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At about 1 p.m. on Sunday, April 20, 2012, sitting alone in the quiet and clean Taco Bell in the shadow of the new Sparkman Drive overpass, I had the immense satisfaction of ticking off the last of 364 boxes on Michael Coley’s terrific “52 Week Bible Reading Plan.”
I’m equal parts embarrassed and proud to announce that after years of Sunday School going, lesson studying, lesson teaching, after eight years of Bible and theology classes in the religious high school and colleges I attended, after numerous failed attempts, I have finally finished the basic word-by-word reading-through of the book I claim to base my faith on.
If I had been a Muslim as long as I have been a Christian and admitted that I had only, at this mid-point of my life, finally read through every word of the Quran, my brothers and sisters in faith would have looked at me a little funny as they congratulated me.
After all, it was the Muslim children at Islamic Academy of Huntsville whom I heard in 2007 reciting long passages of their holy book from memory that was one of the examples that convinced me to finally read my own book, verse by verse, even if all those verses don’t make sense to me, even if Numbers stretches into infinity..
It was the good example set me by so many other Christians in this city who told me about “accountability groups” they meet with to check in on their own spiritual goals. It was Ron Wicks’ unrestrained love of the Bible, the history of which he has invested so much of his post-retirement time and money, which I wrote about in November.
It was John Harkins’ quixotic voyage to try to track down the ship on which St. Paul was wrecked on his voyage to Rome that I wrote about in April 2011. Harkins got the idea for his quest after reading the last few chapters of Acts, an unexpectedly riveting account of Paul’s trials during his own annual read-throughs.
I know there are other ways, since God’s power is infinite, to learn about the divine than through reading of holy texts. And, famously, people can read the same text and come away with several conflicting messages.
As the Rev. Dr. Michael Stewart warned his congregation Sunday at Hazel Green United Methodist Church, “The Bible is always teaching us about God, but it is also always teaching us about us.”
But at the end of my first read-through, I know this: Even when I read stories I thought I knew well, reading them in context gives me a different viewpoint. And when I read through passages that obviously betray their Iron-Age-era authorship, I thank God that the Divine appears to be willing to work with some really unpleasant people.
If you’re interested in attempting this at home yourself, here is what kept me going. These ideas can be adapted for your own sacred text.
First, Coley’s plan, posted at Bible-Reading.com, kept me going during those dark days of slogging through, say, the viciousness of First and Second Kings, because I knew the next day I would be reading somewhere else. His plan puts the New Testament epistles on Sundays, the Torah on Mondays, history on Tuesday, Psalms on Wednesdays, and so-on. Plus, it has delightful little squares to check off each day. His plan can be started any time.
Also, crucial to my persistence was that an adult Sunday School class at my home church agreed to be my accountability group. Several of them joined me in reading through the Bible. So, no matter if I’d fallen behind, I knew I had to catch up in time to lead a discussion on that month’s readings by the first Sunday of the next month.
I need that kind of peer pressure. And, I found, I need what wise people have told me all my life we all need: A quiet time of centering, prayer and contemplation each morning.
They were right.
Kay Campbell is Faith & Values editor and reporter at The Huntsville (Alabama) Times and an ordained elder in the Presbyterian Church (USA). Most recently, she was awarded the 2011 Award for Commentary from the Religion Newswriters Association. You can reach her via email at: firstname.lastname@example.org