When my Hindu husband and I set out to organize our home library, we took our best shot at Dewey Decimal precision and created a place for everything…almost.
“Where should I put this?” I asked, holding up my copy of the Bible.
“How about under ‘fiction’?” he replied with just a hint of a smile.
I laughed out loud, like ninety-year-old Sarah in the Bible when God told her that she and Abraham would bear a son. The absurdity of it: The Bible as fiction.
My husband continued on with his business, blowing dust bunnies off the tops of his John Grisham novels and moving them to the new bookcases we’d bought. I stood riveted in place, the Bible in hand, still reeling from his comment. Did he really think of the Bible as fiction?
I contemplated some of the biblical stories I remembered from my Methodist Sunday school classes during my childhood: A 900-year-old carpenter building an ark to save all of God’s creatures from The Flood; an ex-slave parting the seas to lead his people to the Promised Land; a virgin giving birth to the son of God. Come to think of it, maybe shelving the Bible as a work of fiction wasn’t so far-fetched after all.
But I just couldn’t do it. Whether or not I bought into the facts of these fantastical accounts, the truth was that I had been living by the moral lessons tucked away inside them all my life.
I thumbed through the Bible as I considered where to shelve it, and the leaves fell open to the color plates that stood out like bookmarks among the onionskin pages of chapter and verse. I’d seen artwork like this before, otherworldly images of other godly beings on a Hindu calendar at a friend’s house. One page featured a depiction of the four-armed, blue-skinned deity Vishnu reclining on a serpent. On another there sat Ganesh, the elephant-headed god and remover of obstacles. The spectacle had made my head spin.
I looked down at the picture in my Bible of Jesus walking on water and I laughed again—this time at myself for taking exception to my husband’s zany suggestion. Was I any less guilty of the same offense? To me, the Hindu deities – stripped of their cultural context and devoid of any sacred significance – were…well, pure fiction.
My husband and I have our differences, and some of them go much deeper than the color of our skin. But over the years, one thing that has cemented our relationship and smoothed over those differences has been a shared spirituality that transcends the dogmas of our respective religious heritages. I believe that it’s possible for two people to follow radically different spiritual paths only to find themselves standing on common sacred ground.
That day, we put the Bible and the Bhagavad-Gita right next to each other on a bookshelf reserved for sacred texts, their covers touching one another. I doubt that even Mr. Melvil Dewey would have quibbled with that.