I started reading what is perhaps one of the oddest books I have ever read. It is called “The Year of Living Biblically: One man’s humble quest to follow the bible as literally possible.” by A.J. Jacobs. No relation. It is an odd book.
What he means by “living biblically” is following all 613 or so commandments. It is a noble undertaking. Mr. A.J. Jacobs is not religious, nor did he grow up in a religious home, but he has observed that there are many people who understand the bible as the literal word of God, though he suspects that most people, both Christians and Jews, pick and choose what parts they will take literally. However, as the title suggests, Mr. A.J. Jacobs is trying not to pick and choose; but to follow the literal letter of the law for one year. This project is not without difficulty and a certain amount of hilarity. His beard for example, which the bible commands should not be cut or trimmed starts out making him look like Abe Lincoln but as the year of living biblically progresses, makes him resemble Ted Kazynski. Small children burst into tears at the sight of him. I suppose the humor of this bible
quest would be offensive to some, as he tackles some of the more troublesome commandments, like spare the rod spoil the child (he is a father of a four year old) he tries using a nerf bat for this purpose which his son interprets as a game, not a punishment. He tries, as the bible commands, not to touch anything unclean. Mrs. Jacobs is not, as you might suspect, so keen on this “living biblically” project. As a woman, sometimes she is considered unclean. One day when A.J. comes home from work, he is about to sit down in his favorite easy chair and she, Julie says, “I wouldn’t sit there. It is unclean because I touched it”, as he proceeds to each new chair she says the same, “no not that one either. I sat on that one too”. A.J. could not sit down. She made her point.
This project is not all fun and games, nor meant to be humorous. A.J. is also doing good things: praying and trying not to gossip or lie or lash out in anger, treat others with fairness, pay a fair wage and do not withhold wages overnight. Here is a man who professes to be agnostic, but he is acting as if he believes in God. Perhaps that is the part that is so intriguing for me, since most often I encounter people who, when it comes to religion, are troubled by problems of intellectual assent, or perhaps the hypocrisy of others. We approach our faith with, “How I am supposed to believe this or that?” And we get stuck there or we overthink it.
What if we approach our faith like the decision to go for a walk after work? We think about it a little bit, where, how long, how much time do I have, what shoes to wear.
And if we are in the habit of walking daily (because the dog demands it), we think about it even less, we just do it. We are not typically paralyzed into never beginning to take our walk with the insurmountable decision about what shoes to wear! Yet this is how we some-times approach matters of faith. A “just go for the walk” approach is very Anglican. Praying shapes believing. Practice informs faith. We would do well I think to approach our spiritual practices with a little less angst about what we do and do not believe, or about getting it right, or being correct, even more so our worry over if other people are correct. Instead we are called participate. Join the community of faith. Rituals ground us, and inspire us, and mark the days and seasons of our lives quite apart from what we think about them. Praying shapes believing.
In anticipation of the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost - Just start walking. Literally and spiritually - begin with practice of your faith. This is the idea behind a pilgrimage. The wind blows where it will, you do not know where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with the Spirit of God. May we without fear or hesitation say Come Holy Spirit: renew the face of the earth!