The year I made my First Holy Communion my grandmother was planning to go to the Holy Land. While there she was going to get me a rosary as a First Holy Communion present. The trip got cancelled, however, because of safety concerns due to unrest in the area. Instead of the rosary then, my Nanna gave me a Good News Bible. That was actually a pretty big deal in hindsight. I’ve mentioned before that my parents aren’t particularly religious, and up to that point I don’t think we had a full copy of the bible in our house – just a children’s bible and some Gideon’s New Testaments. I’ve since come to prefer the NRSV version of the bible, but that Good News Bible was the start of something much bigger. I haven’t really thought about it before but my Nanna gave me a pretty incredible gift that day – not just a nicely bound volume, but the Word of God.
Let’s just say I was a pretty zealous nine-year-old – when I got that bible from my Nanna I decided I was going to read it. All of it. From start to finish. Yeah, I was that kid… So, my master plan never quite worked out, but I actually did a pretty good job, all things considered. I think I ended up reaching about Kings before my initial enthusiasm wore off. Not bad for a nine-year-old considering that genealogies and some of the mitzvah in the Old Testament can be pretty dry or difficult to understand.
I remember some of the first times my eyes were opened and I was given a glimpse of just how incredible the bible could be. It was after I had been in my youth group for about a year and we were preparing for an upcoming retreat. One day I was asked by the retreat leaders to prepare a short bible reflection on any passage of my choice for the next week’s preparation meeting. I had no idea what to choose, so I started looking up different passages in the topic index of my bible. I had a few potential passages in mind when I stumbled across 1 Corinthians 13. I read through it, and I was just so overwhelmed. It was the most beautiful thing I had ever read, and that is saying a lot considering I have always been a massive bookworm. A few weeks later when we had the actual retreat my eyes were opened again when we had Team Mass and the priest gave the most memorable homily about when Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac and explained some of the many ways in which the passage foreshadowed the Passion.
When I was living in Colorado I had the opportunity to join a FOCUS Bible Study and attend academic lectures that included reflections on and explanations of sections of the bible including Song of Songs and the account of the events leading up to the Nativity. Both of the priests in my parish there also had the wonderful gift of really being able to examine the gospels on a deeper level in their homilies. I came to realise that there is such a huge fount of depth, knowledge, wisdom and meaning in sacred scripture, as well as to understand that to get a true appreciation of what a passage is saying you often have to go back to the original Greek or Aramaic translations and consider the cultural and historical context of events described. This awakened a great thirst in me, and it seems that the more I learn the more I wish to know.
It’s been a long time coming, but after more than a decade I’ve resumed my attempts at achieving my childhood goal of getting through the entire bible. This time however I hope that my main motivation is the desire to know God better, rather than just to be able to boast about having read the whole bible. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no expert on scripture and I still have a very great deal to learn, but I am starting to slowly expand my knowledge and understanding of the Word of God, and it is just so beautiful! The other night I got up to the Book of Ruth, and especially after reading an online commentary to clarify some of the things I was unsure about I just couldn’t believe how beautiful and exciting and interesting it was. I mean seriously, someone should make a movie based on it!
I guess the point I’m getting to here is not to let your preconceptions get in the way of reading what is really quite a marvellous text. Sure, there are some parts that are much harder to get through than others, but the amazing stories are so worth the wait, and if you do your research to help clarify what you don’t understand you’ll be amazed at what you learn.