I received my first Bible as a gift from my wife who is a cradle Catholic back in 1998, a year before we were married. It laid in a pristine condition for a long time on a bookshelf.
I only looked at it in 2004, six years later. That was when I read the Gospel of Mark in its entirety after I watched The Passion of Christ. (I did not know then that I could have also read the other gospels for the same account!). I remember my wife rolling her eyes when I told her: “Hey, the movie is really faithful to the story. Quite different from the usual Hollywood fare.”
It was not until I completed my RCIA in 2005 that I decided to follow up with where I left off.
But, I soon found that as hard as I tried, I just could never go beyond two chapters – long or short – be it be the book of Genesis or one of the Gospels. Reading the Bible on my own was truly the best cure for insomnia, but rather discouraging for a newly minted Catholic.
But, all that changed about six months later when I was reading a book about the Holy Spirit which include a number of recommended prayers at the end of each chapter. I recited them and miraculously and voila! A while later, I found myself suddenly drawn to the letters of St Paul. It seems that a little voice inside me was telling me that as a new convert – like Paul after his life-changing trip to Damascus – the epistles would be a good place to begin my biblical journey. Thinking back, maybe it was nine days after the prayers, a personal Pentecost of sorts after a ‘Novena’.
And because of that, I also went on a vicarious travel adventure with Paul in Acts of the Apostles by St Luke. Learned a lot about geography and history during the time when the first apostles walked the earth. I discovered places with exotic names like Antioch, Ephesus, Corinth and Philippi while following Paul. Almost gave me the travel itch.
But more importantly, I was able to read the scriptures now without falling asleep. I remembered telling myself: “That’s strange, isn’t this the same book (actually, should be books of the Bible)?” My wife had to ask me when I was going to bed! I probably answered like how an excited child would say: “But…but, but, I want to see what’s at Philippi.”
The Bible – now that I was able to identify with some of the characters and places from the Old Testament – was slowly beginning to make more sense. The journey has truly begun.
My godfather asked me that same year to accompany him to attend a bible study course. With that weekly course over a year, I was able to relate better to some of the readings in the Gospels and Letters of Paul I have read previously without feeling like a ‘lost sheep’ or groping like one of the blind men whom Jesus healed. The Bible – now that I was able to identify with some of the characters and places from the Old Testament – was slowly beginning to make more sense. The journey has truly begun.
It came as a bit of a shock though to learn that some of the early fathers were not the sturdy rock of the ages we had been taught in RCIA! They were rather chipped at the edges.
Abraham has a tendency to lie when it comes to his wife, Sarah, who was apparently the neighborhood beauty in the Arabian Peninsula and Egypt in her younger days before she had Isaac. Moses stuttered. Noah got drunk. Jacob stole family inheritances as well as sheep and goats; he even had a night-long sumo bout with an Angel and was actually given a ‘wrestling title,’ Israel for his efforts. Only Joseph of the multicolored coat fame came off with his moral reputation intact.
I also found out about the same time about the Little Rock Bible Ministry at the Church of St Mary of the Angels and registered for a course. Following which, I was a Little Rock facilitator for a number of years. The thing about being a facilitator is that one cannot be a bystander. I had to get my feet wet (like Peter), so to speak.
It was a role I found to be very beneficial – in that it is really in the sharing and discussions that the meaning of the scriptures grew on me. The same biblical passage, phrases, imagery and event takes on a new light with each sharing with different company or at different stages in life. Sometimes, sudden “Aha” moments of epiphany can occur in the midst of a discussion. Or in quiet time later on.
Just like flashes of lightning that reveal part of the skies on a dark night, these moments can be ephemeral but leave deep-seated and lasting imprints on the soul. I realised that one needs company on the biblical journey. That sounds like a new spin to the words that Christ spoke: “Man does not live by bread alone.” Bread that apparently has to be shared to come fully alive – just as it had transpired on the Road to Emmaus in the Gospel of Luke.