I’ve just made a load of cheese and courgette muffins. Weird. It was going to be my usual cherry and chocolate mix but someone gave me courgettes so….. They taste good but the mix is sticking to the muffin cases a bit, which is annoying. And I’ve defrosted my freezer and actually managed to mend two of its broken drawers, so I feel very very pleased with myself.
And that’s my life in a nutshell. Pretty boring, eh? Cheese and courgettes. How domestic, how ‘little England’ (here in Wales).
But, BUT, my little doodlepips, yesterday I was looking after a friend’s dog and sitting in the sun in their garden, doing my patchwork and enjoying the sunshine as I listened to David Suchet reading the book of Acts; straight away – bang! slam! wallop! – I was catapulted out of my prosaic old-woman life as I came up against a verse I’d never noticed before. I’m so invigorated when that happens, because it’s a reminder that ‘there are more things, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy’, or more accurately it’s a reminder that the human mind will never exhaust the Bible, we will never unpack it completely, there will always be another step to take to bring us nearer to God. And each step is so exciting. Just like the book of Acts, which tells the story of a gang of young men ( I suppose some of them middle aged) grieving the loss of their Master and friend, the man they knew as their Messiah, coming to terms with the resurrection and all its implications, wondering if they were deluded, deciding they weren’t, finding a way to live in peace with each other in a hostile environment, desperate to spread the news of Jesus and the truths they had only recently grasped, risking life to speak of Him, watching as their brothers and sisters were persecuted and died… wow, exciting and terrible times.
As I listened to David Suchet’s measured tones telling how Paul was determined to go to Jerusalem, even though a similar determination had killed Jesus, I found myself saying aloud – as if he was there in that suburban garden with me and Rugby (the dog) – ‘Not Jerusalem, Paul!’. Although I’ve read the account many times now, and I know the end, I reached out to him down all the centuries, a voice in his ear. I found myself there, listening, imagining, picking each scene apart, looking at each character, walking around them, marvelling. What a fabulous history we have. What need do we have for fiction?
Hah! What a nerve! I’ve spent half my life writing fiction! What a waste of time. Hey – why is The Game Of Thrones such a massive hit when it’s not nearly as memorable, exciting and meaningful as the great sweep of the Bible? Is it because… oh, listen, listen, is it because we think we know the end of the Bible? Is that why the world says that the Game of Thrones is exciting… because they don’t know what will happen in the next episode? Do those who dismiss the Bible as boring or dense or irrelevant not realise that in just about every reading there is a new discovery? Some of them tiny, tiny but some amazingly life transforming, healing? How can we tell them? And don’t they realise that the history is told, and the hope is sure but the future is still to unfold. We know that eternity awaits but between now and eternity…. cliff hangers! Miracles and wonders! Fun and fury!
You know what gets me every time I read Acts? The fact that these men and women were spreading the Word without the Bible. They had the Torah, the Law, but not one word of the New Testament. As time went on, this or that group received a letter from Paul or John or Peter… and it was passed around, and devoured, and obeyed, but there was NO canon of teaching, no opus of God. How did a handful of poor and itinerant teachers, with no clear leader and no constitution, somehow spread from Jerusalem to North Africa, to Rome, Greece, Cyprus, Malta, Spain in just a couple of generations? By the power of God, the Holy Spirit. Not by the power of Paul who was an unattractive man, once a fundamental enemy of Christ, not by Peter, once a liar and traitor, not even by John or Timothy or James. They were all bit players in the great story of God. God who came, God who triumphed, God who created His church, God. The news they spread wasn’t simple, or easy, it was new and revolutionary and yet every teaching integrated with the whole, nothing that any of them said contradicted the other. There were personality clashes, certainly, but never disagreement between these church fathers about the theology. So how did separated and simple men, when messages travelled at the speed of a walking man, with no establishment to fall back on, in a climate of hostility and persecution, somehow keep the amazing message about Jesus, about the New Covenant, about the Holy Spirit (all of them revolutionary teachings) cohesive and entire? Impossible. But with God all things are possible, and so we have our Bible.
Sometimes the Bible is a prayer, sometimes it’s a meditation, but sometimes I try to read the Bible as if I don’t know the end. I try to read it on the edge of my seat, alert, mind racing, as if I was there: there, heart pounding, eyes prickling, as Christ goes to the cross… will He be saved? Can He be saved? What will it mean to us if He is? There, broken hearted in the tomb as we lay Him to rest … can’t we stay just a moment longer? Can’t we touch His hair? Can’t we say the prayer for the dead over His body? There, shaken by loss and uncertainty as we walk away…. how can we leave our Master in that dark cold tomb? There, afraid and bewildered in the upper room when the shutters clank and the building shakes and a great wind rises up. Oh, you can keep your Game Of Thrones. Keep your Lord Of The Rings. There’s nothing wrong with them, just as there’s nothing wrong with Peak Practice or Poirot or Dickens. But they just don’t measure up.
When I read the Bible this way, it doesn’t just come to life, it throws up wonderful questions, demands thought, sends me into other translations, into commentaries (OK, one commentary. I tried Spurgeon but him and me don’t get on) and into, finally, prayer. Fabulous prayer. Wordless. Stunned. That He should speak to me. And He does. He answers the questions, He puts my racing mind to rest, He dries my tears.
Even a little England life like mine, full of mundane muffins and defrosting freezers, a solitary life, can be full of awe and excitement when it’s lived with God.