Chapter 2: Moving In

This is from my journal, written in 2007 as I was preparing for the “pilgrimage” of walking from Washington, D.C. to Pittsburgh while learning the gospel of John by heart….

When I was in eighth grade, I began memorizing scripture verses.  It was the thing to do in College Baptist Church.  This was a small congregation, and there were only about four youth close to my age.  But there was a group of about thirty college students who attended the worship service.  Most of them were part of a campus group called the Navigators.  Navigators were known for their seriousness about Bible study and their excellence in memorizing scripture.  They  carried around little sets of cards tucked into soft plastic cases.  On each card was printed a  scripture verse.  You could get pre-printed sets, and every Navigator would start out memorizing the “basic” verses.  And then, if you were really good at it, and went through all the Navigator sets, you could make up your own cards with verses that you liked from your own Bible reading. 

I knew all about this because, more than anything else, I wished I could be a college student like them.  I wanted their freedom.  I wanted to be able to study challenging things like they did at the university.  I envied the way they enjoyed being with each other.  My family had recently moved back to this town after an absence of a  few years, and I was struggling to find a group of friends with whom I felt comfortable. The conversations of the college students at College Baptist were much more interesting than what my friends in school talked about, which seemed silly and trivial.
I couldn’t be a college student, but I bought their sets of Bible verses and learned them with a vengeance.  I also poured over a college catalogue and planned what courses I would like to take. It was, I suppose,  my way of escaping my own adolescent insecurities, of trying to live ahead into a young adult future.  Nevertheless, I worked diligently on my pack of scripture verse cards and  learned them as well, if not better, than any Navigator.  I still remember many of them, in the King James Version, of course.  Here are five verses that quickly come to mind:

    For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. (Romans 3.23)  But God commendeth his love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5.8).  If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally and upbraideth not, and it shall be given him.  (James 1.5).  Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. (2 Corinthians 5.17).  For by grace have ye been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast. (Ephesians 2.8,9).

The language sounds stiff to me now, and all those masculine pronouns  fit strangely like borrowed clothes!  I am grateful for new translations and inclusive ways of speaking and understanding.   It is amazing to me, though, at how those verses are embedded in my memory, and how, at a moments notice, they slip off the tip of my tongue.  When as a young teenager I felt out of place and awkward, I was at home when I was learning those scripture verses.  Even through it was a language of centuries past,  I could sense the  loving word of a God who accepted me and gave me a purpose and identity.  It is true, however, that after a year or so, I no longer kept on memorizing scripture.  Adjustment to being a teenager solidified, a new group of friends was found, and my life moved on to other things. 

Who knows?  Maybe the seed for learning the Gospel of John by heart was planted when I was a thirteen-year-old sitting on one of the metal folding chairs in College Baptist Church.  Now  that I am so much older and have gone down many different paths,  my brain does not retain as easily or for as long. Until recently I had never heard of anyone who had memorized the whole Gospel of John. Yet it was that Christian “practice” of memorizing the Word as a young person that helped form my spiritual journey, and, in my adolescent search for identity, became part of my spiritual identity as a child of God.  Four decades later I am turning back to an old practice.

Why did I choose this task of learning John?   Maybe it is because, after going so many different directions,  I long to be grounded again.  Maybe, in trying to fulfill the role and expectations of a pastor in a very theologically and intellectually demanding denomination, I have become curious about the single-mindedness of that very young woman who discovered her identity quite simply through some scripture verses that were emblazoned on the walls of her heart.  Maybe in memorizing John, I am making my way back to the core of who I am…or who God wants me to be.  Maybe I am praying God will move in and find a more comfortable home in me.

The beloved disciple remembers that Jesus said:  “Those who love me will keep my word, and my father will love them and we will come to them and make our home with them.” (John 14.23)

This pilgrim prays:

    Moving In

    When I
    see the
    Word on
    the page,       

    it is flat…and black…and thin.

    But the Word in
    memory  roams my mind
    with substance and shape, though still
    elusive, ever changing, exploring
    the rooms of my soul.

To be continued….