OK, perhaps “never” may be overstating things a bit – rarely or seldom might be better choices – but I couldn’t resist making a musical reference.
A few weeks ago, I was in San Diego for a conference. After I retired to my hotel room for the evening, and was getting ready for bed, I thought to myself “In this increasingly secular age, do the Gideons still place Bibles in hotel rooms?” There was only one way to find out… I pulled open the drawer of the bedside table, and there it was!
Not only was there a Bible, it was an actual Gideon’s Bible!
I’m not a particularly religious person, and I’m certainly not someone who is likely to spend an evening reading the Bible. In fact, to paraphrase A.J. Jacobs (the author of The Year Of Living Biblically) “I consider myself a devout Catholic in the same way that The Olive Garden is considered an ‘authentic’ Italian restaurant” :o)
However, I do have an active imagination and an insatiable curiosity for just about everything. As I stared at the good book, I began to wonder… “How many previous hotel guests have read that Bible? Which passages did they choose? Which words contained within these covers offered comfort, solace, hope and inspiration to those who were here before me?” While I don’t possess any extrasensory abilities, I did remember one trick I learned many years ago: if you want to know which pages of a book have been read the most, place the book on a flat surface, balance it carefully on its spine, and then slowly let go. After a couple of seconds, the book pages will separate at the most-read spot(s).
This trick would be my pre-Internet retro cookie – a low-tech way to surreptitiously track the Bible browsing habits of others. That’s not a sin, is it? I hope not…
It was time to conduct a little experiment! I removed the Bible from the drawer, walked over to a table on the other side of the room, balanced it on its spine very gingerly, and then slowly moved my hands away. This is what it looked like:
It remained like this for about 8-9 seconds, before listing to the left, and then finally keeling over. I tried it again, making sure that it was perfectly balanced and perpendicular to the table. I waited expectantly, but witnessed the same disappointing result. Finally I opened the Bible slightly, and (being careful not to bend the spine) gently riffled through the pages, to loosen them a bit. Maybe a little coaxing was needed in order to get them to reveal their secrets. After placing the Bible on the table a third time, the same thing happened. After a few seconds, the entire book simply tipped over.
While my experiment was clearly unscientific, the conclusion seemed obvious: apparently I was the first person to actually open this book. My initial, and decidedly sanctimonious thought was “I can’t believe this! California must be overrun with heathens!“
However, the next morning, as I pulled back the curtains, and gazed out the window at the blue skies, sunshine, palm trees, joggers and dog-walkers, my attitude changed. I now thought “Actually, this is starting to make sense. I don’t need to read about the paradise described in this book… I’m already in paradise!“