Way back in early spring, when we were shooting raw iPhone footage for the video snippets that would be used to introduce me and promote my book, my marketing manager didn’t want me to know the questions ahead of time. She wanted fresh answers, maybe even some endearing goofs, the element of surprise. (Curious phrase, the element of surprise, as if it’s something on the periodic table — one of those theoretical elements that were added after I was in high school.) So I was sitting in the sun on Dad’s back porch, fielding questions, some fun, some serious. Then this, one I should have anticipated: “What is your favorite Bible verse?”
“What is my favorite Bible verse?” I repeated slowly, the way you repeat a question to make sure you understand it and also to buy yourself some time, as if competing in a spelling bee. I thought for a moment. “It’s in the Psalms. ‘Create in me a clean heart.'” Thought for another moment. “And renew a right spirit within me.”
The questioner went on down the list, but part of me wanted to say, “Wait! Do-over!”
Through the brain at light speed:
I left out the “O God.” It’s “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” And why did I say “in the Psalms,” like I barely know where it is? Psalm 51. I know that. And what do I mean by favorite? What does it say about me that that’s my favorite? IS it my favorite?
What about Lamentations 3, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never end, they are new every morning,” which I sing on many a morning?
Why not something from the Sermon on the Mount, or from Romans 12, which are as worn and familiar as my favorite jeans?
Why not the other psalm snippet that’s in rotation just as often, “Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer”?
I can no more say what my favorite verse is than I can say who my favorite friend is. It might be whichever one I’m with at the time. Ask me which verse is most connected to a friend, though, and there’s only one answer. It comes to mind not just as words on a page but spoken by a particular person, in a particular place, in such a way that I didn’t even realize it was Scripture the first time I heard her say it.
“Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” It was the Rev. Peggy Bosmyer, and she was at the point in Episcopal worship when she had finished making announcements and was drawing us back into worship, toward the table. It was part of the liturgy, the script agreed on many years ago. But she never did what some priests do, what understandably would be easy and even intuitive to do in that situation — to allow her mind to visibly begin to proceed behind the Communion table while she was still speaking those words.
I thought it was an instruction from her us. And it was; she meant it. She embodied it. But it was also from the Eucharist Rite in the Book of Common Prayer, and long before that, from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. And when I think of Bible verses deeply set in the clay of memory, as embedded as any favorite song, or as any easily triggered earworm, it will always make the short list.
There wasn’t one right answer to that question, of course. It’s a big book. Different words speak louder at different times. Lately some of the louder ones have been “There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” (It’s somewhere in Proverbs.) And “greater love has no one than this: that someone lay down his life for his friends.”
I don’t claim to know what that means, really, or even all it could possibly mean. Take a bullet for a friend? Maybe. But few of us are ever asked to do that.
I think a lot about friendship, and friendships. How each one has its own texture, its own architecture, its own geography. What is asked of us in each one.
I don’t know the questions ahead of time.
But I think the answers, as specific and creative and private as they are to each relationship, will eventually be distilled to those words I will always hear in the late Peggy’s voice, with the morning light of that particular large-windowed sanctuary bathing all of us: Walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.