‘A Song to the Lord is Worth Twice a Prayer’

See also preceding blog: https://serioustravelblog.com/2018/02/19/immigrants-part-1/

 

 

 

 

When she left the village and went to join her husband in Rotterdam, together with her 3 children, Anya’s mother didn’t have much to take with her: clothes and some plates and cutlery.

Her prized possession was a bible.

Not that she was religious. By then, that was all behind her. During the Nazi occupation, she was a believer and even got baptized. Understandable. You sure as hell needed something to hang on to during those terrible years.

After the war however, she lost her belief. If there was a God, she asked herself, then why had he allowed the Second World War to happen? For 6 million Jews to be gassed?

The bible was precious to her because of what it represented: history, family.

 

It was very small; smaller than a pocket- sized novel, although a good deal thicker. It had a black leather cover and a silver clasp. The ends of the pages were dark yellow. She inherited the bible when her mother died and she in turn, had inherited the bible when her mother had died. The rule was: the bible was passed on to the eldest daughter in the family.

It was a link between generations of women.

 

For years the bible lay on a shelf in Anya’s parents’ apartment and later, after her father died, in her mother’s apartment. I saw it countless times but never once tried to pick it up and examine it closely.

I regret that.

In the autumn of 2011, it suddenly appeared in our apartment when Anya’s mother died.  

Shortly afterwards, I picked it up for the first time and looked inside.

I was surprised by what I found.

 

On the opening page it stated the bible had been printed in ‘The States General of the United Netherlands’. The publishing date was 1835.

The bible was 176 years old.

Inside the front cover, on two blank pages, were the names of the women who, over the years, had inherited the bible, along with the date they had taken possession of it. The names and dates were written in an elegant cursive and in ink.

I found the bible difficult to read. The print was very small, the letters were gothic, and the Dutch was very different to the contemporary language.

1835: images flashed through my mind of what the world looked like then. In Europe, most people lived in villages and a stranger was someone who came from another village a kilometer away. In 1836, a year after that bible was published, British settlers departed London and sailed in wooden ships to the southern coast of Australia to establish a new colony called South Australia. A pitiless destruction was unleashed on the original inhabitants, who had lived there for well over 20,000 years.

Turning the pages of that old bible, I wondered too about all the women who over the years had used that bible before passing it on, baton-like, to the next generation. None of them had come from a wealthy or privileged background: on the contrary. Yet they had been able to read Dutch and they had been able to read music too: the bible, in a strict sense, was not a bible. Less than a half of it consisted of the New Testament and the rest, psalms. There was no Old Testament; no fire and brimstone, no authoritarian, sexist, vindictive Jehovah but instead, the message of Jesus: love, forgiveness, tolerance and non-violence.

The psalms consisted of long horizontal lines of bars and notes and beneath them, the words.

This was a book meant for singing. It was not designed to be left on a shelf inside a home; it was meant to be a ‘portable bible’ which could be taken to church on a bike.

Inside the back cover one of the women who had inherited the bible had written in fine cursive:

‘A song to the Lord is worth twice a prayer’.

And then I remembered it: during the last weeks of life, as she was being injected with ever higher doses of morphine, she sang.

No one knew what she sang, no one could identify it.

I’ve got a funny feeling that the songs she was singing came from that little portable bible.

To endure the horror of the Nazis, she sang.

And as she departed this life, those songs came back to her.

‘A song to the Lord is worth twice a prayer’.

Even for a woman who didn’t believe in God.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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