One of my last memories of my grandmother is of her reading her Bible.
She lived in an assisted living facility because of her dementia; while she knew my mother and she knew me, for the most part (though she seemed surprised, every visit, that we were our current ages), she had forgotten important aspects of how to care for herself. We were relieved that the facility was full of warm and kind people and a vibrant community and we came to her her often; she seemed happy and social there.
And whenever we visited, bringing her favorite meal, she was always reading her Bible. Once, after we found out from the bemused staff that she had been stealing bacon from other residents’ breakfast plates, she looked up from her Bible with a saintly smile and announced, “I am not doing anything. I am reading my Bible. I am being good.”
We laughed. But it is a fond memory for me, seeing her with the Word in her lap. I don’t know what verses she read, or what prompted the urge. But I know that she read it.
It put me in mind of the story I read recently about a man with Alzheimer’s. He had been a janitor before his retirement; after, he wandered his care home aimlessly, unhappy and upset and disoriented. One of the staff had the idea to bring him a set of keys—the sort janitors carry, on a massive key ring. He took it immediately and, morning and night, began a daily duty of checking the building and ‘locking up.’ His disorientation disappeared. Given the routines his body remembered, he found his bearing again.
The habits we develop with our bodies, during our lives, stay with us. Even when other aspects of our identity do not.
And this has made me mindful, as I grow older, of Scripture. I don’t know what waits ahead for me, but if I must be pared down to my bare essence at some point, I hope God’s words are what lives on. And if that is going to be so, then I ought to be getting them into my heart and bones.
We live in a culture antithetical to the deep memorization and internalization of Scripture. Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, the whole internet: it exists to be ephemeral, there and gone. By the time we refresh the page, something new has taken the place of the headline we last saw, or the last Bible verse, and now we can’t remember what it is any more.
And yes, sure, we have the Bible at our fingertips, verses searchable at the touch of a key. But I don’t know how well we’re served by the convenience, as it means very little of Scripture as a whole lives in us. And if suddenly we lose access to the internet, to all our digital Bibles and verses, what then?
There’s a reason I keep several hard copies of the Bible around.
God’s word is transformative. That much I know. And not just transformative in the sense that we can understand and learn something from it—although that is so—but in the sense that speaking it, hearing it, meditating on it alters something about our perception, our understanding, our very selves. With the Spirit as the igniting spark, the Word of God alters our being.
But I’m not sure how much that can happen if the Word of God becomes something we consult outside of ourselves, as though it was a guidebook to a place we hope to visit.
I have some Scripture memorized, but not nearly as much as I ought. As we approach Pentecost, I hope to gain more to embed in my body, in my mind, in my soul. Maybe you will, too: a verse or two well-known is better than none at all, and who knows where God might take you if you show you are willing?
My habits form me. If I let God’s word form me to the degree that coffee does, that my morning habit of reading The Washington Post does, that my phone and my job and my family and friends do, who will I become?
I hope I find out.
After all, in the end, that will be what remains.