Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008: The Year I Read The Bible

Everyone has year-end resolutions. In the past, mine have always been things like losing weight, going to the gym, being a better correspondent with my friends and family, and so on. Predictably, those resolutions usually last about two months and then I slip back into my old habits. It's the American way. I do tend to be good about my commitments, but they've gotta MEAN something. I managed to lose lots of weight right before my wedding because I bought my wedding dress a size too small and was bound and determined it would fit. (It did.) I stuck to my fitness goals the year I hired a personal trainer and had to show up for the appointments or pay anyway. And, of course, Facebook completely changed the way I keep in touch with my friends. The times they are a'changin'.

In 2008, however, I made a goal and stuck with it. I read The Bible. Cover to cover. The whole thing. It took me twelve months.

You may not know about me that I am a church-going kind of girl. I have been a member of Presbyterian churches in every city I've lived in since I first joined at age 13 in my hometown of Covington, Tennessee. It's really important for me to say upfront that my relationship to church is as much about family history and heritage and community and ritual as it is about religion. I take comfort in the regularity of church. I love church people. (Especially Presbyterians, but you know, I'm biased.) I love the smell of old church buildings and they way they sing the same hymns wherever you go. I love pipe organs and choirs. When September 11th happened and I lived in New York City, I went and sat in my church and cried, because I wasn't sure where else to go.

On New Year's Day a year ago, one of my friends gave me a copy of a book called The One Year Bible. I read a lot, anyway -- usually contemporary fiction and classics -- and the idea of reading The Bible was one of those things that had always been on my radar. I remember once in junior high I tried to do it and I barely made it out of Genesis. It was certainly on my "someday before I die..." list, but there were lots of other things I figured I'd tackle first. But this gift felt to me like a challenge, and the book was structured in a way that seemed do-able. Fifteen minutes a day for 365 days. I thought I'd give it a shot, and I sent a copy to my 87-year old grandmother to see if she might take the challenge on with me. She agreed. We started reading.

I approached reading The Bible as literature. I figured I'd just read it so that I could be a person who had read The Bible. I had no idea how revelatory it would be in terms of comprehending current world events, how emotional it would be to synthesize the stories I'd heard for more than thirty years, and how accomplished it would feel to finish something that took an entire year to do. Reading the Bible in public places elicited surprising responses. On a plane, a woman struck up a conversation with me that I'm sure she wouldn't have started had she not noticed what I was reading. In a darkened theater, during tech rehearsals, I got a few looks of disbelief. In the month of October, I got about three weeks behind, and I spent the rest of the year catching up. Because I was reading double-duty, I actually finished on December 22nd-- just in time for Christmas. You can imagine how my perception of the holiday was extremely different this year.

Here's the thing. I'm not here to proselytize. My husband is Jewish. Our extended and culturally mixed family has lots of variations in what we all believe, and it's all fine with me. Believe or don't believe as your life requires. But if you're curious about what's actually in that book, I highly recommend reading it this way. I know I've got more questions about it all than I did a year ago, and I wouldn't be surprised if this year has me reading some of it again. (In the midst of all that blood and gore and hellfire and damnation I probably missed some of the nuance in the Old Testament. Man, there was a lot of killing going on for a very, very, very long time.) But as I look back on the best and the worst that 2008 had to offer, I think maybe this was the greatest thing I accomplished.