Forbear to Cry, Make No Mourning for the Dead

Each week, I play a little game with the Gideon’s Bible at the local YMCA.

Forbear to Cry

Once a week, in the darkness of the early morning, when we arrive for our pre-dawn spin class, I take a moment to examine the Bible that’s placed on a stand of its own, over by the water fountain and the coffee pots.

It is always set to the same page: John chapters 17 and 18, a quite serious part of the New Testament. I like to turn to a random page and read the first line my eyes fall on, see what inspiration comes. I usually leave the book open there, at the page I’ve found, and go for my class.

No matter what page I’ve left open, by the following week, someone has always returned it to John 17, 18. I don’t know who is responsible at the YMCA for this task, and I’m not sure how he or she feels about my interventions. I hope they don’t mind.

Not every page-turn draws sparks, but this morning, I landed on a wonderful line. It was so intensely poetic I assumed I had ended up in the Psalms, but instead it was Ezekiel: “Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead…” The rich, full syllables demanded to be whispered, there in the bright lights and silent hallways of the early morning YMCA.

Yes, it’s a search for beauty only, my page turning. But I wouldn’t say it was irreverent, even if the book is clearly supposed to be left on John. Tyndale’s translation, and the King James that followed from it, are surely one of the great monuments of our language. For a short time, years ago, I tried a self-administered writing prompt: turn to a random page of Shakespeare, write down the first line; do the same with the King James; create a story from their combination. But “forbear to cry” is a rare discovery, a gem of sounds. I wish I had been lucky enough to land on Ezekiel 24, back in those days.

“Forbear to cry, make no mourning for the dead…”

Does anyone else read the Bible “as a writer,” whether or not you also read it in other capacities? What books do you return to?

4 thoughts on “Forbear to Cry, Make No Mourning for the Dead

    • Also, when I’m reading it for other reasons, I go to the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5-7, the essential concentration of the Jesus philosophy) and Ecclesiastes- THE Biblical book for cynics and writers. The titles A Time to Kill, Evil Under the Sun, Remembrance of Things Past, The Sun Also Rises, and The House of Mirth come from Ecclesiastes and its writerly fans are legion.

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  1. I’ve discovered that I can’t step out of my role as writer while reading the Bible–I’m constantly mulling over the language, the cadence, all of it. The part that has lodged most firmly in my head is John’s description of creation: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” This speaks to me profoundly as a writer, because I think that when we write, we’re mirroring the first creation of our universe in some way–we create because we were created by some force beyond ourselves, whether we believe it to be God, science, or a Flying Spaghetti Monster.

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