Distances

“One of my favorite Psalms…”

It’s no secret. Those of us born as Christians today often appear on a daily basis to be on the whole much less observant in comparison to our ancestors. Yet even if you are a Christian in name only (and rarely to never go inside a church), I’ve found as a writer familiarity with the Bible is nonetheless definitely useful.

It is often sloppily described as “a book,” when it is more accurately characterized as a library compiled from over a millennia of writings. “Bible” is the English translation of the Greek plural “biblía” – “books” – which stems from the name of the ancient Lebanese port of Byblos, which exported papyrus. As a writer, you need not believe a word of the supernatural in it. What is more vital is that it contains the roots of so many of our metaphors and cultural references; and although certainly not academic “history” as we now understand it, the Bible is also, in numerous ways, “historical.”

[Photo by me of The New Jerusalem Bible’s introduction to the Book of Esther.]

The Book of Esther is an example. That above is the New Jerusalem Bible’s introduction to it. (That is the version of the Roman Catholic Bible used here in England and Wales.) Indeed whenever I see someone else pop up on social media or in general media declaring that “strong women” were largely absent from literature until only recently, I have thought: “Have you read the Book of Esther?”

[A famous landmark. In the foreground, a woman singer of unidentified nationality was shooting a music video. It is now the front cover of a novel you may know. Photo by me, 1996.]

And I have thought also how such a person has probably missed out on so much more that’s also in the Bible:

[Excerpt from Distances: Atlantic Lives, 1996-1997. On Kindle for iPad. Click to expand.]

Our New Jerusalem Bible is one I read a bit of now and then for a few minutes. Sometimes I open it pretty much at random, then locate that book’s introduction, and then read a few passages. I can’t say I immerse myself and I certainly don’t claim to be some biblical scholar:

[Photo by me, 2018.]

Sometimes – as now as I type this – I think also of my wife’s late uncle having treasured an older edition he had. He had been a British army officer – interestingly, he was a descendant of 18th/19th century immigrants from Trieste, and still had their Italian surname – and was badly wounded in Normandy in June 1944 when he’d been struck in the head with German shrapnel. As decades passed, and he aged, he became increasingly physically troubled due to the worsening effects of the wound.

About twenty years after he was wounded, he and my wife’s future aunt (a nurse who had helped look after him following the war) married, and they remained so for some forty years until his death in 2005. Sadly, I encountered him only a few times – he was “frightfully grand,” as the British are apt to say – and I’ll never forget his funeral service: as we walked up to the church entrance two young soldiers in immaculate dress uniforms stood at attention outside the church door. His Jerusalem Bible was in his casket beside him.

Getting to know the Bible doesn’t make you some wild-eyed religious maniac; it makes you a better read individual. Theodore Roosevelt once noted that if someone is “not familiar with the Bible, he has suffered a loss.” For an author, that is doubly true.

Have a good day, wherever you are. 🙂