From the backseat of my earliest memories I hear, “Why did God make me? God made me to know Him and to serve Him in this world and the next.” It’s the first lesson I memorized in Catholic grade school, before I could even read. Sometime in my early life I heard about the Bible but our religious lessons were taught from the Baltimore Catechism with no mention of the Bible. Nuns told me Jesus was my friend, but never cited Scripture to back up the claim. Some have said the Church of Rome never wanted the Flock to read the Bible lest they start thinking for themselves, rather than having their theology managed by priests.
At Sacred Heart Academy the high schoolers were graded on their verbatim delivery of the 1700-word Passion of Christ from the Gospel of John. Seventh graders were required to sit through a recitation of the Passion as part of Religion class. I never listened at Sunday Mass, so my first hearing of Bible passages was the torture and execution of my friend Jesus. These bloodcurdling passages sparked a morbid curiosity about the rest of the Bible, but I didn’t have a Bible to read on my own. My parents, indwelled with a long lineage of Irish-Catholic hatred for non-Catholics, refused to have a Bible in the house “like those Protestants.”
I borrowed a Bible when I enrolled in a Bible course, part of the initiation rites of the born-again cult I belonged to in the 1970’s. The elders used Scriptural passages to confront me and my live-in, abusive boyfriend with an ultimatum to either marry or separate. We chose marriage because neither of us could face life without sex. For a wedding gift, we received a gilt-edged Harper’s Study Bible, inscribed in gold, with my name misspelled (Reagen). Owning the Bible exalted me into the fellowship I craved, and I feverishly used that Bible for the next three years, marking the margins with exclamatory words, folding over pages and bookmarking meaningful passages.
I didn’t reject the Bible when I left the cult, rather I never liked the Bible and was even repulsed by it. Aside from my own bad experiences with it, the Bible’s first book, Genesis, talks of God creating Paradise and throwing out the first humans because they wanted to be gods themselves (who wouldn’t?). Then, that couple had two boys and one of them killed the other. Most of the rest of the Old Testament describes violent gangs warring over territory, an angry God, and thousands of flawed people wandering in the desert.
In February 2013, I heard Catholic contemplative Richard Rohr say to 1,500 retreat-goers that Bible stories are myths to provide insight into human nature. The simple transformative act of spiritual hearing jolted me into a surprising love for reading the Bible—the same Bible that has been there all along.