Monday, February 25, 2008

Yesterday in the Pew

I open my mouth and pant, longing for your commands. (Psalm 119:131)

My son wasn’t listening to the sermon. At least it didn’t appear to me that he was. I know that what he was actually hearing was probably beyond observation. My ability to fully ascertain what he’s grasping is admittedly limited. All I know is he didn’t appear to be listening. Those types of listening behaviors – clues you look for when you’re the one speaking – those acts of attention weren’t evident to me as I sat next to my son in church yesterday.

But it didn’t matter. Just before the sermon my son, along with about 50 other fourth graders, had been presented with a new Bible. We do that every year in our church. The presentation of Bibles to our fourth graders is a marker on their journey to student ministry – “youth group” as I used to call it.

Marnie and I had highlighted a verse in his Bible. So had our senior pastor and our children’s minister. The verses were not disclosed to John. This meant that during the sermon my son was foraging the pages of his new Bible looking for the verses that we had highlighted for him. During the pastor’s prayer he leaned over to me and whispered, “Where is John the Baptist born?” Maybe I should have shushed him, but I leaned over and whispered back, “It’s in Luke 1.” Safe to say my son wasn’t really praying either – not as far as I could tell.

But again, I’m not complaining about that. In fact, I’m pleased. I treasure the sight of my son rummaging through the Bible with an appetite; exploring its contents the way most of us plunder the fridge late at night. It seems that the years have a way of taking the edge off of that appetite. Sadly, it’s often the grown ups in church who most noticeably lack it.

These days I’m learning a little more about prayer with the help of a Methodist pastor, Thomas Steagald, and his fine book Praying for Dear Life. A couple of days ago I read a passage in which he describes coming to the pages of scripture in the practice of midday prayer. Steagald writes:

I open my Bible to near the middle, but very gently as the gold-edged pages that faithfully cradle these good psalms have all but lost their grip on the binding’s spine. I have turned to these pages so often, and most often when I needed a word only this Word could provide, that they are wounded for my many transgressions and bruised with my iniquities. Some verses I have highlighted so many times and in so many different colors that the pages seem to have developed age spots. Other places the pages are all but sliced through on account of my many underlines, but by these stripes I have been healed time and time again. My Bible: a suffering servant. (Steagald, Praying for Dear Life, 109).

The passage reminds me of a quip Vic, our senior pastor, likes to use when he presents Bibles to children. “Worn out Bibles belong to people who aren’t.”

So I don’t know how much of the sermon my son heard yesterday (and his Mom was preaching!). But I think of that powerful image of a worn and fragile Bible. A Bible weary with use. I pray that someday my son will own a Bible like that. And maybe someday, by grace, I will too.

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