Catching Up and Starting Over

Today is my grandmother’s 114th birthday. It is also the anniversary (31st or 32nd – I can’t be sure) of the first time I began reading the Bible cover to cover. Today I’m going to start again.

I got my Orthodox Study Bible today on the way home from work. A friend picked it up at Church for me on Sunday and we made the exchange at the petrol garage in the town through which we both travel on our way to our respective schools. Despite having been briefed ahead of time as to it’s shortcomings (with thanks to Michael) I am looking forward to reading all of the Bible for the first time.

It will take some time to get used to the differences. It’s not just that I’ve not read all the books excised by Luther or the bits edited out of others. I didn’t realise until today that in the Septuagint, Job comes after the Psalms and the major prophets come after the minor ones. Not that it really matters . It’s not like Job is where it is in Protestant Bibles for a particular reason. The only thing that makes prophets “major” or “minor” in popular nomenclature is the length of their writings. There’s no reason they have to be in a particular order. Neither collection is based on chronology, nor do they need to be. The only important chronological fact is that they come before the Incarnation.

While I intend to do the Genesis to Revelation thing, I am also going to catch up on what I’ve missed in the meantime.

Eating Like Humans

You probably don’t have to worry about your children eating like animals. Mine sometimes get into role play as dogs or cats (when they aren’t superheroes or cartoon characters) and they have to be encouraged not to take this too far at the dinner table.

When we went out for my birthday dinner last weekend, the woman and I realised how well behaved our kids were. We sat near a family that trashed their dining area and at one point the woman got a splash of soup or some such on the face. When they left the restaurant, we were embarrassed seeing the cleaning crew come in and scrape everything away.

Many families eat like animals and don’t even realise it. Their children may be even better behaved than mine. Nonetheless, they lack the distinction that makes us different from all other creatures at mealtimes. They don’t bless their food. Fr Alexander Schmemann of blessed memory points this out in For the Life of the World. It is not just the essence of the sacramental life, it is the essence of human life. I don’t need to preach to the Orthodox choir that we are, after all, first homo adorans and only as a result homo sapiens.

I have sometimes been embarrassed around visiting unbelievers and not blessed the food. Either that, or I can have a tendency to rattle it off like an auctioneer. I didn’t want to impose my religion on them. Predictably, I had it all backwards. What I should be offering them is an opportunity to experience their own humanity. Religion is either a compartment of life that can be sealed off when inconvenient, or it is the very nature of who we are and to deny it is to make us not just less than who we are, but other than what we are.

By not blessing, we turn the food into an affirmation of materialism with the inherent value of cardboard. When we pray, “Give us this day our daily bread,” we no longer deny a heavenly gift to our guests. If we would deprive them of this, then we cannot say we love them, regardless of how closely we may be related to them.

Even in restaurants, sitting amongst strangers, if we bless our food, we bless them. This is not because we make a show openly. This would be the Protestant idea that value is only derived from knowledge. By blessing the food, we make Christ present in and at our meal. Who is not blessed by proximity to Christ? Even by these small actions, we fulfill our essential mission to bring Christ to a hungry world starved of the love of God.