Tuesday, November 28, 2006

A love that transcends centuries

As I mentioned last week, I went down to visit my daughter in New York City over Thanksgiving. One of our stops in Manhattan was the Museum of Biblical Art (thanks for the suggestion, Marc!). We caught the last day of a magnificent exhibit of The Saint John's Bible in Context, along with being able to view many other ancient Bibles.

The Saint John's Bible was awesome. Even one plain page of this calligraphic illuminated Bible is a priceless work of art—the fact that they're doing the calligraphy for *every* page and including gold-emblazoned illustrations amazes me. We learned that parchment is actually animal skin, specially treated, which is why it's transparent. We learned that this particular Bible is achieving its perfect balance through computer generated layout and spacing, even though the pages are then hand-drawn with actual quills. The best of both worlds working together.

Here's a thumbnail of my favorite page (click it to see a larger image):

The text below it is: "The Spirit lifted me up and brought me to the inner court: and the glory of the Lord filled the temple." The colors just made me see the glory of the Lord filling the temple! The entire image looked like it was moving, shimmering, alive with the Spirit.

But I think what moved me the most was another Bible, in the back of the exhibit, dated I believe from the 1100s. It was also a hand-scribed masterpiece, although smaller. It was open to a page in Ecclesiastes, and the page had notes on it. I mean notes like you or I would make—underlinings, comments in the margins, little symbols pointing to particular passages.

Not only did some monk, or many monks, write out this Bible by hand almost a thousand years ago, but another monk got his hands on it and studied it closely, making notes for his own spiritual advancement. I'm picturing these guys in their Franciscan robes huddled over the pages by candlelight, wrestling to purify their souls with the ancient Latin words.

And there I stood, in 21st century Manhattan, gazing in wonder at their handiwork. The city screamed and clattered around us just outside the museum doors. I had swiped a small plastic card through a machine to gain entrance to a series of hooked together conveyances that took me in twenty minutes on a trip underground that would have taken them an entire day to walk, if there were a bridge. We would soon leave the building and return the way we came to a room that stood fifteen floors above the ground, and we'd heat our dinner in a little white box that made whirring noises and beeps. I imagined showing all this to my monk friends, and realized our world would be unimaginable to them. It would probably seem like magic—wonders beyond the scope of their experience.

Yet they and I shared one common bond—a love of the Bible. This love transcends the time that separates us. These monks are my brothers on the same spiritual journey that is going on today. And who knows where these dear souls are now on their journey in the afterlife. Perhaps they've seen wonders by now that eclipse anything in our world. Certainly their earnest fidelity to the Word must have opened the way for them.

I'm so thankful for their work in keeping the Bible alive through those Dark Ages so that we have it today. I hope to meet them someday to thank them personally.

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At 11/28/2006 12:44:00 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You're very welcome Laura and I'm so glad you saw the exhibition!!! I've seen it three times. It moves around the country but will be permanently housed in MINN. and probably not travelling for a longtime. Marc


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