A few weeks after I started this church-going experiment, I woke up in the middle of the night and grabbed the new “smartphone” off the bedside table. Since my husband had given it to me as a birthday present, I’d been carrying the phone everywhere, toying with it constantly. I was awed by its capacity. It seemed like a magic window onto the world, equipped with hundreds of possible applications (or “apps”) to aid in various aspects of life such as strengthening my memory with brain-challenging puzzles or encouraging exercise by counting all my steps.
Sometimes, when I can’t sleep, I like to explore what it can do.
In this particular instance, it was about 4 am and I was awake enough to have grabbed the phone off the bedside table, but dream images were fresh in my mind. I was staring into it when a note popped up: DOWNLOAD YOUR BIBLE APP!
I hadn’t touched anything to prompt this message; I didn’t know a Bible app existed.
It promised to be “easier and more powerful” with “performance enhancements” and “faster help.” I had this bleary moment where I thought my smartphone was actually a portal through which to interface with God. Through it, I could receive instant divine assistance. I had miraculously received this message, hadn’t I? It’s just the sort of immediate personal connection for which each new incarnation of Christianity seems to strive.
Then the fog lifted and I hit the download button. What did I have to lose? It was free.
This app has the full texts of about 20 translations of the Bible—and that’s just the English versions. It’s also got the Bible in every language imaginable, including Arabic and something called Malagasy, which Wikipedia explains is the national language of Madagascar. The best part is the “word search” feature. You go to the translation you want and type in a word or a phrase and it scans the entire Bible and then presents a list of every section where this word or phrase appears. The actual text is highlighted for quick reference.
It starts innocently enough: I pick an English translation at random and type in the words “mustard seed.” I’d first heard reference to the mustard seed at my week-long stay at the monastery. In a gospel reading, Jesus is explaining what the kingdom of heaven is like and he says, “…it is like a mustard seed that has been planted and develops into a bush.” He’s not talking about the seed alone, which contains all the information the plant will ever need; he’s talking about the realization of the seed’s dormant potential with the proper care and nourishment. I find it such a simple and powerful idea. I think he’s saying that the kingdom of heaven is life—the actual process of living and growing. My app tells me that Jesus uses this analogy six times throughout the gospels.
Then things take a darker turn: I search for the word “hell.”