February 21st, 2006

Your Daily Devotional

by Philip Baruth

Drove to Montpelier this morning to — wait for it — deliver the morning devotional to the Vermont House of Representatives.

I know; it seems odd to me too.

But it’s the second time Speaker Symington’s office has called, and each time I’ve been honored. And each time I’ve done my very level best to be devotional. This morning I read a true story about God throwing a Bible at me.

Notes from the New Vermont
Commentary #86: The Truth Shall Set You Free

In 1974, when I was twelve, I separated from the Lutheran church in what I like to think of as a schism of one. The church I attended with my mother and my brother and sisters was called Ascension Lutheran, and it was run by two very strict, bible-reading grandmotherly women.

The schism involved a disagreement between these two ladies of the church and myself over when I should be allowed to take my confirmation. Their argument was that I’d paid so little attention during my two-year training that I’d need to repeat the entire sequence.

My argument was that four years was a lot to ask in exchange for a metal detector, which is what my mother’d promised me at the other end of the tunnel.

So I broke with the church, as the theologians say, but God and I remained on the best of terms and I never had any reason to feel that He held a grudge of any sort until a few years ago.

Now, I know that occasionally I mix fiction with truth in these commentaries, and I know that doing so makes it hard for anyone to believe me when I say that what I’m about to tell is completely and utterly factual. But that’s the case: this story is absolutely true.

Three years ago, on a Sunday morning, I’m driving on Battery Street in Burlington, coming toward the intersection with Pearl. I’ve got my three-year-old daughter Gwendolyn strapped in the carseat. Suddenly church bells start going off somewhere in the city, and Gwendolyn asks me what the noise is.

I tell her that those are church bells. Then she wants to know what church is. I say church is a place where some people go on Sunday morning.

She’s satisfied with that, and we pull up to the intersection of Pearl and Battery and I stop the car at the red light.

Suddenly — and again, I’m speaking the truth here — a big four-door sedan comes roaring around the corner from Pearl. As the car negotiates the turn, the back door flies open briefly and a book comes hurtling out. The door closes and the sedan powers past me down Battery, disappearing around Battery Park.

Now, I can tell from the trajectory of the book and from the noise it made sliding along the blacktop that the book is sitting just outside my driver’s side door. And let’s face it, I’m a book guy by trade, so there’s never a question but that I’m going to open the door and look.

And there’s the book, sitting precisely outside my door — I don’t even have to lean out to grab it. I pick it up, toss it on the passenger seat, and close my door just as the light turns green. I negotiate the turn onto Pearl, and then I have a chance to flip the book over.

It’s a Read With Me Story Bible for Children, suitable for ages 3-7. Gwendolyn, again, is three.

And Gwendolyn is no dummy; she knows we picked up something. “What’s that?” she asks.

“It’s a bible,” I tell her. “That’s what people read in church on Sunday mornings.”

She gets right to the point. “Is it for me?” she asks.

Now while it’s true that I need to have a bible physically ejected from a moving car and slid to within several inches of my hand, I don’t need to be hit hit over the head with it.

“Yes,” I say, “yes. This book is without a doubt for you.”

I pass it over the seat to her, and she opens it up to a picture that looks like Samson and Delilah. Delilah’s got her hands on the guy’s hair, and Gwendolyn gives the image a long look, and it isn’t five minutes before the whole back seat begins to take on the thoughtful air of a chapel.

[This piece aired originally on Vermont Public Radio.]