|John Henry Newman, almost|
as handsome as Paul
“I was brought up from a child to take great delight in reading the Bible . . .”-John Henry Newman, from Apologia pro vita sua
I found this sentence at the opening of an old, worn book on my shelves: Selected Prose and Poetry of John Henry Newman. (Not to be confused with the other Newmans, Paul the actor and Arnold the photographer.) It’s old and worn because it was printed in 1907 (“Price, paper, 30 cents”)—not because I’ve read it so many times. I heard of Newman and his importance to Anglicanism and Catholicism ages ago, and thought I’d finally give his prose a go.
I confess, I found it slow-going. And through the long sentences, big ideas, and reams of dates and unknown names, my attention kept returning to this opening line of the chapter “The Young Mind of Newman,” from his Apologia pro vita sua.
“Delight” is a lovely word, and right next to it are the ideas of satisfaction, joy, pleasure, and deliciousness. This is certainly how I feel about reading the Bible. Even when the taste is bitter—the Psalmist’s virulence, the prophets’ violence, Paul’s harshness—it is delicious, a thrill.
I teach Sunday school at St. John’s in Charlestown, and I hope very much that as my sweet three-year-olds and saucy five-year-olds become older and wiser (and taller than me, and smart-alecks)—I hope they will continue to be brought up “to take great delight in reading the Bible.” Certainly they delight in it now!
The curriculum we use is called “Godly Play,” and its premise (or the premise to which I’m most faithful) is that we need to teach kids HOW to engage with the Bible and with Christian traditions—it’s not useful for them to memorize the books of the Bible if they are too terrified or bored or disenchanted to open the pages! This is part of why I kept returning to this sentence of Newman’s: because it says “brought up to take delight.” Some of us will love the Bible and love reading it no matter what people say to us about it. But many children—and young adults, and adults—need to be shown how to take delight in such a contradictory and complex text.
So may I make a recommendation? If there are any children, teens, or young adults in your life, I would encourage you to share with them what the Bible means to you. Does it confuse you? Then say so! Do you find it funny at times? Show them what makes you giggle! Does it move you to tears? Give them the chapter and verse! Is there a character you remember, a scene that stands out in your mind? Mention it in conversation! You don’t need to be a scholar or have the whole thing perfect in order to share what you love.And if you don’t have any feelings about the Bible? Perhaps you might listen extra close to the lectionary readings this Sunday, and see what you think—and what you feel, and what you imagine, and what they make you think of.