Even though I've been there two or three times a week with kids or grandkids every summer for 25 years, I never get tired of Storybook Land. A meandering stream, well-tended garden paths, and (yes) even a castle: It's always easy to feel the magic. But as I walked the Yellow Brick Road last week for (probably) the 50th time this summer, Storybook Land seemed to me somehow more beautiful than ever before. It was almost like I was seeing it with new eyes. And then it dawned on me: I was.
More than a dozen years ago, I decided to get a new pair of glasses: new prescription, nice frames. But the new glasses gave me problems. I didn't like the way they pulled on my eyes, and I really didn't like the horrible headache they gave me. So, into the top dresser drawer went the new glasses, and I went back to wearing my old pair. A couple of years later: same thing. I got new glasses, didn't like the way they pulled on my eyes or the headache they gave me. Into my dresser drawer they went, and I was back to my old pair. In the end, I had five pairs of pretty much unused glasses in my dresser.
But as the new school year started, the scratches and the old prescription finally were impossible to deal with. I bit the bullet and started wearing new glasses, headache or no. And, as almost anyone who wears glasses can tell you, one of the first things you notice when you first get your glasses is that you can see the leaves on the trees: No wonder Storybook Land looked more beautiful than ever!
Another happy day
Today is the happiest day on the Jewish calendar, the last day of Sukhot, the Feast of Tabernacles, and the beginning of Simchat Torah, the Rejoicing over the Law. It's hard not to love Sukhot, a religious celebration whose most important commandment is (essentially) to go camping. But there's an equally great (if more subtle) joy in Simchat Torah.
The roots of Simchat Torah go back to the time of Ezra and Nehemiah and the return of the Jews from Babylonian captivity. In their attempts to get the restored nation off on the right foot, the Jewish teachers assembled the people together and read aloud and explained the law. The initial popular response: weeping. But Ezra and Nehemiah insisted that weeping was the reverse of what God wanted. Eat, drink, share with the poor. Be joyful, because the joy of the Lord is your strength. The people responded with joy and mirth: At last, they had understood the law.
Whether it means attending church or synagogue or just reading on your own, starting a Bible study habit is like getting a new pair of glasses. Likely enough, there will be a headache or two — and it's tempting to give up. But, little by little, our spiritual eyes adjust, and we end up seeing ourselves and the world around us a lot more clearly — and with a lot more joy in our lives.
Art Marmorstein, Aberdeen, is a professor of history at Northern State University. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views are his and do not represent NSU.