I am sitting here the Saturday before All Saints Sunday (aka Reformation Sunday), when we will be giving Bibles out to three kids. Before me on my ottoman is a bible I cherish but do not use: it is too special. I have to admit, I haven’t looked at it for a long time. Part of me wants to share its story with the kids getting their bibles, and with the congregation members (who may or may not be bringing their own bibles.) But the service will already be long. An additional long story would put us past the mandatory one hour limit. So instead, I will tell it here!

I want to tell the kids that besides guidance, their bibles will give strength and hope. That it is okay to mark up your bible by underlining or highlighting special passages. If they ever move on to wide-margined study bibles, they can even write notes in the margins! A bible is meant to be used. Now the large “family” bibles that contain genealogy records should be kept safe and preserved, to pass down for generations. But like the Velveteen Rabbit, your own personal bible should be worn due to use.

The bible I cherish is worn. On the empty pages at the beginning for several years I wrote a paragraph on Pentecost, when I joined the Presbyterian Church. I summarized what had happened, and what I faced. Rereading those paragraphs brings back memories and gives me perspective. Unfortunately I ran out of room, and did not continue in a journal! But even so, the recordings are part of what makes this bible special.

But the rain-soaked and wrinkled pages are the holiest. When they first became soaked and dried, it was very obvious. Now, pressed by books on either side, the wrinkles are less pronounced. My journal entries have some waves, but no ink ran. All is legible, just slightly battered. And the battered parts are not battle scars, but evidence of my one experience encountering an angel.

It happened during seminary, when I was signed up to take the Clinical Pastoral Education Course (CPE) which is a hospital chaplaincy where you visit patients, write up verbatims, then go over them with your supervisor and other students to see what you did right, wrong, and examine how you felt as you were doing it. I had arranged to ride with another student who had a car. The first week went well. Then our instructor had a heart attack and ended up in Intensive Care. The other understandably dropped out. I asked if I could continue, working as a quasi-chaplain. The hospital agreed!

For the class, I bought my bible, which lay nicely in the hand and was wide enough to flop and stay open on a page. I could picture myself reading the bible to attentive, appreciative patients. For my first day solo, I had researched what buses I needed to take (two changes and over an hour trip for a 20-minute normal drive). I had the numbers and streets on a paper in my coat pocket. I dressed up for my first day, wearing open-toed shoes with heels. I made it to the hospital.

At some point, I cleaned out my coat pockets out. Ready to go home, I reached for the paper and it wasn’t there. I went outside, hoping to spot a bus stop sign and recognize a number. No signs, no obvious bus stops, and it started to rain. I went back into the hospital to see if anyone could advise me. Nope. So back outside I went, hoping to spot a bus, ANY bus. I did not have money for a taxi, and no phone numbers for the few people I knew who had cars. I was stuck.

A guy at a gas station said he thought there was a bus stop across the street, but wasn’t sure, since nothing was marked. So I stood there, hoping, praying hard, and as my bible got soaked and my feet got wet, despairing. Finally two elementary-aged boys came walking up. One was good looking, with a flattering hair cut and wearing a black leather jacket. He ignored me. His friend, in a denim jacket, standard hair cut and teeth that would need braces in a year or so, came up to me. “Your bus will be arriving in just a few minutes,” he told me.

Let’s just say I doubted. But sure enough, there came a bus down the street! We all got on, with the leather-jacket kid walking to the back of the bus. His friend sat down next to me. He showed me his report card – C’s with some B’s, and an “Improving” in Behavior. After a bit, he told me, “You need to get off at the next stop. The next bus you need will stop across the street. You will recognize the number.” He then offered me his umbrella, which I turned down. (To this day, I regret that. It would have given me something tangible to remember him by.) As we approached the spot, I did indeed recognize the area. I thanked him, and told him I looked forward to our next meeting at the bus stop. “We will never see each other again,” he countered. I expressed incredulity, but he simply shook his head. Again I thanked him, then got off.

He was right: we never saw each other again. I believe he was an angel sent by God to help me. Not something with wings and light shining forth, but one who, like the strangers who visited Abraham, was still God’s emissary. And my poor, battered, rain-soaked bible reminds me of that day.

Our bibles: not just for study, but to remember.