Late last fall, I resolved to read the entire Bible, all 2,000 pages of the New and Old testaments. A seemingly daunting task even when taken in relatively small daily portions. Nevertheless, with last night's reading, I completed 300 pages, laying the book aside, a marker somewhere in the Book of Judges.
Two images contested in my mind's eye. The first: to my surprise, I learned that Pope Benedict had spoken early in November urging us to do just that. "Read the Bible each day," he said.
"Good!" thought I. "I have landed on the side of the angels for once." And the plan works for me.
At the same time, its 2,000 pages stirred up the disquieting image of a conversation I had with a barber - a woman then in her late twenties. Hoping to improve on the minutes as she trimmed my hair, I enquired, "Do you read . . . books?"
Mildly surprised, she drew back from her work, electric clipper in her right hand, comb in her left, and with a condescending look, sighed a deepest sigh. "I tried to read a book once, a couple of years ago. Got to page 27 and quit. Couldn't go on!"
At that time, as a school official I had more than a passing interest in where she might have taken her schooling but courage failed me and I let the conversation lapse. Curiously, each image in its own way, urges me on.
I have found much in the recommendation of the pope to help my understanding of the Old Testament, and much that raises questions that want answering. In that respect, I made the happy discovery of the revised and updated Michael Duggan volume, The Consuming Fire: A Christian Guide to the Old Testament. I anticipate its early arrival on the wheels and wings of Canada Post.
I want to see more clearly the relationships between the Old Testament and what Jesus taught, to see the Jewish antecedents of our Christian beliefs and practises, the reasons of course, for the pope's urging.
When we study the passage from Isaiah in today's Mass, for example, we feel much at home. Could any person anywhere see it as anything other than a guide for ethical and moral behaviour and a hymn to justice? All stated in simplest form.
Even the harsh critics of belief and religion such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens would feel the force of its substance and its vigorous poetry.
Isaiah says if those to whom he addresses his words do what he calls for, their "light shall shine in the darkness and (their) gloom be like the noonday."
Jesus says to his disciples, "You are the light of the world . . . let your light shine before human beings so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven."
Where I live, I see many people with such lights shining about them.
(Ralph Himsl: firstname.lastname@example.org)