The Year of Living Biblically (1 of 2)
Two great characters are the author Jacobs and his alter ego “Jacob”. It is impossible, the author observes, to immerse oneself in a religion for one year and remain unaffected and, to that end, were Jacobs and Jacob to meet, they would get along but would probably each walk out of Starbucks shaking their head about the other. In this reaction, I would like to introduce readers to Living Biblically by surveying the author’s transition from Jacobs to Jacob. A second reaction will surround the experience of the beauty, ugliness and perplexing nature of the heritage into which the author has been subsumed.
As Jewish as “the Olive Garden is an Italian restaurant (which is to say ‘not very’]),” Jacobs settles upon becoming “the ultimate fundamentalist.” His alter ego seeks to follow the Bible as literally as possible. Disconnected and feeling like a character after a month, by Day 55 Jacobs can claim temporarily experiencing little difference between he and Jacob, and by Day 181, there is still a difference between the two, but “Jacob is gaining strength.”
From his inactivity for fear of breaking a precept (Day 1), to his speech slowing on account of his not wanting to lie, boast, curse or gossip (Day 7), to his handling of resentment (Day 50), to his appreciation of how the less he vocalizes negativity, the less often there are negative thoughts to draw upon in the first place (Day 131), the reader experiences Jacobs being made better by his contemplation on, and living of, the precepts of the Hebrew Bible.
Though a stranger to prayer, armed with his understanding of cognitive dissonance, Jacobs asserts that by praying, his beliefs will begin to conform to his practice. By Day 36, the anxiety created by prayer has been replaced by frustration and boredom: He notes having trouble sensing the presence of God. By Day 64, certain types of prayer feel forced and awkward, but others, like thanksgiving, bring enjoyment and produce a sense of connectedness for which he is grateful. A step forward, he suggests. Not convinced that God would change his mind about something simply because he was asked, by Day 103 intercessory prayer has nonetheless been appropriated because of its de-centering effect. By focusing on others, in this respect, Jacobs writes: “I’m not going to say that I’ve turned into Albert Schweitzer or Angelina Jolie, but I do feel myself becoming a slightly more compassionate person.”
By Day 169, he perceives a gradual rise in his spiritual movement, but it is a spirituality which, he feels, could be charted like the NASDAQ; one with many valleys. Sometimes when he prays, he admits, his words are said with as much feeling as he gives to a drive-through order. When Isaiah writes “they honor me with their lips while there hearts are far,” Jacobs feels convicted and yet, on Day 204, Jacobs is “hit” with an appreciation for God. Adoration, previously difficult, leaves his mouth in a moment of spontaneity. He realizes that this form of prayer is less about God than it is about the human person taking him or herself outside of his or her own self. Adoration, like intercessory prayer, has a de-centring effect.
On Day 372, a neighbour dies and Jacobs and his wife Julie are deeply affected. As they lie in bed that evening, Jacobs — or is it Jacob now? — wonders if the two might pray. Their prayer consists simply, but beautifully, of a litany of things for which each is thankful.
Living Biblically is entirely readable, and the author possesses a wonderful sense of humour. When I read Living Biblically for the first time,I remember attempting — with some difficulty — to communicate the edifying nature of this work. This post represents a reattempt.