When I was in high school and old enough to drive myself, I went to the mall one day and bought a Bible. It’s not that we didn’t have Bibles in our house; there was the big one on the coffee table, and several others in each of our rooms as well. I had the one that my Mother gave to me for Christmas when I was six. It was not a “Children’s Bible.” It was red letter, leather-bound King James. Mother entered our names on the family tree in the front—in cursive. I carried this Bible to church every Sunday from first grade through high school. I also had the Bible that the church gave me when I was nine, which was a King James Version. Someone wrote in the front of it “Baptist Beliefs.” It’s not too worn. In the 1970s, there was a new Bible published: the Living Bible. It was not the King James with all the “thees” and “thous”. It was a paraphrase in modern language. My mother would have bought one for me had I asked, but I remember how pleased she was when I showed her my purchase (neon orange and yellow fish) and the multi-colored markers that I bought to color-code my favorite scriptures. Looking at the verses that I highlighted back then is interesting—and a little bit scary.
I remember my favorite verse for many years was Romans 8:28: “We know that all things work together for our good if we love God.” It was a verse that I would turn to when it seemed bad things were happening. It gave me comfort and reassurance when I believed that God was in control and everything happened for a good reason. That scripture held me for a decade or more.
One day a preacher pointed me to Jeremiah 31:34: “God has forgiven your iniquities and remembers your sins no more.” I think, by that time, I owned that not all of the circumstances of my life were working for good—even if I did love God. I was having a hard time forgiving myself. I played my iniquities and sins repeatedly in my head like a broken record allowing them to haunt me. Finally, armed with Jeremiah, when the negative would start to play, I would combat it by reciting, “God has forgiven your iniquities, and remembers your sins no more.” I hung on to the notion that God could forgive me and it gave me hope that maybe someday I could too.
A few years later, another verse came to me—1 Chronicles 28:20: “Be strong and of good courage, and act. Do not be afraid or dismayed; for the Lord God, my God, is with you. God will not fail you or forsake you, until all the work for the service of the house of the Lord is finished.” I was hesitating in my call to ordained ministry. I was arguing with God and dragging my feet when “be strong and of good courage, and act” gave me a new reassurance in faith.
Some years later—Matthew 28:20: “I am with you always” became my mantra—short and easy and a reminder that I am not alone; it carries me and grounds me. They are the last words recorded in Matthew. Jesus speaks these words to his disciples, so it reminds me Christ is with me always. It also is a thought that is repeated over and over again in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moses asks for God’s name and the reply is, “I AM”. I AM is with me. While in Ireland on the beach, I watched the little girl who was creating waves of the ocean with God. I picked up a tiny piece of shell to remember. Then walking through Glendalough, touching the waters of the lake as the waters of my birth and baptism, and knowing my Oneness with the waters of the universe, I picked up a tiny sliver of rock. Both are in a locket, I wear often. They rattle together over my heart and remind me: I AM with you always.
I call these verses Grounding Scriptures. They are Bible verses or phrases that have been my faith foundation at different phases and stages of my journey. They are words that I clung to for hope or words that bring mindfulness into my day of joy. Some came from reading the Bible on my own; one was pointed out to me by my pastor; one I found I had somewhat mysteriously scrawled in the margin of my journal; one surfaced in conversation. They reflect steps and turns along my faith journey through the scriptures that grounded me—in my youth, and baptism, ordination, and beyond. You see, the journey never ends. Newness of our journey through this life, and even across threshold into the next, keeps our faith alive, dynamic, and growing.
The Hebrew story is one of remembering. It is one that calls people to remember who they are, and whose they are, and where they came from, and where they are going. It seems as though these ancient peoples were well aware of our memory loss problems. We forget. We forget who we are when we let the world define us. We forget whose we are when we let others claim us. We forget where we came from. We forget where we are going. We might think this is a modern problem; we are so busy it’s easy to understand how we forget. Clearly, our ancestors struggled to remember the import as well. The instruction was to remember. The verse that was to be plastered on hearts and doorposts was “Hear (Shema’), O Israel, the LORD is our God, the LORD alone. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” They needed to remember their center; we need to remember our heart, soul, and might focused on Love. They wrote it above their doors; they put them on scrolls in boxes on doors and on their foreheads; and scribed on jewelry. We are brought into new life through Love.
Early this year, I asked the confirmation class to choose a grounding scripture for their class. We discussed several. They decided on Genesis 12:2, “I will bless you so that you will be a blessing.” In the discussion, I asked why this one. One youth responded in essence: “We are blessed—that’s like joining church, knowing we are loved by God. We are to be a blessing to others—that’s like all the service and mission that we do.” The group agreed this would be a good verse for their confirmation class to hang on to this year.
When the class worshipped at the Jewish synagogue, we sang and heard Baruch Attah, Adonai, “Blessed are You, Lord our God” many times over. It is the most repeated phrase of the Jewish worship. Their chosen verse also connected them to the roots of our faith. We are blessed to be a blessing. Our Judeo-Christian faith proclaims God as Blessed—Baruch Attah, Adonai—and that we are transmitters of God’s blessings.
There is that fundamental concept of our resurrection faith: life is a gift (we are blessed—each sunrise gives us a new day, a new beginning), and it is our task (to be a blessing to others) to live into the newness of life and to share in hope and healing with others. Our youth understand this community and their step into full church membership in confirming their journey path of blessing.
I also asked them to listen for a personal grounding scripture. Each one chose a verse that speaks to them. They will each share theirs with you in a bit. I know that feels very vulnerable, to reveal that which we hold near our heart. It can be a bit uncomfortable to say aloud that which God has written upon our heart and soul—to name those words that we have bound upon our doorposts, or wristbands, or placed in lockets—however it is we hold on. When they share their verses, they are revealing a bit of their journey to you.
I hope that you will do the same—that you will take time, as they have done this year, to reflect on your journey. To think of the phrase, verse, or mantra that keeps you centered in God’s love. To notice a word that helps you to hang on when doubts loom large and certainties are few; to be aware of a word that reminds you of your sacredness when others may cast doubts. To allow a word that gives expression to your faith and trust and expresses the gratitude that lives in your heart to rise to your awareness. To notice how your faith has grown through the years.
Maybe in that reflection and discernment, you may find yourself needing or ready to be part of a small group to be intentional in study and practice. You may find you would like to connect with someone to do some Bible reading, to identify a word or phrase of meaning in your journey. Maybe after reflection and conversation, you, too, can be as brave as these young people—to share your grounding scripture with one another—to have genuine conversations about your faith journey—to connect with this blessed community where you are safe. Then after a while, when you are comfortable, to widen your sphere and ever trust the Holy to lead you into opportunities of organic, real conversations of meaning beyond this community.
Love God with all your being and you will know you are blessed. As you allow the words of your heart to fill the world with love and hope, you become a blessing to others. May it be so.