My Grandfather’s Bible

(First published November 30, 2010)

Over the weekend, I was given a Bible. It’s worn. There is a handwritten date inside: 1914.

This was one of my great-grandfather’s Bibles. It was given to my grandfather at some point, and now it’s been passed to me.

There are a couple things between the pages, as often happens with Bibles. One is a piece of a calendar page. It’s from March 1931, before my mother was born. It’s there because of a couple notes scrawled on the back. There is another card with a painting of flowers and a verse from 2 Timothy printed on it.

So cool. But it is impossible for me to use this Bible.

It is in Swedish.

My great-grandfather came from Sweden as an adult. My grandfather came a decade later, when he was eleven. My mother never learned Swedish, not more than a few words. The linguistic key for this Bible is gone for me.

This Bible is a reminder of a spiritual legacy, but I cannot depend on the legacy. I have to read for myself. But they have left me some starting places.

There are some references in the front of this Bible, penciled remnants of some past study. Someone wrote “Luke 10:38-42” and “John 11:17-28.”  These are two stories of Mary and Martha, stories I’ve written about. (See, for example, Doing what you can do best). I love these stories about these two women and their brother Lazarus. I wrestle with the implications of their biography for me.

Though my grandfather and I don’t share the same language or the same life experience, we do share the same underlying text, what is described as The Word of God. Left in any one language, it languishes, becoming an interesting historical artifact. Yet I am thrilled to have their Bible.

However, I am transformed by having mine.