Thursday, December 17, 2009

A Cycle of Reading

For several years, before her death, I visited my step-grandmother in the nursing home where she lived. She and my grandfather had married a few years after my grandmother had died. Grandma Mary, as we all called her, had never been married before she married my grandfather. She had been the one designated in her family to care for her aging blind father. When her father died, she had worked as an practical nurse, which is how she met my grandfather. He, too, was blind, which I am sure made my step-grandmother more understanding of him.

After he died, she continued to live in the nursing home where they had lived together. The nursing home location was moved, and she along with it. I continued to visit her. As she grew quite infirm, suffering a stroke that took most of her spirit, she had little interaction with those who stopped to see her.

A typical conversation with her went like this.
Me: Hi, Grandma Mary. How are you doing?
She: Fine.
Me: What are you doing with your time?
She: Reading the Bible. (She said this, as she looked up briefly from the open Bible on her lap.)

And read she did. She read it through, Genesis to Revelation, and then started all over again. I couldn't help but wonder if she was studying for a final exam. She read, seemingly without really engaging with the text. Just a rote kind of reading.

I confess, I have never read the Bible through, cover to cover. True, I have read great portions of it. In fact, I had sufficient Bible knowledge that when I was a freshman at the college I attended--where Bible 101 was a required course--I tested sufficiently high to be able to opt out of the freshman course. Among other things, I knew who Abishag was.

Perhaps to remedy the lack of reading, I signed up to receive the daily lectionary readings. So every day, I get an email with the lectionary readings for the day. The idea is that with lectionary readings, over a three year cycle, a person can read the Bible through.

Well, I am not the most faithful reader. Some days, I read the entire set--usually two morning Psalms, an Old Testament selection, a double New Testament selection (one from the Gospels, one from the epistles), and two evening Psalms. A lot of reading.

But, I have benefited from this cycle of reading. I have rediscovered the Psalms. The entire array of human emotions is captured withing these 150 chapters. There are outbursts of absolute despair (Psalm 22 or 42), expressions of exuberance, praise for creation (Psalm 19) and unadulterated wonder (Psalm 8). All the Psalms are wonderful poetry--with lilting repetition, strong images, poetic cadences.

This reading of the Psalms reminds me of an episode in my life. Some 30 plus years ago, my father-in-law died suddenly. The whole family was gathered at the hospital where he had been taken. All except his mother--my husband's grandmother. Through a family discussion, we decided I should go to where she was and stay with her until someone could come and tell her that her eldest son had died. I drove the 22 miles from the hospital to the house where she was staying. No sooner had I gotten in the house than she began to pepper me with questions. When I temporized a bit, she burst out--he's dead, isn't he? Well, I decided the truth then was better than waiting for someone else to tell her the same news. So I said yes. Then I asked--do you want me to read something to you from the Bible. Yes, she said, and she named a favorite Psalm. I wish I could remember which one, but I can't--I only know it was not Psalm 23. In fact, it was a Psalm that seemingly did not speak of death, or suffering through adversity. Whatever it was, it spoke comfort to her in such a trying hour.

So, while I may not make it from Genesis to Revelation, if I stay stuck in the Psalms, I can't go wrong.

The photo is of a Tiffany window in the church we attend.


Caddie said...

KGMom, I found you from your comment to Phillip's post of Heidi and now I've got you in my favorites list. Enjoyed your two posts just now and looking forward to many others. I love bloggers who have sensible, interesting writes.btw, do you know anyone who knits? Heidi needs a coat.

Jayne said...

I once tried to read the Bible too, and made it as far as midway through the Old Testament before becoming bored and depressed. I know to some people, it is a soothing, magic book, but I've never had that relationship with it. I am a lector at church, and even some passages I read make absolutely no sense to me at all. It amazes me then how people take those words and contort them to support their agendas... the same words... which mean fully different things to different people.

Grizz………… said...

Well, though I knew the story, I didn't recognize the name Ab'ishag…so I'd have had to take that course, I guess.

The Psalms are indeed beautiful, poetic works, timeless and so filled with truth. I can understand why, when given the news you carried of her eldest son's death, your husband's grandmother would choose to hear a Psalm which gave her comfort…after all, pain and suffering, the swift and raw broken-heartedness of a son's death, was upon her; what she needed was assurance and reason.

That is a beautiful window. There's a lovely Tiffany window in the chapel of a historic cemetery near here. I need to go photograph it.

Anonymous said...

See my coment in an email. Love, Father "C"

KGMom said...

So all will not be mystified--Father C, as in my dad--sent me an email encouraging me to stick with the lectionary.
I will continue to read the daily emails.
But, I do confess, I am most grateful that the lectionary omits the geneaology lists that occasionally grace portions of the Bible.

Anvilcloud said...

You got me on Abishag although, for some reason, David did come to mind in some vague way.

Tossing Pebbles in the Stream said...

A lovely remembrance! You just confirm to me what I tell people. Religion is best understood in poetry. Religous language is largely metaphor for factual prose cannot explain the ineffible.

I say this in spite of my life's obsession with theology, metaphysics and the intellectual understanding of reality. Such indeavours remain unsatisfying where a mystical poem can touch your very being.

Miriam said...

I remember meeting Grandma Mary once, and it was in her room in the nursing home. She hadn't had a stroke then though. I believe I was in eighth grade. She gave me three dolls like those ones she made (I believe) often. They sit on my shelf in the living room because I don't want them to be in a box, but they don't really "go" with anything in my home. So they are just their own little anomaly there, and I love them. Harrison just tried to grab them down to play with them tonight not an hour ago. I wouldn't let him though. :( Maybe I should have...but you know, he's six, he won't honor them quite the way I want them to be. ;) Royce has tried to read the bible that way. I never seem to have the patience...though I agree with what you say about the Psalms.