Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Reading the Bible Cover to Cover

Cathryn Conroy

I am reading the Bible cover to cover. Well, actually it's e-cover to e-cover, since I'm reading it on a Kindle. And the most incredible thing has happened!

First, some background. I had the idea of reading the Bible from Genesis to Revelation in 1967 when I was in 8th grade and taking my confirmation class. And tell me, who is more pious than a 13-year-old confirmand who takes it all very seriously? So I started reading. Even though I was an avid reader, the combination of the formal (and unfamiliar) language of the King James version and the seemingly endless and snooze-inducing genealogical lists in Numbers did me in. 

I tried again in college, inspired by a comparative religion class, but the quantity of required reading in all my classes made short shrift of my attempt. Over the years, I kept making new attempts. I was determined to succeed but always got sidetracked.

And then I got a Kindle e-reader. In July 2010, I bought the NRSV Kindle version of the Bible. And I started reading. I read one chapter a day. After reading two or three books in the Old Testament, I skipped to the New Testament. And then back again. The Kindle makes it so easy to read anytime, anywhere, I have never missed a day. I've read the Bible at home, on vacation, in airports, in hotels, on business trips, in the car, in the chapel at St. Anne's and once in a college football stadium. 

At first, I approached my daily Bible reading more as an intellectual exercise than a spiritual one. I have always loved the Old Testament stories of Abraham, Noah, Ruth and Esther, to name a few. What other treasures would I find? From Cain killing Abel in a fit of religious jealousy to a drunken Lot having sex with his daughters, I found gruesome tales of violence, sex, witchcraft, murder and mayhem. And that's just in Genesis. (Pitch the Bible this way, and everyone will want to read it!)

Nearly three years later, I'm almost done. I have finished the New Testament, and I'm now reading the Apocrypha. When I reach chapter 18 of 4 Maccabees, I may just start over again.

I wonder on a second reading if I'll still be appalled at the violence in many of the Psalms, while enchanted by the poetry? Will I still think of the Gospel of St. Mark as the "Cliff Notes" of the Gospels? Will I still think St. Paul could have used a good editor? Will I find that I actually enjoy reading biblical genealogy? (Yeah, probably not on that one.)

So what happened on my Bible-reading journey that was so incredible? What started as an intellectual exercise gradually became spiritual. Reading these stories, some of which were familiar and some not, gives me an inner peace. It centers me. It gives me spiritual strength. I feel a very real connection to people of belief who lived a few generations ago, as well as  hundreds and hundreds of years ago. Knowing these Bible stories has made me feel part of a larger community of faith beyond the boundaries of my church or diocese or denomination. Not bad for about five minutes of my time each day!

But then something else began to happen. I so looked forward to reading my one chapter a day, I decided to read the Daily Office in addition. And that soon turned into Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer. 

What began as a goal of reading one chapter of the Bible a day has become so much more. It is consistent daily prayer. The 20 minutes or so I spend in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening have become the spiritual foundation of my day. 

If you haven't already done so, I challenge you to read the Bible cover to cover, one chapter a day. If you're more ambitious, check out The Bible Challenge from The Center for Biblical Studies, which has a plan for reading the Bible in one year. If this all seems overwhelming, start with an easier goal. For instance, read just the Psalter or the four books of the Gospel. 

Just start reading. I wonder what will happen to you? I wonder how it will change your life? Because know this: It will change your life.

Cathryn Conroy is a member and former senior warden of St. Anne's, Damascus and a senior programming manager for AOL. Have you ever attempted to read the Bible from cover to cover? What did you learn? How did it affect you? Share your experience on Facebook.

Note for Kindle users: Check out "Daily Office Rite II Morning and Evening Prayers Pentecost Sunday to Advent Sunday 2013," edited by Eric Simmons. It has date-specific Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer with the Daily Office readings included.