I think that for the first time tonight, I had a deeply spiritual experience reading the Bible.
That feels odd to say, considering I’ve been a Christian (not just in name) and have actively read the Bible for several years now. Shouldn’t reading the Bible always be a spiritual experience?
Perhaps. I don’t think I can answer that. If the answer is affirmative, then perhaps I’ve been doing something wrong this entire time, because for me, reading the Bible is sometimes interesting, usually illuminating, and often fun, but rarely (or never) spiritual in any transcendent, ineffable way.
I have long struggled with depression and mild anxiety. It is not so severe that I take medication for it (I have been evaluated by several doctors), and for that I count myself lucky. My depression manifests as a profound melancholy that hides beneath my emotions like a gesso, underpinning everything else I feel, and when coupled with the anxiety attacks I sometimes get it can be temporarily debilitating.
Earlier I was in such a mood; I had been feeling depressed throughout the day and as evening approached my anxiety over a variety of everyday stresses began to flare up. I found myself short tempered and somewhat paranoid, and had a few interactions with people I love that I’m not very proud of.
I work driving for Uber in the evenings, and I was at the airport lot waiting for a ride when I decided to read from the Bible I keep in my car for such occasions. For my Bible journaling series, I’m currently in the first book of Kings, a book I have not read in a long time. Near the beginning is one of my absolute favorite Biblical vignettes, and as I read it tonight, something strange happened to me.
The story concerns Solomon, the son of David, judging a dispute between two prostitutes (or ‘harlots’ as the RSV has it) who live together and recently bore children three days apart.
The first thing that struck me is how plausible the story actually is. Maybe not that two random prostitutes would have an audience with the king himself, but the two prostitutes getting pregnant at the same time seems like an early claim of menstrual synchrony, a theory that holds that two or more women who live in close proximity over a period of time will have their menstrual cycles (including, presumably, ovulation) ‘sync up’ or become closer together. The death of one of the babies while they slept, meanwhile, screams “SIDS” to a modern reader.
Solomon calls for a sword and decides he will split the live baby in two and give half to each woman. Of course this seems ghastly to us, but the important thing is that Solomon never intended on actually killing a baby. In the absence of evidence, with no clear way under the Law to settle the dispute between the two women, Solomon’s cleverness serves as a perfect illustration of the wisdom bequeathed to him by God in the previous chapter.
The devious woman, Woman #2 agrees to have the baby killed. Now, it’s not that she wants half of a baby corpse; my reading is that in her indescribable grief over the sudden loss of her baby boy, she seeks some sort of twisted version of fairness or justice that, while horrific, would ease her guilt and pain in a macabre way. Another element here is that before we judge Woman #2 too harshly, we must try to feel the pain she is going through.
But Woman #1, the actual mother of the live child, protests, and agrees to give Woman #2 the baby if only the king will spare her son. Solomon, of course, discerns that this woman is the true mother of the child, and returns it to her. As the RSV narrates:
“[Woman #1] said to the king, because her heart yearned for her son, ‘Oh, my lord, give her the living child, and by no means slay it'” (1 Kings 3:26).
And it was that clause, “Because her heart yearned for her son,” that really hit me as I read this.
Maybe it’s because I’m a parent, and my daughter is truly the greatest source of joy in my life, but for some reason, this story overwhelmed me with emotion and I had to stop reading after it. I wasn’t aware what I was feeling at first, other than awe at how moving some of these ancient stories can be.
But it was more than that; I felt both sad and happy, comforted and challenged, and other emotions that I don’t think have words.
A few minutes later, I realized that I no longer felt depressed, and my anxiety over the things that had been bothering me (mostly relating to money) had passed.
I can’t explain why I experienced this feeling this way. All I know is that it was a completely new way of being moved by the Bible, and I hope there’s more of it in the future.
If you’d like, in the comments, I would love to hear some of your stories about reading the Bible, and any ways it made you strongly feel.