A couple of weeks ago, the 129 House went through a mass exodus of sorts. Thousands of the House’s longest-standing occupants made their final journey out the door. Oh yes…we purged our bookshelves.
As generations of pastors have come and gone from St. Paul, their personal libraries have come and, well, not gone. So, Peter Pettit took on the loving task of collecting, sorting, and shipping them to their new homes—everywhere from Source Books here in Davenport to seminaries in Africa.
Today, post-exile, if a person were to glance at my bookshelves (on the St. Paul campus as well as in my home), they might wonder if and how much I read. My personal library is, admittedly, a bit scarce as well as sporadic: an assortment of fantasy novels, some bestsellers from Brené Brown, and even a handful of children’s books. These titles only amount to half a shelf here and there. Someone judging a book by its cover might conclude that I am not much of a bibliophile.
The truth, however, is that I’m always reading! I go through several books a week, but I am very selective about which ones end up with a physical copy in my personal collection. That’s because I have a special relationship with every book on my shelf. My books are like old friends. No matter how long we’ve been apart, when we get together again it’s like no time has passed. I can immerse myself in their words and images with total authenticity and zero fear of judgment. If I’m feeling small amidst a world of systemic issues, I can crack open The Lord of the Rings and find encouragement in the words of Gandalf the Grey and Samwise the Brave. Or on the days I am feeling energized by ministry, I can celebrate faith and vocation with biographies about my greatest pastoral role model, Fred Rogers.
While not everyone shares my deep connection with hobbits or Mr. Rogers, the Bible is the one book with which all of us are called to have a special relationship. Beginning with picture bibles from childhood, the Bible is our life-long companion: a field guide to navigating the world through faith. There are stories for days you need to laugh, cry, rejoice, or protest. The Bible has words you can pray on days you’re scared, confused, grateful, or curious. It’s filled with characters who resemble your darkest moods as well as your humblest motives. At times when you struggle to find God amidst injustice, death, vocation, or disaster, the Word of God is there to steady you and point you in the right direction.
Of course, there is plenty in the Bible that may disturb even the most devout people of faith, and there are numerous eccentric passages that make even brilliant scholars scratch their heads. Nevertheless, reading the Bible is the closest, most personal connection we can have to the Lord. St. Augustine put it simplest when he taught,
“The Holy Scriptures are our letters from home.”
I will be the first to admit that the binding on some of my Harry Potter books is more creased and worn than on some portions of my bible. And I may have a seminary education, but I can no more make sense of the book of Revelation than someone who studied as a hairdresser or who works as a skilled electrician! But it’s not about dissecting the text for some eschatological secret. It’s not about how many times you can boast reading the gospels all the way through. The point is making a home for your relationship with God—a place for your guilty and weary self one day and your content and uplifted self the next. It is a place you enter with the words,
“Open the eyes of [my] heart, and let the light of your truth stream in.” (Eph. 1:18).