The Bible Under the Bridge

A Bible, abandoned, tattered, weed-strewn.

Found by Houston-area artist and photographer Patrick Feller as he climbed along a bank to get pictures of an old railroad bridge crossing Interstate 45.

 

 

He had taken a different route when returning up the bank, through an overgrown area with thick vegetation and debris that suggested to him previous occupation by “those who had found some sort of shelter in the shade of this thicket.”

The Bible was open, stiffly, to Joshua 18, a brief chapter in the Old Testament describing the division of land to seven tribes of Israel which had at that time not received their allotment.

Joshua sent surveyors out to document the land, then cast lots to distribute each section, every tribe thus getting its due of God’s bounty.

 

Someone had presumably been reading of this in the shade of a bridge, some 7,000 miles from where the events described in the book had taken place, some 3,400 years ago.

Someone who also had not likely received his or her allotment of God’s bounty.

Someone who likely never would.

Someone in the weeds, who had found a small piece of temporary bounty here, with a Bible in hand, reading of ancient promises delivered to a chosen people.

 

A chosen people reflective, might we say, of all people everywhere, in all times, longing to be seen, chosen, aligned with a sense of place, of justice, of hope, of home.

“How long, O Lord?” that same tattered book asks in its Psalms. “How long will you hide your face from me?”

The question resounds, from under this bridge, all bridges, where wanderers and pilgrims stop for a bare moment of rest.

***

A Ben Harper song: simple, plaintive, profound…

 


Thanks to photographer Patrick Feller, Houston, Texas, some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/nakrnsm/

And to Elizabeth Haslam, for the rotating banner photos at the top of this page. Some rights reserved under Creative Commons licensing, see more at: https://www.flickr.com/photos/lizhaslam/

Please visit my daily 1-minute-blog on Facebook at: http://www.facebook.com/TraversingBlog

Twitter: @AndrewHidas

Flickr: https://www.flickr.com/photos/andrewhidas/

6 comments to The Bible Under the Bridge

  • Tamara Stanley  says:

    This is beautifully written. — every tribe thus getting its due of God’s bounty — what a wonderful thought! Thank you Andrew

  • Angela  says:

    This feels like the jumping off place for a story: who was this person under the bridge, what long path brought them to that exact spot, why did they have the Bible? What did they take from it, and why did they leave it? Where did they go?

    It is easy to think of a lost soul in that place, trying to find a way forward and searching for words to help create a path out of that spot. However, something is pushing me here, reminding me of something else, another tradition and possible twist to this story. Hikers on the Appalachian Trail sometimes find themselves the recipients of Trail Magic, small gifts that other hikers leave to encourage those who come behind them. Maybe this Bible is part of that lovely practice of extending kindness to strangers, paying it forward, sharing what one has.

    I’m going with that, along with all the rest.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      Angela, I often come across scenes where I find myself thinking, “If I were a novelist, there’s a whole book right there; just sit down and start writing it.” Lacking those particular gifts, I offer my more modest responses in this form; we all sing our hymns in the way that we can.

      I’m a bit dubious about this Trail Magic angle, though. (Here’s where our respective novels might diverge!) Looking at the concrete facts of it—how the Bible was left open, there among the weeds rather than tucked close in under the bridge—suggests to me a more troubling motif, of either carelessness or don’t-care-at-allness. Or perhaps our someone fell asleep with it open while contemplating Joshua’s promise, the whiskey and the weight of life so heavy upon him (or her? how would our story change with a her?) that he forgot all about any promise by the morn?

      Or maybe the person DID tuck it under the bridge for later perusal, but an animal or winds and erosion moved it about? And when she did return, it was gone, hidden yonder in the weeds, much to her chagrin? And what if the Bible was no longer there, but a stray dog was? Providence of a different sort? Think you might start that novel and pursue multiple scenarios, like some fiction and I think even movies have taken to doing lately?

  • Rev. Robert Gutleben  says:

    As one who found my way out of Biblicism many years ago I have found that people look to the “promises of God” for various reasons. One is because they are destitute of income and hope, the other because they believe they have found a direct line to God’s ear through their obedience to God’s chosen religion.

    Typically the poor and marginalized really have no other options but to hope there is a just God somewhere who will eventually take pity on them: theirs is more likely to be a matter of hope and faith. Those who believe that they have found the right interpretation of the Bible and the right religion tend to believe that God’s promises are for them. Even if they don’t have wealth their religion is there to give them the encouragement and hope of his favors in the here and now, and in the end eternal life in the most wonderful place in existence, heaven.

    Oddly enough, most fundamentalists see God’s blessings, in a somewhat karmic way. They believe that they are entitled to God’s blessings because they obey HSI’s (he/she/its) laws, while those who are not a part of their belief system will not. Unbelievers are nothing more than unrepentant and sinful, who get what they deserve, which is God’s anger and rejection (i.e. bad Karma). A good example are those political candidates who believe that because they belong to the right church, that God will empower them to victory. Then to return the favor to God they will change all laws, which they believe are contrary to their beliefs. And they will have no mercy for those who are hurt by laws they impose on those who do not share their beliefs.

    On the other hand, many of the poor and needy just keep on hoping that maybe God will see their suffering and have compassion. The big difference between these two typical groups is that the fundamentalists believe that they deserve the blessings they get in life, while the others don’t see themselves entitled to much of anything and must continue to trust that God’s mercy will eventually catch up with them.

    The big gulf of faith is this: the fundamentalists do not look to individual faith of hope and mercy, but rather to their obedience to the “right religion.” And because they think their knowledge of what God wants religiously they also believe they are entitled to power over others. People of the faith that is found in the soul and in the experience of life continue to wait in hope for relief.

    The story of The Rich Man and Lazarus found in the NT book of Luke 16:19-31 makes clear that life’s true blessings are not a sign of God’s favor. Rather, it was the continued humility, faith, and suffering of the poor man Lazarus, that eventually got God’s attention. But don’t tell fundamentalists that, because they think they are the only ones who are in God’s favor.

  • David Moriah  says:

    This reminds me of a profound experience I had in San Francisco some years ago. One night I was asked by a destitute woman in an almost inaudibly quiet whisper, “Sir, can you help me get some food.” I was moved to take her to the food court at Metreon to order her a meal, and while we were waiting together I felt uncomfortable. When the food came I awkwardly left her, realizing later I never asked her name. She was God’s creation and I didn’t even bother to ask her name. I felt ashamed and committed in prayer that the next time I was in such a situation I would ask the person’s name.

    The very next evening I was walking the street and heard a man sitting on the sidewalk singing and realized he was singing a praise song to God. His voice was strong and angelic. I was deeply moved. I approached him and as I did he reached out to me, grabbed my hand and said, “My name is Robert!”. I remember that name to this day.

    We hung out together for awhile. He told me some of his story (he was homeless and living in a shelter) and then sang again, a beautiful song of praise and worship and hope. He truly earned the few dollars from me which I freely gave, (we pay for a ticket to a concert, don’t we?) and I marveled at how God had answered my prayer of the night before.

    His name was Robert. God had introduced me to him, and I was truly blessed.

    • Andrew Hidas  says:

      David, I am so glad to finally catch back up to this. I identify strongly with these anecdotes and this mysterious power of “naming,” being called by name, etc. That in some sense we cannot be real to each other, cannot enter each other’s orbit or heart, until we can say, “Hello….DAVID.”…”Good to meet you, ANDREW.” There’s some kind of magic and profound meaning in that, which we do well to ponder. I only know that I am not among those who disparage the modern habit of restaurant servers approaching with, “Hi, I’m Tami, and I’ll be your server tonight.” Not sure when I began, but it’s been a while now of trying to habitually ask after someone’s name whom I otherwise would have just had a brief anonymous encounter with before parting. Now, I more often than not ask, even if it’s only upon their leave-taking, “So wait just a sec…please tell me your name. Robert? Great, good to know you, ROBERT…”

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