A number of years ago, a friend saw a waterproof Bible, requested it for the next holiday, and received it. Everyone applauded this friend, saying how godly and good it is to want a Bible for a gift, to hunger for the Word so deeply that one wishes to read it even in the shower, in the rain, or underwater.
I remembered this the other day while sitting in the shower – one of my favorite things to do when I’m at all sick or recovering from being sick. I often forget to take life moment by moment, to focus on the now, and to be mindful of the current because I get so wrapped up in my head. But that day? I just basked in the wonder of a hot shower.
And, looking at my bookshelf today, I realized I don’t have many religious texts. Sometimes, I fear that I have stumbled off the face of my faith so much because I have few outward signs. I gave up wearing Nana’s cross every day the day I started wearing her rings as my engagement ring. The home I grew up in had a cross or picture of prayer in every room. Now my own has none, save for poems by Rumi in our bedroom and bathroom, a couple religious wedding cards on display, a battered note card with a Bible verse on our fridge, and the books on my bookcase – one shelf of which is dedicated to religious books, books that are like religious books to me, and Appalachian literature.
And, looking at these books, I can’t imagine ever wanting another Bible – even a colorful waterproof one I could read in the shower.
Now, I’m not saying that the mere idea of collecting Bibles or faith-based books or artifacts is bad in and of itself, but if our conceit is that our faith book is the true word, that we ought to read it each day, and one of the teachings in that book is to be selfless, where do we draw the line?
Personally, when I look at my religious display, I can tell you the story behind each – and I’m going to because it proves a point.
- Soul Cravings – I bought this from a discount bin at Borders years ago and didn’t like it nearly as much as I thought I might, but keep thinking I’ll finish it “someday.” Admittedly, I could let this one go and feel hardly a twinge.
- The Lost Message of Jesus – Like the previously mentioned book, I got this one on sale and never finished it. I do, however, know that it challenged my faith and its where I first encountered the idea of a more radical love of Christ than any I’d been formally taught.
- The Concordia Self-Study Bible, NIV – This Bible was given to me by my grandparents for my Confirmation. It’s leather-bound, has my name engraved in gold lettering on the front, and each interior page is half text, half explanatory text and references. Upon giving it to me, Nana said, “Don’t ever write in this,” and I never have. A few months before she passed away, though, I talked her into finally inscribing the first page, a small task she’d put off for over two years. I’ve never regretted that decision.
The Bible, NIV – I call this “my purple Bible,” but before May 4, 2003, it was just, “my Bible.” When my Girl Pioneer leader learned I didn’t have a Bible of my own (I was about 10 and there were a million of them floating around the pastor’s house, mind you), she was appalled and had a stock of paperback Bibles for such a time as that and gave one to me. I read it occasionally and, when I went to Lutheran school in 7th grade, thought it’d do nicely. It, however, fell from my first locker that first day of 7th grade and the cover tore clean off, taking a few introductory pages with it. My great aunt, who volunteered in the library, taped it up. It’s been taped a few times since then, but it got me through high school and it tells stories about teenage me.
- Christian Worship – This hymnal was released when I was little and served as a topic of hot debate in WELS circles. It’s still often called, “the new hymnal,” and people complain about the terrible harmonies, missing stanzas, and changed lyrics. Still, it’s what’s current-ish and I was required to have one when I started Lutheran school, so Nana gave me hers. Its cover shows how many times it has been shoved into backpacks, shuffled around countries (no, seriously; I took this to Turkey with me), and pulled out in times of need. I find songs so comforting.
- Egermeir’s Bible Story Book – I’ve never actually opened this one past the first cover for any reason other than to glance at the pictures. My mom found it and gave it to me when her mother died. I took it, though I’ve always felt that it probably could have served others in our family more. However, it’s beautiful and it’s really the only thing I have of Grammie’s so I cherish it as a memento of good memories with her and a testament to back stories. We’re not all who we appear to be.
- The Holy Bible with Apocryphal Books, NRSV – This, along with a diploma holder and Berea College: A History were handed to me the day I walked across the stage in Berea College’s Phelps-Stokes Chapel. I haven’t done much with it, but I love its meaning – inclusive Christianity, preaching to the choir and the people outside, and a goodbye.
- Luther’s Catechism – One day about six years ago, I was in a thrift shop and spied a duct-taped spine. I picked it up out of curiousity and discovered it was my great-grandfather’s Catechism. I don’t know how it got there; I’m sure we had it when I was younger. I bought it. Nana’s father was also a WELS pastor and this Catechism, I think, was the last he used for teaching. Everything I’ve heard about Pastor Heier leads me to believe he was quite old-school in his beliefs, but personally more open to ideas than his profession might allow. This Catechism testifies to his beliefs – from capitalizing words that were going out of fashion to be capitalized to writing in the margins and reminding himself of tasks and questioning wordings, it’s most certainly a pastor’s book.
- The Problem of Pain and Mere Christianity – I stole these from Papa when I was moving my own books, but have yet to read more than a few excerpts.
Now, looking at these books – which, to anyone else, are just books – I have this to say. I care more about their history and marginalia than I do about what’s inside – no matter how important it is. And so, no matter the circumstance, I will always choose a used book over a new, a real book over an e-book, and a story over a boast. I also have this advice to offer: Ignore what your childhood librarian told you about writing in your books and heed her rule that you be silent in the library. I don’t need to read the Bible – or anything, actually – in the shower. I’d rather take that moment for what it is – wet, steamy, and glorious in its own right.
On a related note, if you’re looking for someone to give a shower radio, I’ve been lusting for one of those for about half my life.
As far as I can tell, I’ll only expand my faith books collection with those of different faiths (I actually have a checked-out copy of The Koran sitting atop my bookcase currently) and those that mean something to me and mine, like the teal large print NIV Nana took to Bible class throughout my childhood and Papa uses today.
The next time you’re in a Christian bookstore and see “the hot new” Bible and lust after it, ask yourself, “Why?” If it’s just to show it off and to make others want a shiny new Bible, you’re missing the point entirely.
Then again, maybe this is just another example of how we all have unique faiths and my particular brand keeps me rooted with family history, personal marginalia, and unique memories.
I’m interested to know what faith books, scriptures, and texts you have and why they mean something to you. Please share!