Monday, October 25, 2010
I taxed my brain and my circulation this morning by following a twisty trail of questions deep into the internet. I knew I wanted to write a scene about Marietta Holley thinking religious thoughts with her Victorian brain as she sits through a service at the Adams Baptist Church in October of 1882. What was the Baptist lectionary for that year? It took a great many handsprings to formulate that question in the right way, and a great many more to locate the lectionary and to decide that Baptists probably used the same cycle of Bible readings that other protestant churches did at that time, even though, theologically speaking, they didn’t have to. I looked into the tenets of the Baptist church; I peered under the hood of several nineteenth-century Baptist hymnals. I counted ahead from Easter Sunday in 1882 (April 9, in case you were wondering), through the long weeks of “ordinary time” that finish out the church year before it begins again with Advent. I looked at some bizarre readings from Daniel for one Sunday in October, and then I decided I would make it All Saints Sunday instead, the first Sunday of November. I looked up the appropriate reading for that day – “Wis. 3.” Okay, Wisdom. A quick look revealed that “Wisdom” was not in the Old Testament in the Revised Standard Version of the Bible I have on my desk, and, briefly, I panicked. I can only remember the first few books of the Bible from the song I memorized in junior high at my best friend’s Vacation Bible School at the Baptist church (“Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy, something, something . . .”). Maybe “Wisdom” got a new name after the King James version? Google held my hand through the panic – imagine how long these conundrums took to resolve in the olden days – and soon was reminded that Wisdom is a book of the Apocrypha.
I found “Wisdom of Solomon” in the Table of Contents. I flipped. I opened the page to chapter 3, and there was a post-it note in my Dad’s handwriting sticking up from the top of the page – only one of two such flags in my agnostic Bible. Someone (possibly me – the note has “SLOW” written in big letters in my writing at the bottom) read this passage at a funeral. Probably it was my Grandpa Guthrie’s funeral. The text begins, “But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be an affliction, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace.”
Enter Marietta Holley, spiritualism, Victorian grief. I got the message from the beyond as loudly and clearly as if she had rapped on the bottom of my desk.
Photo: Adams Village Baptist Church, Adams, New York