I remember the first time I attended an Eastern Orthodox worship service in the Ukraine. I will never forget the processional that Sunday morning. At the head of the procession, a presbyter wafted an elegant bronze incense burner back and forth, with smoke creating a cloud of mist over the worshipers like the cloud that hovered over Moses at Sinai. The priests followed with white beards down to their bellies dressed from head to toe in other worldly vestments. Then last but certainly not least a presbyter held a long pole that reached at least fifteen feet in the air, high above everything else. At the top of the pole was the Holy Writ, from which flow the words, “and the Word became flesh and dwelt among us… full of grace and truth” (John 1:14).
I didn’t have to see anything more after that. The procession that Sunday morning is etched in my memory and has visceral impact every time I recall it…
The Bible loses its power on us today…Yes, it is often an heirloom. But, the sad fact is that most people and most believers don’t read it. It is the all time world wide best seller, translated into virtually every know language in the world. And it is at the root of most of Europe’s classic literature.
Part of our trepidation about approaching this book is that it is not one book at all. It is sixty-six books to be precise. And until fairly recently in the scheme of things, these books were in the form of individual scrolls. The word “Bible” itself means “library”. Each of the books is distinct with its own slant. So how do we approach this library?
Many unfortunate pilgrims try to start at the beginning and read all the way through. They do fine through Genesis and much of Exodus, then they hit the bogs of Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy, which read like ancient provincial history at best and like a phone book at worst.
So, most don’t know where to start. Most are also afraid of the book to some degree. The subconscious fear might be that our reasoning minds will not survive direct engagement with the Bible. We all know of people whose reasoning is impaired by assumptions they make about the holy book. We also might feel like we don’t have time to sort through the complexity of the book. We might conclude that we just can’t get our minds around it. It is too amorphous, too complex.
Not only is it ancient history with all the hurdles involved there, it is also multi-faceted with numerous books going in seemingly opposite directions.
The Bible can seem bewildering on a number of different levels. It did to me. Yet, a number of years ago I simply decided that I would read through the New Testament and Psalms every year. I tried reading through the whole Bible and given my busy schedule found that I had bitten of more than I could chew. So now I have the modest goal of reading the New Testament and Psalms through every year. Then during big transition years like this last year I cut myself some slack and read what I consider to be the greatest hits: Luke, Philippians, and Psalms. I like to read in different translations each year, and my favorite translation is the Message Remix.
Monastics of the early church read through the New Testament two times a year, the Psalms (Psalter) twelve times a year, and the Old Testament once a year. They referred to this daily reading as a “diet.” The reading was their spiritual food that sustained them. Taking the essence of this practice into the present day feeds our souls…. It gets us into the text that is the basis of faith for the church universal. The therapeutic effects of this daily reading on the mind are similar to the effects of regular exercise on the body. And the scriptures do seem to have a cumulative effect. If we in fact read regularly, it begins to sustain us with a peculiar continuity. Somehow daily reading allows God to peer into our souls.