It anchored the bookshelf on the far right, pushed back and half hidden by the more important family books: a dog-eared, spine-broken atlas and a fat unappealing dictionary. The rest of the shelf held The Golden Home and High School Encyclopedia my mother purchased one volume at a time at the grocery store.
I was in and out of that shelf all the time looking up everything in the encyclopedia but I never touched the moldering pages of the holy book. Raised in a pseudo-Catholic household, I somehow knew I wasn’t supposed to read the Bible, so I didn’t.
The summer I was fifteen, however, I went on a Madeleine L’Engle kick and read everything she wrote that the local library owned. More than once, L’Engle commented about the need for readers and writers to read the Bible so they could better understand the literary culture of western civilization.
That sounded like a plan to me, so I dug out the old Bible and took it with us on a camping trip to Canada. When I had exhausted all the other books I brought with me, I opened it up to the first chapter of the New Testament and ran into all those begats.
I didn’t even last one chapter, slammed the musty volume shut and reread another Madeleine L’Engle.
But later that year, I started playing volleyball with some Lutherans around the corner from my house. One thing led to another, and I began to attend their Wednesday night Bible study. Obviously, I needed a Bible.
The old stolen Bible was unappetizing, but someone in the household had acquired a paperback called Good News for Modern Man. It was just the New Testament, but that was okay because we were studying the book of Romans, which someone told me was in the New Testament.
Okay, like my father I stole it, but I read that Bible, so easy on the eyes and soul, for the next year.
A cheap paperback (even now it only costs $7.45), the binding broke and pages fell out. I held it together with a green rubber band.
I found that Good News for Modern Man tonight, still on a shelf but with the rubber band long disintegrated. In between the pages, some of which were turned upside down when last stuffed between the shiny cover, was a written reflection from the first retreat I attended.
I committed in writing on that retreat to read the Bible and to pray.
And so I have. For 40 years.
Madeleine L’Engle may or not have approved of that paperback Bible. She urged English majors in particular, to read the gorgeous words in the 1621 King James version. The 1966 Good News for Modern Man gave me the stories, paraphrases of the original translation, not the beautiful words.
But it was enough to start with it and those words, sharper than a two-edged sword have not returned void.
After all, it’s the Who found in the Word that’s important, not the how I read about Him.
What was your first Bible like?