(An extract from 'Tales of a Magic Monastery' by Theophane the Monk)
I've been going there on retreat each year for the past forty years. Each time it's the same, yet somehow always different. The first time I went I forgot to bring my Bible. When I asked the guestmaster if I could borrow a Bible, he said,
"Wouldn't you care to write your own?"
"What do you mean?"
"Well, write your own Bible - something of your own on the order of the Bible. You could tell of a classical bondage and the great liberation, a promised land, sacred songs, a messiah - that kind of thing. Ought to be much more interesting than just reading someone else's Bible. And you might learn more."
Well, I set to work. It took me a month. I never learned so much about the official Bible. When I was finished, he recommended I take it home and try to live according to it for a year. I should keep a journal of my experience. But I shouldn't tell anybody about the project, nor show anyone the books. Next year, after Christmas I could come back for another retreat.
It was quite a year. An eyeopener. Most certainly I had never put so much energy and alertness into living by the official Bible as I was putting into living by this one. And my daily meditations had never been so concentrated.
When I arrived back for my next retreat, he greeted me very warmly, took into his hands my Bible and my journal, kissed them with greatest reverence, and told me I could now spend a couple of days and nights in the Hall of the Great Fire. On the last night of the year, I should consign my two books to the flames. And that's what I did. A whole year's wisdom and labor - into the Great Fire. Afterwards he set me to work writing another Bible.
And so it went, these past forty years. Each year a new Bible, a new journal, and then at the end of the year - into the flames. Until now I have never told anyone about this.
The first time I read this tale many years ago I thought it was heretical....and then I was in a small group exercise where we tried something similar.
We wrote our 'Genesis', our origins, we reflected on our past and our family.
We wrote our 'Exodus', our journey out of captivity into freedom.
We wrote 'Psalms', our own personal lyrics of praise born out of our daily experiences.
We wrote our own 'Proverbs and Wisdom'...lessons learned from the reality of trying to walk a life of faith.
We wrote our 'Gospel and Acts', how we heard the good news and how that altered our lives.
We wrote 'Epistles' to ourselves, practical Godly advice relating to issues we were currently facing.
It was an incredibly powerful act of reflection and remembering.
One part of the tale still bothered me however. That after doing all that writing the monk is asked to consign his books to the flames and start again. It's taken me a while to realize why that is a good thing. My experience of God has altered, grown, evolved, enlarged and shifted over the years. There are beliefs and experiences I've had to grow into, and there are others I have needed to discard.
If I don't 'burn my bible', I will be in danger of always trying to recreate the the exact way my walk with God looked like when I was a teenager - back when I was right about EVERYTHING and would berate anyone until they verbally agreed with my point of view.
I will be in danger of recreating my twenties - when I was convinced that I had to hate myself for God to love me.
Even now, who I have grown into will be dangerous if I stay here. My experience of myself and of God is ever shifting as my finite mind focuses on different aspects of God's infinite reality.