I must have been about fourteen when it happened – too many years ago, now, to even think about – and yet I can remember it all as clearly as though it were only yesterday.
It was one of those moments in life which – at the time – might not seem all that significant; and yet, looking back on it, we see that something else, something truly powerful was there. It was all because of a word – a word that was alive and very powerful indeed, as I would find out later.
Having some free time at high school, I had decided to go for a walk. I realised that what I really wanted to do was go and sit in church for a little while. The Catholic Church was directly opposite the school but it was closed. Now, I happened to know there was a little Episcopalian church a little further along the road and just round the corner. And I knew it was open all day.
It was an old building, all beautiful stonework outside and a lovely ancient arched doorway leading in. Once inside, it was utterly silent. I can still recall the sense of peacefulness it offered in that moment. I could understand why churches were considered to be places of sanctuary. No-one else was there so I had the place to myself.
Standing at the rear, I looked around – at the far end, an oak altar, above which stood a large bronze Crucifix, adorned with shimmering candlesticks which stood like centurions guarding the treasure between them. Brass plaques on the walls caught the morning sunlight which was filtering in through glorious stained glass windows high above the altar, their radiant reds and deepest blues falling upon the stone floor, like the scattered petals of an exquisite flower.
And then it happened.
Immediately to my right, there was a small table and upon this were numerous pocket-sized Bibles, seemingly for the use of the parishioners at services. In a moment that I can only think was touched by grace – and intended to be – I picked up one of these little Bibles and went and sat in a pew toward the back of the church.
I don’t think that before this moment I had deliberately picked up a Bible, except very occasionally the huge and ancient family Bible we kept at home, with the intention of reading from it. I opened the book at what I considered to be a random page. And I can remember exactly what I read in that moment.
It was Saint Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephesus, chapter 1, verses 3-14. I read it several times, each time more slowly than the last. I was astonished. It was as though this text had been sitting there waiting for me to read it, that my dear Paul was writing this with me in mind. His words spoke to me – really spoke to me. They were truly “alive and active” and I was dumbfounded. I had just fallen in love.
Even then, I knew this was a special moment – but I had no sense whatsoever of the grace that was really working somewhere deep within me and whose effects would reach far, far beyond that moment, stretching forward across the decades.
Just those few verses. That was all it took. Words on a page, written centuries before and now sitting here in a book on a table in a church I had never been inside previously.
A little gentle flame had been lit. And a flame, once lit, will burn away quietly. It may flicker in the breeze of life and it may even smoulder at times – but it will always burn. A flame consumes – and this was my experience; that little flame wanted to be fed so that it might burn ever brighter.
Not long afterwards, I took a trip to the local bookshop with a very clear intention in my mind – I wanted to buy one of those little pocket-sized Bibles so that I could read it. The expression on the face of the lady at the till was a picture, as this young teenager bought a small pale blue vinyl-covered Bible. The text was absolutely tiny, befitting the very small but thick book. My eyes were better then, so the diminutive font size was not an obstacle. I took that little Bible home with me and devoured it. Or perhaps more accurately – it devoured me. And so, it had begun. The journey had started for me.
And that journey continues now, today, as I sit here and write. Immediately to my left, a Bible – this one, with larger print – sits upon my desk and is opened often. On the bookcase just across to the right, I count a further five Bibles (various translations), five books of the New Testament and Psalms and another two books of the Psalms and Canticles (Abbey and Revised Grail). All are well-used now. The powerful, living Word within them is constantly food for the journey, a lamp for the feet and a light for the path.
With Paul, I bless God, who has blessed us in Christ, who is that living Word, with every spiritual blessing in the heavens.