Who is the Bible for?

At the end of May 2020, we had been doing as many things from home as possible for two months. I enjoyed having time to exercise more regularly, and was particularly grateful that we had gotten a home gym set up a couple of years earlier. It was really nice to be able to spend a minute or two “commuting” to a Zoom meeting, rather than the minimum 30 minute drive that we have to everything. There was no chance that I was going to travel for work and we’d be left trying to figure out how to manage things at home with 1/2 as many parents around. It was a bit recharging.

At the same time, it was terribly fraught. My job wasn’t directly affected, but millions of people’s jobs were. What was going to happen? Would our life filled with modern convenience crumble? Would our country that largely enjoys peace descend into chaos? How many people would die, directly or indirectly? Would people on the edge fall off of it? Would their kids lose out on a chance to get a solid education? There was so much uncertainty.

I found comfort in two unexpected places: Rilla of Ingleside and the Psalms.

Rilla describes what it was like to live in Canada as World War I broke out in Europe. Canada was part of the British world, so they were very obviously on the side of Great Britain and against the Germans. Would the war end quickly? It quickly became apparent that the war would rage for some time. The young men of the town, including two of Rilla’s brothers. They board a train and are gone. Every once in a while, Rilla and her family get a letter or some other news about the brothers. They lived in awful uncertainty for years, not knowing if today would be the day that they wake up to find that one of their loved ones had died in the conflict.

Rilla taught me that we have been through gigantic, catastrophic events before. Both World Wars, the 1918 flu pandemic, small pox, the black death, more wars, more disease, etc. I feel very lucky to be alive at a time when a disease that claims 2% of its victims is considered a Very Bad Thing. It didn’t make the COVID-19 pandemic less scary or uncertain, but it taught me that humanity had survived worse and we’d figure out how to make it through this time, too.

During May 2020, we started following the Daily Lectionary. It was an easy spiritual practice to follow. It was easy to have a set evening routine. The lectionary includes three readings on most days: a psalm, an old testament reading, and something from the new testament. Of the readings, I generally found the Psalms to be the most comfort at this time.

Reading the Psalms was similar to the experience of reading Rilla: here was a collection of poetry, written by people who were not living the life they wanted due to natural forces or human ones. They struggled to see how justice would come, or a normal life. But they rested in God. Sometimes they were vindictive, sometimes sad, sometimes hopeful. But the authors persevered, even if the only glint of hope was faith.

Reading the Psalms brought home the idea that the Bible is written by and for oppressed people. The most significant figures (Moses, the prophets, Jesus) led the people at a time when they were living under a foreign power. As a white middle class citizen of America, I don’t have much in common with the people of the Bible: I am well represented in my government and I live in a peaceful community that is at very low risk of being invaded. But, for a small window of time, I could see what there was to see in the Psalms. It was as if the clouds had to roll in before I could be refreshed by a ray of light.