I’ve started reading the Bible again.
Only 6 years ago, I wouldn’t have taken out time to craft a blog post about this. I would have just done it, because reading the Bible regularly was what I did.
Sure, I’d go through spells in which I fell behind for a couple of days, or maybe even a week. But otherwise, I was a devout Bible-reader, a lover of devotions and daily quiet times, back when getting up before the sun was (slightly) easier than it is now.
By the light of my desk lamp or under flickering fluorescent in the dorm basement, I would read, journal, and pray for at least 30 minutes a morning, devoting the time with all the gusto I could muster in those pre-dawn hours. I looked forward to these quiet minutes with God’s Word. I used to see so much truth, hope, guidance, and love in those stories and verses, whether I proof-texted them or did amateur exegesis on them.
I felt God’s presence in a way I never have, before those times or since.
Then the faith crisis hit.
Before my eyes, the Bible transformed from a story of hope inspired by God himself into a text of manipulation, fear, and lies. My faulty foundation had been built on those words and how they’d been taught to me, and they had been found harmful and lacking.
The devotions grew more shallow. The regular quiet times ceased. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible altogether.
After all, how could I trust something that had deceived me so much?
Instead of reading Scripture, I focused on service and worship. I connected with God through hearing peoples’ stories, in regular conversations and through blogs and books. I felt God’s presence when I mentored children, gave and partook of communion, gleaned food for local pantries, and helped people get free groceries for the month.
These became my devotions and daily readings, the living Word with me, and in many ways, these practices saved my faith from certain death.
Eventually, in fits and starts, I started to read the Bible again. I would halfheartedly begin my devotional practices but drop them once life became too busy. This changed a bit during seminary (for obvious reasons), but I read Scripture in an academic context.
However, contrary to popular belief, seminary didn’t further damage my relationship with the Bible. Instead, it helped me learn to love it again by allowing me to study and deconstruct it, to see how verses turned into ideologies and how context could upturn all of them.
In short, seminary taught me to love the Bible for what it is, not how I or any culture want it to be.
Now, after all that time of study and with a Master’s of Divinity, the idea of reading the Bible for my own spiritual health still freaks me out.
What came so naturally all those years ago feels like lifting an Olympic-sized weight after I’ve regressed to 5-pound dumb bells. And instead of allowing myself to simply practice studying again, I’m asking myself a million questions.
How do I read this now?
How do I read these texts after I spent a lifetime learning they only had one interpretation?
How do I read the stories of divine healing after I have seen and experienced unhealed pain?
Will the Bible push me deeper into the beliefs I already have, or will it make me become the person I once was, who I have fought so hard not to be anymore?
Will the Bible teach me to become a quiet and submissive woman after working so hard to be bold and confident?
Will I find myself chanting “All Lives Matter” and “America is a Christian nation” and “Love the sinner, hate the sin” in spite of everything I’ve learned about racial inequality, the brutal politics of our nation, and harmful notions of sexuality?
Will I care about any of the things I care about now, or will I cast those all away like I did my past ones?
Will I find God’s voice, or my own, or my culture’s, or some messed up combination of all of them?
Who will I become as I let this text shape me again?
I’m afraid to find out, because I fear the past me, the one who got so much out of those quiet times and turned a blind eye to the people God loves most: the poor, oppressed, and marginalized.
I fear becoming the person who feared learning new things would make me “too worldly.”
I fear becoming the person so affected by the warped concept of purity thrust upon me that I spent nights crying myself to sleep because I had sex before marriage.
I fear becoming the young woman afraid to take on leadership roles because I was taught my desires to usurp the authority granted for men alone violated God’s will.
I fear becoming the person who would not embrace my LGBTQ friends as they are.
I fear that Bible-loving girl, and while I want to love the Bible, I don’t want to love her. And I sure as hell don’t want to be her.
But that girl and Bible-reading are so tied up in each other, I’m not sure how to do one without becoming the other.
In short, I don’t know how to read and love the Bible as I am.
I’m trying to figure that out, though. I can’t properly explain why. I don’t know if it’s the Spirit’s prompting, or because I re-read The Unlikely Disciple and felt nostalgia for my old evangelical devotion days, or because I feel like I “ought” to.
All I know is I’m doing it. And I’m praying, in fear and trembling, for it to change me, but I’m not sure how I want to be changed.