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EATING THE BOOK / THE FRONT PAGE
November 10, 2004
 
Eating the Book

Every Sunday of the year has its own prayer in my Church. It's called a "collect" because it focuses our attention and gathers our prayers, herding a churchful of unruly souls into something approaching unity, for a few moments, at least. The collects have rested largely unchanged for 400 years. They are like old school chums, so familiar to us that some of them have nicknames -- the third Sunday of Advent, for instance, whose collect begins "Stir up your power, O Lord," is known as "Stirrup Sunday." Get it -- "Stir Up?" Yeah, it's a brilliant joke, all right; we've got a million of 'em. In further idiosyncrasy, we say the word in a special way, emphasizing the first syllable: it's a coll-ect.

The Stirrup Sunday collect is funny, but this week's is my favorite:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. AMEN.

Inwardly digest. Oh, good, I would think every fall when the collect came up, We're going to eat a book. I had gobbled up many already: I always had at least two books going, one for upstairs and one for downstairs, and one of them usually rode to school with me in my bookbag. I did not know, then, that this diet was the best possible training for a future writer, that the primary way one learns to write is by reading.

I would read the Bible, I decided the summer after fourth grade. I
would just start at the beginning and keep reading until I reached the end. Then I would stop. Pleased with my plan, I began with the exciting tales of Genesis and Exodus. My delight became something more dogged as I trudged through Leviticus, but I made it, and Deuteronomy was, for the most part, fun again. So were the Judges, and the books of Samuel and the Kings. After that, my memory fails: I think I succumbed to the temptation to cherry-pick, scanning the convoluted verses for stories and, when one appeared, stopping to feed. The straight-through-the-Bible project survived neither the summer or the Old Testament.

To read, mark, learn and inwardly digest involves delight. Don't push through the Bible: stop to enjoy your food. Chew it carefully, slowly. Find a way to prepare it that delights you: maybe it's having someone read it to you, maybe being part of a pair or a class that reads together. Maybe watching video presentations or hearing CDs. That which delights you will also instruct you -- for good or ill, where you spend time is what you will learn.

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Malachi 3:13-4:2a,5-6 * 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 * Luke 21:5-19 * Ps 98


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And here is the ERD meditation.

The Front Page

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdoms against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences...
Luke 21:13


The 13th verse of the 21st chapter of Luke appears to have been written
rather recently: wars, storms, earthquakes -- we might as well be reading
today's newspaper. But this is scripture, not the news -- it has a message for us beyond mere information: Be faithful. Don't be afraid. continue to keep the values of God's kingdom in mind.

And don't forget. That's another way in which scripture is different from
the newspaper -- it's hard to keep ongoing human needs on the front page. We are easily bored -- full of shock and compassion when we hear of a hurricane, but full of some other story a week later. It is not that way on the ground -- four mammoth hurricanes hit our southern states and the Caribbean within the space of six weeks just about a month ago, and rebuilding those communities will take years. Nobody there has forgotten, but it is no longer news here. Don't look for it on the front page. Nothing stays on the front page for years.

Episcopal Relief and Development doesn't forget. It is faith-based. Faith
doesn't get bored or distracted from the ongoing reality of human need.
Faith, by the grace of God, remains connected with those into whose lives disaster has come. The Episcopal parishes who were there before the hurricanes are there, still, and they, too do not forget. Support to migrant workers stranded, homeless and jobless, by the devastation of the storms upon the local fruit-growing economy. Provision of household supplies for those who lost everything, ongoing temporary housing while former permanent homes are rebuilt. Food and medicine for the long haul.

You'll only see ERD on the front page when disaster hits -- it will be there in a sidebar, one among the list of charities to which people can donate money to help. But the work will continue long after they've
stopped publishing those lists. We are there through our participation
with ERD, for as long as the people of God are in need.

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To learn more about ERD's work, visit http://www.er-d.org/ or call 1-800-334-7626, ext 5219.
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