I have a book that’s a bestseller. It’s a how-to book, really. It’s a resource for understanding the human dilemma. It answers conundrums, poses life-changing questions, is full of adventure, and explains how to be healthy. It can be found on every continent.
Actually, it’s a compilation of 66 smaller books: 39 in the first part and 27 in the second part. It has more than a thousand chapters. You’re way ahead of me. I’m talking about the Bible.
I’ve just finished reading Vilhelm Moberg’s saga “The Settlers,” the story of immigrants streaming into North America in the 19th century. It includes lists of precious possessions brought from the homeland: handmade quilts, copper kettles, tools, a wedding petticoat, and usually – at the bottom of a trunk, wrapped in homespun – the family Bible, often with inscriptions from one generation to the next. And the next.
The family Bible served as a primer for learning to read; as the center of lonely cabin “churches”; as the ceremonial guide for births, deaths, and marriages; and as a daily guide for practicing life’s important values, especially under difficult circumstances. It gave instructions for living well, comfort to broken hearts, and suggestions for success.
The family of Mary Baker Eddy, the founder of The Christian Science Monitor, owned such a Bible, and as a child she sat at her father’s feet each morning and evening to listen to Bible stories. Today one can find those old Bibles selling for just a few dollars at any country auction. My heart sinks a bit when I see one, knowing that once it was the treasure of, the center of, a home and family.
But what about the Bible today? Does it still provide the same level of guidance and comfort?
I love the very first tenet of Christian Science: “As adherents of Truth, we take the inspired Word of the Bible as our sufficient guide to eternal Life” (“Church Manual,” p. 15). That tenet reminds me to turn first to the Bible when I’m facing any difficulty.
One of my most important memories from being a summer camp counselor was when another counselor bemoaned her future – or lack thereof. She just didn’t know where she was going, or what she’d do when she got there. She’d recently graduated from college and had applied for jobs, but hadn’t heard back and didn’t know how she’d support herself when autumn came. She didn’t know what she wanted to be “when she grew up.” We sat up late one night talking about options and what she really, in her heart, wanted to do. “It’s funny,” she said, “what I’d really like to do is pitch a tent somewhere and spend my days reading, drawing, thinking, and, well, praying.”
I remember responding, “How about turning to the Bible for an answer?” We both decided it couldn’t hurt to find a Bible, open it, and see if there was any sort of direction for my friend. We crept into the camp director’s office, grabbed a Bible, and sat in the moonlight on the edge of a lake. “One ... two ... three,” I said, and she opened the Bible, put her finger on a spot on the page, and read: “And he builded an altar there, and called upon the name of the Lord, and pitched his tent there” (Genesis 26:25).
We were stunned. And pleased. The next time I saw her, many years later, she told me our late-night experiment had worked for her – she’d found the direction she was seeking – and that opening the Bible for guidance had become a habit. Opening its pages, trusting God to speak to me, has become a habit of mine, too.
Last year my husband surprised me with a new leather Bible, and its companion book written by Mrs. Eddy, “Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures.” To protect my beautiful new books, I put them on a high shelf, out the way of kids’ peanut-butter-and-jelly fingers, of visitors who might use them in a haphazard way, even of the dog’s paws. Then I remembered the battered, well-used family Bibles I’ve seen, and decided I’d rather have a worn-out, tattered Bible than a dusty, pristine, unused one. Now my Bible is filled with scribblings, jottings, pressed flowers, and handwritten notes, with verses underlined and highlighted, and even a list of my family members for future generations.
I believe each person wants to be the best version of him- or herself. But even more profound than that is the knowledge that we’re created in the image and likeness of God. The book of Matthew records Jesus’ exhortation to his followers: “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (5:48). Throughout the Bible, we’re taught how to live that divine perfection.