Thursday, August 18, 2016

I thought religion would make me live with my heads in the clouds, but often as not, it grounds me in this world

I enjoy A.J. Jacobs books. They're light, quick read. Every since The Know-It-All made its rounds among my group of friends in college, I've picked up his stuff when I come across it*. So on a trip to Boston I saw his Year of Living Biblically (and Gulp by Mary Roach, but that is for another time) I needed to have it. NEEDED IT, I say.

The basic format of Jacobs' memoirs is A.J. does something (reads the entire Encyclopedia Britannica, tries out a bunch of health regimens, etc.) and writes about it. This time he's decided to follow the Bible, spending most of his time in the Hebrew Bible (he is Jewish, after all) but still dipping his toes into the New Testament. He describes himself as "Jewish the way the Olive Garden is Italian" but since he and his wife are trying for another kid, he decides he wants to understand religion more. He wants to experience the original meaning of the Bible, while acknowledging there is not necessarily any original meaning.

And so he does the big things (thou shalt not kill) and the smaller things (wear fringe); he consults with scholars and other smart people, and he spends a year living the Bible as literally as possible. He gets strange looks. He finds things he likes and wants to keep up in his daily life after his experiment is over. He finds things that aren't really for him, but he learns about their importance and meaning. And he keeps a pretty open mind which is no small task considering he visits some Creationists.
A friend of mine said that we shouldn't underestimate people's ability to hold totally contradictory opinions and be just fine with it. 
He makes jokes throughout the book cos that's his thing and the book would be boring without it. It never feels like he's making jokes at the expense of others (maybe himself and every once in awhile his wife). This humor leads to situations such as finally understanding the meaning of the Sabbath after accidentally getting locked in a bathroom for a couple hours. No phone, nothing to read. Just four hours waiting for his wife to come up to sit and think and eventually pray, while the world rushes on without him.
This is what the Sabbath should feel like. A pause. Not just a minor pause, but a major pause.  Not just a lowering of the volume, but a muting.
I can't say I learned a lot about religion, but then again, that isn't really the point. It's memoir with a theme. And I'm sure I'll read whatever other theme he comes up with next.

Gif rating:
*Other books include Drop Dead Healthy, and My Life as Experiment

Title quote page 172

Jacobs, A.J., The Year of Living Biblically: One Man's Humble Quest to Follow the Bible as Literally as Possible. Arrow Books, 2007.