In 1998 I purchased my Bible and it became a part of my life. I was in the middle of my seminary education, in the middle of a time of doubt, questioning, and a real Dark Night of the Soul. I was preparing to go on a three month hike along part of the Appalachian Trail to think about God, my faith, Christ, the Church, and wanted to bring along something to guide me and join me in my journey. I wanted to bring along a Bible because I believed that in scripture I would find a connection with a greater community of faith, with people who have struggled with a sense of the presence of God, with people who had a strong faith, with the authors of the psalms, with the writers of the Gospels, with the apostle Paul, with the prophets, the Israelites, and many others. I did not want to walk with just one thinker or one theologian, but with the broader community of faith, the great cloud of witnesses that is found in the scriptures. So I purchased a Bible, one that was not too big because I was going to have to carry it every day, but not too small because I wanted to be able to read the text. It was a NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) with all of Jesus’ words in red – a feature that I was not thrilled about but one that I could live with. It was a Bible, void of study notes, of commentary, of interpretation, and it joined me on that three month adventure. I read it from cover to cover in that time, looking at every word, touching every page, and the Bible became my own.
When I returned from that trip, my faith deepened and renewed, I continued to carry that Bible with me. It was the Bible that I would take with me to the churches I was serving as a student. When I made my first pastoral call as an intern, to visit a man dying of AIDS, I did not bring my Bible with me. I went with a great sense of overwhelming, trembling and hoping that God was with me, but did not bring anything else. While there the man asked for me to read some scripture, and I realized how unprepared I was without my Bible. I realized that I had tried to go alone, without that community of faith, and that I was unwise to do so. From then on and up to now, that Bible has been a part of my profession and identity. Every time I walk into a hospital I take that Bible with me. I carry it in a way that all can see, and am aware that I am not alone as I try to navigate the maze of hospital rooms and nurses stations. With that Bible comes an awareness of a divine presence and reminds the people that I visit that I am not there as a family member or friend, but as their pastor, and I bring with me the faith of the ages, as witnessed through the pages of that Bible. My Bible has spoken for me when I can no longer find the words for comfort or assurance, has proclaimed that I am a part of that community of faith and believers, and reminds me and others that I am not alone in my work, but am surrounded by the presence and witnesses of a great community of faith.
I have read my Bible in coffee shops and subway stations, in airports and libraries. I have left it on the table, in the chair next to me, on top of the pile of books, unashamed of what others might think if they were to see it and what conversations it might invite. It has notes on index cards, bookmarks from different churches of different countries, and a tally of hospital rooms - reminders of what I have struggled with and where I have been, and what I have done with that Bible.
This Bible has been present at the bedside of people who have been afraid, people who have been at the edge of death, and those who have already crossed the threshold. It has been a part of a profound, raw grief of a family in pain, present in the midst of anger and hurt, and witnessed thousands of tears. My Bible has been with me for almost 20 years, has gone with me to work every day, has challenged me and comforted me and been a part of my identity as a pastor.
And now it is time to say goodbye.
The pages are dog-eared and torn. The cover is falling off and tearing in different places. The binding is breaking and pages are threatening to fall out. The Bible is old, worn, and used and having almost read the whole book again and again, I realize that it is time to say goodbye.
For now I am not going to throw this Bible away. I am going to retire it to a bookshelf to be a reminder to me of the first half of my professional life. I am not going to do it easily and carelessly. It is with gratitude that I place it on the shelf, that I say, “well done good and faithful servant,” and that I then try to find a new Bible. This is the challenge – to find a new Bible to carry with me to visit the sick and the hurting. A new Bible to challenge me and support me, and that will not be too big or too small. A new Bible, not to replace the one that I carried for so many years, but to continue to connect me with the great community and story of faith. I’m excited to see how this new Bible will accompany me in my faith journey and into the next half of my vocation. I’m excited to go through the pages, to read the words, and to be challenged, fed, and supported in my faith. But I will always remember the Bible that was with me from the beginning of my vocation as a pastor, and that went through so much with me. It was a gift, it was the community of faith, it was the presence of doubt and assurance, the cry of anger and joy. This book, this collection of pulp and ink and faux leather was, in the truest understanding, the living Word of God.