Tuesday, December 20, 2011

My Bible

This week a friend engaged me in an online conversation about an art exhibit at the Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh by an artist who explores sacred objects. The artist, Jeffrey Vallance, has made reliquaries in which he's enshrined decidedly non-sacred objects (a bone from a grocery store chicken he named Blinky). He's also made The Vallance Bible, which runs to 28 pages, leather-bound and, for $50, includes a sweat cloth, a piece of silk he's worn close to his skin while exercising. The sweat cloth is a take on relics like St. Veronica's veil. The legend has it that she wiped the face of Jesus with a veil while he was on his way to the cross and it left the image of his face on the veil. Saints and mystics are also said to give off particular scents-- for example the scent of roses-- and he was drawing on that tradition.

The quotation from his bible was sort of a "God created the big bang" story, well written, succinct and, well, fine. The show doesn't seem very interesting and its tone is ironic and flippant in a way that doesn't hold my attention. The appropriate response seems to be "Ah, how clever;" not "Wow, that moves me;" or "Wow, I never thought of it that way before." I do like the territory it is covering, and the fact that the Warhol Museum is using it as an opportunity to get people out into the city to see great sacred art in some of the local churches.

Our discussion did catch me at a time I've been thinking about bibles. With the recent completion of The Saint John's Bible, a monumental, 13-year project to hand-write and hand-illuminate the Bible on vellum, and the completion of my third volume on the art, The Art of The Saint John's Bible, I was struck again by my own history with bibles.

I've always had (well, since junior high) a sort of "working bible" that is paperback and kind of ratty. For years and years it was a New International Version that I got when I attended an Intervarsity Christian convention at the University of Illinois as a sophomore in college. This was one of those stadium deals with thousands of college kids and lots of speakers and a convention hall of freebies that culminated in a keynote by Billy Graham. Over the years, the cover (which promoted the convention) faded, but I continued to use that as my bible. I never had tabs on the pages to find the various books (that's just cheating) or put it in a fancy leather carrying case. The back cover came off, then the front. I had other bibles, but they weren't as comfortable for me-- I always reached for that one.

When I started taking classes at Saint John's School of Theology, I needed a Catholic translation-- the New American Bible (NAB) or the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV). The press I did freelance work for used the NAB, so I got a nice red paperback copy. I got to know its language and more than that-- its verse numbers and paper thickness and the lie of the print on the page. It's hard for me to explain what it means to get comfortable with a bible.

The Saint John's Bible uses the NRSV, so I needed another working bible, to move around in more easily while doing research. One of my husband's daughters had left a copy on a shelf, so I started using that one. The back cover was already missing and it is marked in places with brackets around verses. I like to read the passages and imagine what lesson brought her to that place and what she might have made of it. It now has post-it notes sticking out of various places. I think part of its particular appeal is that it is not new.

For me, the Bible is both a sacred and everyday item. I never get tired of going to it and welcome every opportunity to read and experience that text. When I am going to away to write, it is the first book I pack, though I wouldn't say I exactly "use" it in my writing. And I certainly don't read the Bible every day (as I should as a Benedictine Oblate).

1 comment:

Mariterese said...

There is such a concept as "the odor of sanctity." Some people claimto smelled a scent when with a dying person. I say that is the odor of sanctity.