God’s Book: The Bible
Placed in an American Hotel Room by the Gideons
In Greece, the country where I was born, raised and educated and had the opportunity to read a plethora of books during the years of my schooling and beyond, I never came across God’s book, the Bible. Nor did I find it in the USA where I went in 1972 on a Fulbright scholarship to pursue a PhD degree and had the chance to read even more books, both while in Graduate School and afterwards. The mid-eighties in America found me once again surrounded by books (I estimate that we had in the library of our home more than twenty five hundred books, most of them read from cover to cover). But those same years also found me unspeakably unhappy, wounded, hurting, ailing, mourning, derelict, forlorn. One winter night, not realizing what I was doing, I cried out to God: “God, if you exist, if you are there, please show me who You are and… I will work for your glory all the days of my life.” Upon hearing my own words—for unawares I had spoken out loud—I came to my senses only to be stunned. What had I just said? “I will work for Your glory?” But I had never worked for anyone’s interests except for my own and nobody else’s glory had ever preoccupied me except for the glory of my own self. How was it that my cry would express something so different now? Pondering on the question made me very quiet and open to ‘receiving.’ But I received nothing, at least nothing tangible, visible, or audible. The ability to listen was further sharpened in me but again I got no answer. Only the room became filled with a sweet assurance that ‘everything will be alright.’ This comforting yet inexplicable certainty was poured out like rain: noiselessly, discreetly. And it had the fragrance of a freedom and the taste of a happiness, both previously unknown to me.
“Where shall I go from here?” I asked my depths, now that all of a sudden they were reaching for the depths of the Eternal; “what would my innermost desire be?” It turns out that all I wanted in my heart of hearts and soul of souls was to find a book: the book of God. Back in Greece during my years of primary education I remember having read in one schoolbook of religious education that we Christians believe in two things: the Holy Scripture (or was it Scriptures?) and the Holy Tradition. I had never seen with my eyes the text of either source and did not care to look for them on my own initiative but now I wanted to ‘have and to hold’ the book I had never seen but assumed must exist: God’s book. “Do you happen to have such a book?” I asked my husband, an Israeli Jew. He smiled with the satisfaction of one who knows more than the other, called me playfully ‘little pagan,’ went to his office, fished out a hard bound book, and handed it to me. ‘THE HOLY BIBLE, PLACED BY THE GIDEONS.’ Anticipating my question he proceeded to explain that the Gideons are people who place Bibles in hotel rooms and this is where he had found it. ‘Too bad it is grey,’ I thought to myself who was never fond of things grey. Hesitantly I opened it on the first page and saw that he had inscribed his name on the upper right part of it but that otherwise the book was like new—no ÂÂÂÂÂÂ underlining or other notations, as was the case with most of our books. Grey or not grey I was delighted to have the opportunity to get this brand new book of old, just for the asking, and have it all to myself to do whatever I wanted with it!
But where to start? From the beginning, as we usually do with books, or from the end, as is the case with books in the Hebrew language? I didn’t know. I trusted the sweet assurance so prevalent in my heart and opened the Holy Bible at random, certain that it would take me to that which was meant for me. God’s book opened in Exodus (not that I knew of course at the time what ‘Exodus’ meant). It was chapter 3, verse 14 the text I first laid eyes on: “And God said unto Moses, I AM THAT I AM.” Of Moses I had heard but what was more important was that with my soul’s ear I would now hear these same words spoken to me, the unspeakably unhappy, wounded, hurting, mourning, ailing, derelict, forlorn me. These were God’s first words to me from His book, “I AM THAT I AM.”
Years later I came to know how difficult this phrase is for the students of the Bible even from a secular linguistic point of view and how very hard the King James English translation is considered to be. Nothing seemed more plain and easy to me that night. The words of God spoken to Moses and to myself were crystal clear. And they were all I needed to know at the time. First and foremost they brought me the greatest news I could ever hear: that I was not! For years I had been struggling to be at the center of my world—not to mention of the world at large during my most ambitious moments—but I was never satisfied even when rising up high. “I cannot do it,” I would secretly think to myself with much sadness. It is as if my ‘material’ is not good enough. I do not have ‘good stuff’ in me. What a relief to finally come to know that this was indeed true! I was not. Instead, it was God who was. He was what? The Being, the Essence of Life, the Source of Existence, the Life that knows no limits, has no end and no beginning, the Vital Substance, the Vast, Inexhaustible, Eternal One. “He is!” I marveled. And He is like a sandy beach that extends all the way to infinity. I would now recall how much I had always yearned for something like that while walking by the sea—the Mediterranean, when I was back in Greece, or the California seashores after I came to the USA.
But that’s not all this verse communicated to me. This Wonderful, Sacred ‘Life-above-my-life’ that was revealed to me was not just something out there standing tall and grandiose and indifferent to my existence. He invited me, wanted to have me partake of this Miracle of Life, was calling me, would take me in and contain me when I was feeling unsustained like a margarita without a stem. He simply and plainly loved me! He was everything and I was nothing. And yet it felt like a compliment to be ‘put down’ by God Himself and at the same time hear from His mouth that HE IS and feel His GREAT I AM-ness bend down to let me know that He cares, He delights in my awaiting for Him and reading His book—His ‘open letter’ to all men. And obviously I was thrilled to have ‘received’ His promise to me that from now on everything will be ‘alright.’ “How do you say ‘I AM THAT I AM’ in Hebrew?” I asked my husband who was likely to know since his schooling, unlike mine, did include readings from the book of God itself. “Ehie asher ehie,” he replied and I was happy to jot it down at the bottom of the page—my first ever notation in God’s book and in fact one written in my childlike Hebrew handwriting. “I love You too,” was all I found to reply to the GREAT I AM that night as I closed the Book He had providentially given me as a gift through the Gideons and my husband. I never thought of thanking either but that night I went to sleep without a care on my mind.
Since that night there were many steps in my relationship with God and with His Book and I don’t quite remember the order in which these things happened or how much time I spent at every stage. There were steps going forward and steps going backward. There was freezing and numbness at times. And there were major landings in my going up God’s ladder in this life-long journey. But throughout them all it was the amazing discovery that it was ‘not me’ but the ‘GREAT I AM’ that mattered.
The first big step was the step of repentance. One clear and sunny day in Southern California the burden of my sin fell on me like a malign universe, colossal and collapsing. I felt the burden of my wrongdoings weighing heavy on my shoulders, like the earth on Atlas’s back. Not just particular and specific wrongdoings, this and that and the other, but the fact that my whole life was wrong; that I had done wrong by ignoring God and, worse yet, that I was wrong, all wrong. Rivers of tears sprang from my eyes. Still, they wouldn’t drown me, they wouldn’t go overboard. They would run and run and still not go out of control. Somehow it seemed as if they were running inside the valley of the GREAT I AM and within boundaries He Himself had set for them to run. I was devastated alright but comforted to know that all this was happening inside of God’s courtyard and with His knowledge and approval. That was a relief. But then what?
By now I was reading the prophets, especially Isaiah, and had gotten a glimpse of God’s Great Rescue Plan. It would be initiated by Him and then ‘dropped down’ to me like a ladder lowered from an airplane for passengers who wanted to get on. No way I could ‘mend’ my self on my own and make it up to God with a litany of “I’m sorry’s” and ‘excellent’ compensatory behavior. The I AM THAT I AM, I had noticed in Genesis, had placed a flaming sword which turned every way to keep me away from the tree of life I so yearned for. And this because of this terribly bad idea I had had in the beginning to place my self in the center of everything and challenge God. In a sense it was Adam’s and Eve’s DNA that were to blame for this, but in another sense not so; for I too had turned against Him and rebelled. Against what? Alas! Against my very own good! Against my very own God! The One who was what I was not. In God’s own words His Rescue Plan read like this: “The Lord had laid on him the iniquity of us all.” And then, when it would come to what this “He” would do with my wrongdoing, Isaiah 53 said: “He was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities, the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and with his stripes we were healed.” I would give my all to get to know this Ambassador of God who would bring me the peace of healing and restoration, this Appointed Servant, this Anointed Rescuer, this Noble Prince, this Renown Physician, this Unique Conciliator, this Love made Flesh for me! This Messiah… This Christ…
Following John the Baptist’s pointing finger in the Gospel of John, I discerned the “Him” I wanted to meet. And ‘He’ was walking… Towards me. “Behold the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world,” it was officially announced by the Jewish messenger. “That’s not so unusual,” I said to myself. “God did the same with Isaac when He provided a ram and Abraham’s son did not have to be burnt and break his father’s heart.” Not to mention that throughout the Bible Part One—which I had by now read and understood with my heart, not theologically but as a heart can understand—the high priests would place their hands on a lamb, thus transferring on it all the sins of the Israelites and setting the people free. At this point I was not thinking of the people’s sins though. Only of my own which, lo and behold, I could already see loaded onto Christ’s shoulders, just like God’s Plan had said it would happen. “But that’s a complete takeover,” I thought to myself in political science terms which was my area of scholarship at the time. Yet this revolutionary take over was not threatening or alarming. Just embarrassing for me who was too proud and didn’t like to receive favors I couldn’t reciprocate—‘something for nothing’ type of thing.
The Favor of God through the Messiah was going to appear more difficult for me to accept when I saw later on in the Gospels what the prophet really meant when he said that the Mediator would be ‘wounded,’ ‘bruised,’ and ‘chastised’ for my wrongdoings. All these years at Easter time I had felt ineffably sad and sorry for Jesus Christ who had suffered so—and so unfairly, He who had done nothing wrong after all. In Greece I had often attended reenactments of his funeral procession on Good Friday (one of the two times I was going to church back home—the other being Christmas Day), and together with a cousin of mine whom I love I had cried my heart out at the cruelty of those ‘others’ who had crucified Him. The only consolation, if any, was that I now had a Sacred Prototype to help me bear my own inevitable and painful human sufferings. But that Christ would be on the Cross to pay the price for my own wrongdoings, that he would hang there instead of me, had never crossed my mind. Or else I would have loved Him with every fiber of my existence and I would have sought Him right away, Him who had so loved me first. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.” Saved!? What a mysterious word!
There’s a secular Greek song with a melancholic but soothing music my husband and I very much liked to listen to in the car from a cassette recorded for us by friends in Greece. The lyrics of its refrain—which he had repeatedly asked me to translate for him—go like this, “The salvation of the soul is a very big thing, like a recreation journey with a wound that’s hidden” (I soteria tis psychis einai poly megalo pragma, san taxidaki anpsychis m’ ena krymmeno travma). One summer evening right there in the car it dawned on me that that’s exactly what God’s Rescue Plan was all about: I was offered to get off the hook and take a beautiful vacation to Freedomland, I who was ‘sick unto death’ with a very bad ulcer lurking in my guts, indeed one as bad and rotten as Isaiah had said man was. And then there was this other soul-awakening American song, or rather Hymn, I happened to hear shortly after that time at the funeral of my next door neighbor: “Amazing Grace.” It haunted me! For it was indeed both amazing and freely given—causa donandi, as we had learned to refer to such giving out of liberality in Latin back in my Law School days in Greece. Everything was pointing to the fact that I was being invited to receive a Big Gift. This was more than amazing! It was irresistible! I leaped with joy. “Yes, I will accept this Incredible Gift, dear God, and I will drown the pride of my ‘self.’ Thank you for Your Son and my Rescuer, thank You for His cleansing blood, thank you for my healing, thank you for readmitting me to the Kingdom of Your GREAT I AM-ness, now ‘justified’ in Christ, or shall I say now seen by You… just-as-if I had never gone wrong (!), thank You for loving me unto death, and thank You for Your Book, both Part One and Part Two. “I love You too… I love You too,” I kept repeating as if this were the only thing I could give God in return. If we still had rainbows in Part Two of God’s Book, I know a big one would have shown up in the sky to make everyone see that He delighted in my loving Him and our private pact would be thus made public.
To yield one’s self at the feet of the Cross once, at the moment of realizing God’s Amazing Grace for man in Christ, is one thing. To hold the self consistently below water level, like a pier forced to submersion so that the waves wouldn’t break hard against it and create violence, is quite another. So, I who had marveled at discovering how wonderful it is to yield the ailing me to the loving GREAT I AM soon found myself having gone so astray, as if I had never known any better! My baby Christian steps began going backwards: at times it was as if I had simply added the qualification ‘believer’ to my CV! For when I started galloping before crawling it was once again the imperious I who was praying, discerning, getting enlightened, favored, speaking of the things of God, reading His Book, teaching it, writing about it. Mercifully, ‘purgings’ began taking place in my life: severe, utterly painful, remedial. And then once again I was turned to my first love, my first trust in God. Wherever I would open my Bible it would take me over and over again to the verse of my first illumination, at least as I had understood it at the hour I first believed. “Not you but I AM THAT I AM.” Come to Me. In Christ. Keep coming. Keep abiding in My plan for you. In your Savior. Live so close to Him as if He were part of your flesh and blood. Keep abiding in the One I have sent for you. And then Christ’s own words, “Abide in me, and I in you. I am the true vine and my Father is the husbandsman. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, except it abide in the vine, no more can you, except you abide in me.”
Today after seven years of Bible School, numerous Bible studies, a translation of the New Testament from the Ancient Greek, or rather the koine, into the demotic Greek of our times (a collaborative work for the Hellenic Christian Program in Chicago), and hours of personal study and prayerful meditation, my old Gideons copy of the Bible is falling apart. From all the things in the world there is no material item I love more. Yet not as much as I love the soul of man in need of salvation. Were it possible for this very same copy of my Bible to bring the inscription of one man in God’s Book of Life, I would have parted with it at once. But today I know better than use my volatile and impulsive feelings as a guide to my actions. Sacrifices are not demanded of me. Only the Lamb of God had to be sacrificed so that we may live. Eternally.
From the bottom of my heart I thank the Gideons for offering people like me the opportunity to read the Word through their initiative to place the Bible in hotel rooms. May God enable them to keep doing so for as long as this world goes around, till the end of days. And if I may ask a special favor of them, would it be possible that they keep placing Bibles with covers the color grey (never mind that I personally don’t like it at all)? For if one chose this color once, one may choose it again. While it is still time.
Youlika K. Masry, Athens, September 14, 2003
(Youlika K. Masry is an attorney, PhD in political theory & psychology, writer/author, poet & translator)
This is the write-up in English of the testimony of Youlika K. Masry given in Greek at the Free Evangelical Church of Athens (3 Alkiviadou Street) on the occasion of the visit of a representative of The Gideons International on September 14, 2003.
The following is a translation into English of the Greek songtext “The Salvation of the Soul”, based on the poem of Lina Nikolakopoulou Η ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΨΥΧΗΣ (1985). The translation was done by Youlika K. Masry on July 31, 2014.
THE SALVATION OF THE SOUL
We will find them again
those countryside dawns
while lying embraced
and it makes no difference
if so early in the morning our gaze
shall wander with nothing to seek.
Our precious security is made
of words, sweet words
—for replay recorded—
for the things which came too late
but with open arms
our heart did embrace.
The Salvation of the soul
is a very big thing:
like a Recreation Journey
with a wound that’s hidden.
A deserted seashore
oh, to lay on it
our life’s weary footstep!
Never mind if the army of kisses
—before yet growing old—
the waves would carry away…
And there, at the line’s far end,
we’ll be gifting away
our old, worn out pieces
to what was then Lilliputian
but was casting a shadow
the size of… castles.
The Salvation of the soul
is a very big thing:
like a Recreation Journey
with a wound that’s hidden.
© (1985) Lina Nikolakopoulou (poet & songwriter)
Title of the original: Η ΣΩΤΗΡΙΑ ΤΗΣ ΨΥΧΗΣ
Alkistis Protopsalti (singer)
© (2014) Translation of the poem into English: Youlika Masry