Saturday, June 11, 2022

My Mother's Bible

Let me tell you about my mother's Bible. It sat on her nightstand by her bed. By her side of the bed, even though she lived her last 16 years with no one on the other side after my father died. It was a King James Version, very practically bound in black leather-look vinyl, smallish and not showy in any way. Well, maybe the edges of the pages were gold. Or red, maybe. It was always there on the nightstand, to bring comfort when needed. I believe that was its job description, "Sit here until needed on an anxiety-filled night." I know those nights came all too often to her, because they also all too often come to me. It was worn, but gently so; far be it from her to make written notes or turn down pages or bend back the spine of something as important as a Bible. Why, you might as well scratch out the word "Holy" on the front cover. No, it was treated with respect, as were its contents.

It was a "red letter edition," meaning that all the statements attributed to Jesus in the four Gospels were printed in red ink. Handy if you are looking for "Blessed are the meek" or "Eli Eli lama sabachthani." Which I remember looking for with her one evening after we heard it quoted in a Western drama we watched on TV. Might have even been “Gunsmoke.”

What I remember most, though, about my mother's Bible was not what was on the pages, but what was kept between them. There were so many bookmarks in my mother's Bible, at least 20, or that’s what I remember. And they weren't just old envelopes or torn slips of paper. And they certainly weren't Post-It Notes, because those nuisances were yet to be invented. They were actual, purpose-created bookmarks, several with Bible-appropriate artwork and glorious satin ribbon with glitter on the edges. And glitter on the front. And glitter on the back. And glitter on the child standing before her, because a number were the artistic creations of one or more of her six children, who apparently spent a lot of time in Vacation Bible School licking the back of gummy stickers featuring a Renaissance-era Madonna and Child and sticking them on lengths of purple satin and sprinkling them with the aforesaid glitter. “I made this for you today!” “You did? Thank you. I love that picture. I'm going to keep it in my Bible.” And then she did.

A favorite of mine was a promotional hand-out from either a funeral home or an insurance agency, I can't remember which. It was a maroon satin ribbon, about three or four inches wide, printed in white. One side featured a list titled, “Where to Find It in The Bible.” When You Need Courage: Joshua 1:9. When You Are Anxious: I Peter 5:7/Phillippians 4:6-7. When You Feel Discouraged: John 16:33/I Corinthians 15:56, and so on. The other side featured the ad for the funeral home or insurance agency, and directions for reading the Bible through in one year. In case you are wondering, it’s three chapters a day except Sunday, when you are supposed to read five chapters. It worked for me for at least a week.

But as a mother myself, I look back on one particular bookmark with especially deep feelings of longing. Longing for my mother. Longing to be able to tell her how meaningful this sentiment is to me now and how poorly I understood it at the time, or even why she treasured it so. Longing to talk to her about what it meant to her. I’ve been longing to talk to her about a lot of things lately; if by “lately” you mean “since 1983,” like I do.

It was a magazine clipping. Probably from Woman’s Day or Family Circle because she never missed picking up the latest issue of either while waiting in the Handy Andy checkout line. It featured a poem by the Lebanese-American writer/poet/artist Kahlil Gibran. I share it with you now.

On Children

 And a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of Children.

     And he said:
     Your children are not your children.
     They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
     They come through you but not from you,
     And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.

     You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
     For they have their own thoughts.
     You may house their bodies but not their souls,
     For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
     You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
     For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
     You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
     The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
     Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
     For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.

 Talk to me, Mama. I will bend to listen.