Almost Bible (Part 2)
By JIM NICHOLS
Turning over the calendar presents a good opportunity to reflect on “one-liner” items collected over time. These are phrases or paragraphs that have spoken truths clearly and, often, in unexpected ways. I frequently have these on separate small pieces of paper, and they have no relationship to one another except that, for some reason, they spoke to me at the time. I stumble upon some of them on occasion and keep hoping that they will coalesce into some theme, but they never do. However, they are so rich and simple that they still stick with me. They are close to God speaking to me through random sets of words. I had an academic religious friend once who, when he encountered such an idea would pause and say, “Well, that’s almost Bible.” I present a few of them here with no attempt to tie them together. Perhaps, you will hear something. (Click here to read the original “Almost Bible” posted on March 14, 2020.)
- “If we avoid speaking words, we might stop remembering.” Frederick Buechner wrote this with the serious context of his father’s suicide. He notes how his family would not speak about it and hardly talk about him at all. The result was that, to some extent, the secret of his father led the family to somewhat forget him. Buechner notes that words (written or spoken) are an important part of keeping the past alive. This is true even if we are only using words in talking to ourselves. There is a caution for us here as we attempt to maintain the communities of our families, churches, and societies. The people of Israel (to reverence the God of the world) refused to use a name for the deity. Subsequently, the people forgot how to pronounce the name.
- “When you are at the center of a circle, it is impossible to see what is at the perimeter—if you are even aware that there is a perimeter.” Author Jennifer Bailey addresses the difference between living for those who appear to be the main players in life and those who are on the periphery. You and I primarily live in the center of the human circle. Financially, politically, in terms of available resources, levels of safety from violence—our lives are much different from most others. This has the devastating effect on us of causing us to subtly believe that those past the perimeter boundary do not exist. In our better moments we do sense that they have the same needs and wishes as we have, but then the forces of our daily lives crowd out those thoughts. This is one of the clearest differences between Jesus and those of us who say we follow Jesus. He spent much of his time on the perimeter or past it.
- “If you believe at fifty what you believed at fifteen, then you have not lived—or you have denied the reality of your life.” Christian Wimans (My Bright Abyss: Meditation of a Modern Believer) is not criticizing youthfulness, but rather noting that many people seem to get stuck there emotionally and practically. Fifteen is a great age, but the responses, desires, and goals of that age do not work in subsequent years and may, in fact, prove to be destructive. I have a hunch that you, like me, know several adult-looking people who act as if they are still teenagers. That does not work well.
- “Two is not twice one; two is two thousand times one.” G. K. Chesterton was not trying to disrupt the world of mathematics, but to address the importance of community. He is commenting on the incredible difference between a person being alone and having one friend or ally against the hostile forces of the world. When I was a college student away from home, I have a clear memory of having a medical checkup for the first time by myself without a parent present. Young and with only a moderate illness, I was quickly back to full speed and proud of myself for that medical adventure. I am now at the age where exactly the opposite is true; I am close to requesting a companion on any similar visit.
Probably you too have a real or mental list of phrases such as these. They may speak only to you and not someone else; or, they may say something different to someone else. Nevertheless, I believe they are one way that the Holy Spirit continues to enlighten us. They are “almost Bible.”
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain