You’re reading again.
my brother remarked, last fall.
You said you couldn’t read before.
I jolted. It was true.
When I am depressed I lose the ability to read books. This is one of the worst symptoms. Staring at the same paragraph over and over, unable to make words stick, knowing I need distraction and unable to escape. My brother loves books, and conversations about them. I envied him ploughing through novels, plays and biographies. But by the second half of last year, I was talking about books I was reading again.
Four years earlier, abruptly in need of a Bible, I consulted Amazon. The choice overwhelmed me so I asked Fiona
which Bible should I get?
She picked one out for me. When I screenshotted the dispatch notice email to assure her – and myself – I had gone ahead with the purchase, she spotted that I had thrown a box of posh chocolates into my basket too:
can recommend eating chocolate when reading the bible
Clergy-approved approach to scripture.
Bog standard Bible
I found getting to grips with God’s word one of the toughest parts of the journey, In true depressed fashion I berated myself for this. Was I sceptical? Faithless? Stupid?
With osmotic ambitions, I acquired lots of Bibles and put them everywhere. I carried paperback Gospels around with me, only for my copy to get soaked by the rain. I bought an NT Wright commentary on the New Testament which I thought might be easier going but was not. A Dorling Kindersley commentary on The Bible aimed at younger readers with lots of timelines and illustrations is a surprisingly useful reference.
I even bought a cheap copy of the New Testament NIV from a thrift store, to put by the loo.
In hindsight writing this all down now I can see that in a large part the challenge was not that I was unable to read the Bible, but more that I was unable to read at all. It was also last fall that, frustrated with my progress, I hit the start button on the Bible in a Year plan on my app. To my astonishment I have stuck with it ever since. At the time of writing I am more than a third of the way through, often reading the day’s assigned portion on the bus.
You might call it God’s timing.
Room at the Inn
Ask an Anglican, get a book
was a trope Fiona taught me.
They hand you a book when they don’t know what else to do.
True to form, whilst depressed-me set to work trying to convince myself I was too deep a miscreant to ever be worth of God’s love (Ha! Nice try!) Fiona dispatched me a copy of The Ragamuffin Gospel by sometime alcoholic and former Franciscan priest Brennan Manning. I flicked through the book but the fact I was unable to read seemed to only emphasise my unworthiness of All Of This. I abandoned the book to gather dust under my bed (sorry, Fiona). I returned to Ragamuffin later, won over – finally – by among other things, Philip Yancey’s What’s so Amazing about Grace? (Great title.)
I cleared space on my bookshelf for church related books, and for several months found that I had gone from being unable to read at all, to being unable to read anything other than church-related stuff. I quickly graduated from books covering the basics, important though they are. I read books about calling, communion, grace, parish life and ministry; Lancelot Andrews’ sermons and their commentary, biography. Prayers and books on prayer. One of the most bizarre experiences was that when I went to church for those few months pre-pandemic in early 2020, I considered getting confirmed. I downloaded a book on confirmation on Kindle and discarded it quickly, for it made no sense at all. But returning to it around the time of my confirmation for real, last October, everything had fallen into place.
The book had not moved, but I had.
Pretty soon I will have to move those Oxford University Press Very Short Introductions on the right. My bookshelf of faith is running out of room.
I had my First Meeting with James about All That. Mostly, we looked back, on how far I had been brought by God and the good people of St Mary’s during the past year. How much I was gaining from my relationships with my church friends. And from bellringing, and the bellringers, my other church family.
James suggested some things for me to think about, and some things to do. These days, I lead Morning Prayer regularly on Wednesdays. Me, leading worship!
And, like Fiona, James sent me on my way with a book to read. This one is about leading churches.
Unnerving does not cut it.