Cutting up the Bible for yourself

Readings for the feast day of John Wyclif, October 30:

Psalm 33:4-11

Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 43:26-33

Hebrews 4:12-16

Mark 4:13-20

John Wyclif was noted for his belief that believers had a direct relationship with God, with no requirement for the church or the priestly caste to act as intermediary, and this is most manifest in his translating the Latin Vulgate Bible into English. Through this contribution to the Anglicanism, he most personifies the opening words of today’s reading from Hebrews–“Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12 (NRSV)

I first learned about the business of separating joints from marrow around age 10, when it became one of my household duties to “cut up the chicken.” Now, this was one of my favorite tasks, because I was allowed to use large, sharp knives with very little supervision and very little admonishment other than “Don’t cut your finger off.” My mother, to save money, usually bought a whole chicken at the grocery store rather than pre-cut parts. I learned very quickly there was both a bit of skill and a great deal of satisfaction in learning to cut through the joints of a whole fryer.

One of the tricks I learned was to let the weight of the chicken help me. I quickly learned to hold up the whole chicken by the wing, find the joint space, and “pop” it through the dangling chicken, letting it fall on the cutting board. I also learned to cut the breast in such a way there would be a “wishbone piece” in it. Having the ability to get to make a wish every time we had fried chicken was a real treat.

Having a relationship with God through the living and revealed Word is not much different, really. We can sit in the pews on Sunday and have Scripture served up for us, like a plate of fried chicken, and enjoy a very fine feast, courtesy of the lector, the deacon, and the priest, but it’s just not the same as when you are allowed to “cut it up yourself.” Nothing opens up Christianity quite like taking up the Bible as a daily spiritual discipline, and it’s pleasantly surprising how easy it becomes in a short time. The Episcopal Church’s Daily Office allows us to go through the bulk of the Bible in two years’ time (and the Psalms every seven weeks!)

Granted, our initial attempts at regular Bible reading may feel clumsy, and our ability to cut into it incisively at first might seem a little tentative, but a good commentary, study Bible, or study group can act as a whetstone for the knife edge of our spiritual imaginations. In fact, there are several sites on the Web that make use of the Daily Office readings. Help is readily available–there’s no chance of “cutting our fingers off.”

What we discover over time is once we stop worrying that we can’t wrap our minds around the Bible in the same way a seminary graduate can, the words start miraculously wrapping around our hearts. Hearing the Psalms over and over causes certain verses and phrases to stand out, and hearing the familiar words of the Gospel begin to knit themselves to our own sinews. Suddenly, the stories are not about ancient people in ancient times, they are about us, in the present moment. There’s something spiritually satisfying about popping through the joint of a parable and feeling the relief of the weight of the world drop from us, with a lighter heart. Most importantly, it becomes as much of a daily habit as brushing our teeth, and we will begin to miss it, if circumstances cause us to accidentally omit it.

Then, when we do hear these words on Sunday, they take on new meaning and allow us to become more discerning oracles in our community of faith. We start seeing everyone else’s faults a little differently, forgive ourselves a little more easily, and begin to reach out to others in ways we could not imagine. Because we allowed the people of Biblical times into our imaginations, the people we used to think of as “the other” begin to look and feel more like “us.”

Thanks to the life and efforts of John Wyclif, we can taste for ourselves the white meat and dark meat of the revealed Word, and live in the hope that there’s always a wishbone.

Maria Evans, a surgical pathologist from Kirksville, MO, writes about the obscurities of life, medicine, faith, and the Episcopal Church on her blog, Kirkepiscatoid

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