCING THE HAND OF GOD: Through this I turned to a crutch I thought I understood. My bible. There was a scheme popular at the time called the ABC’s of prayer. One had only to find the right bible promises in the bible. Ask God to keep those promises. Believe that He would do it. Then Claim the promise. Ask, Believe and Claim.
I began to carry around a sheaf of 3×5 cards with the promises written on them. I wore them out bringing them out of my pocket and reviewing the promises. Making a deal with God. Forcing God to do the right thing, to keep His promises. I honestly believed if I could only get God’s attention, to grab Him by the arm and get God to do what He promised, we could make a deal.
Then I began to realize what a foolish idea this was. Whatever God would do or not He would do. Many of my “promises” involved forcing someone else. I began to realize that God was not in the business of forcing anyone.
Let Barbara Brown Taylor describe it in her book “Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith” she writes:
“As it turned out the edge of the map was not all that far from the center. It was not as if I or anyone else had to take a mule train for three weeks to find ourselves in the wilderness. All we had to do was step outside the Church and walk to where the lights from the sanctuary did not pierce the darkness anymore. All we had to do was lay down the books we could no longer read and listen to the howling that our favorite hymns so often covered up….There was just the unscripted encounter with the undomesticated God whose name was unpronounceable –that and a bunch of flimsy tents lit up by lanterns inside, pitched by those who were either seeking such an encounter or huddling in their sleeping bags while they recovered from one.”
BOOKS: My center included a few books, even the brown leather bound bible which I had marked and carried into the pulpit for years. Now, I couldn’t look at it. It had become an idol and stood in the way of any honest meeting with God. To this day I’m not sure where it is and I can’t read that one. I put it on the shelf no help to me and no danger either. I have others now that have taught me many things. But that one seems so very wrong, too much a reminder of my trying to get God’s attention. As I write there are two bibles within reach but they are not ruined by my marks, instead they are ready to speak to me what they have to say.
DECENT PEOPLE DOING THEIR BEST: My journey has taught me that the bible is the collected thoughts, through hundreds of years of decent people just trying to figure things out. Just like me. They did their best. They collected what they thought was history. They wrote down genealogies that they hoped connected them and their tribes to God. They collected the poetic expressions that gave meaning to their worship. When they saw danger they wrote prophecies they hoped would turn people to their God. They did the best they could.
I learned to look at the bible then not as some code book, a collection of ideas about how to force the hand of God, rather as a collection of the best that my spiritual ancestors could share. They became a community of men and women all just trying to figure things out.
THE LETTERS: I relaxed and met these ancestors in a new way. After my Dad passed away I found a bundle of letters my mother had kept. There was nothing written by her. They were all from him written at the close of WWII from ships in the Pacific. He was courting her. He was smitten. The paper was fragile and sometimes there were mysteries. Wartime meant censorship, there were some things you didn’t say. But he said enough. In all the years we had together I got only one brief letter from him. But writing to my mother he expressed all the anxiety of the war, in times the optimism as it wound down and at last the end when a normal life could once again be hoped for.
In a few months they married. In a year I was born and a quiet life began. Mom put the letters away. She kept them all those years. When she died in 1993 Dad never cleaned out the house. He lived in his large motor home and the house became a time capsule until his passing in 1998. That was when I found the letters. I never had the chance to talk to him about them. He probably would have been embarrassed and said nothing. Today I just have to read them and treasure them for their place in family history. And I will find some grandchild thoughtful enough to pass them down. I hope they will be treasured.
Perhaps in some way the bible is like that. Love letters from the past. Words we can treasure about people and places sometimes we can only guess. Written for someone else but containing thought from which we can be inspired. Maybe some words we’ll never fully understand.
When I start these ruminations I really don’t know where they’re going to go. It may be enough here to say that ancient words can be healing or feel condemning. Let them be what they will be. See them for what they are and enter in. Join your ancestors, respect them and just be part of the family that has given you such richness.