Bibliomancy is not encouraged in the Catholic Church as it is in fact a subtle form of divination; fortune telling which is definitely discouraged throughout the bible. However when I was a fresh young convert, believing in a number of well-known heresies and invincibly ignorant of the true faith I succumbed to a spot of bibliomancy now and again. And on one occasion bibliomancy was to have the most profound and lasting effect on my life.
I was upset and confused that my long-cherished posting to Nepal had fallen through. Voluntary Services Overseas (VSO) had forgotten to tell me for six agonising weeks and I was now in a state of shock wondering what my future would look like. I was attending some final technical training at Loughborough, my old university, in preparation for my first posting overseas. And now, I was compelled to consider a number of far less appealing alternatives. One of my compatriots on the course had told us of a posting she had just rejected and I quickly realised this was exactly the same job as the one VSO were now offering to me! A posting to a remote corner of the Sudan, a place I knew very little about excepting the adventures of Lord Kitchener, the Earl of Khartoum and Broome in the late 1890’s. I should have taken this as a sign in itself, since I was formally a ‘Kitchener Scholar’; one of a number of students from a military family who had applied for this £300 a year stipend. (Not a great sum of money but I had some interesting experiences attending certain whacky functions organised by the association – but that is another story!)
So I turned in my desperation to bibliomancy and my finger came to rest randomly on Zephaniah, Chapter 3; Verse 10 to 13;
“From beyond the rivers of Cush my worshipers, my scattered people, will bring me offerings.
On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters.
Never again will you be haughty on my holy hill.
But I will leave within you the meek and humble.
The remnant of Israel will trust in the name of the Lord.
They will do no wrong; they will tell no lies.
A deceitful tongue will not be found in their mouths.
They will eat and lie down and no one will make them afraid.”
And so my fate was sealed. Nothing could have been more starkly revealed. ‘Cush’ of course was the land to the south of Egypt, including both modern day Sudan and Ethiopia.
The map I subsequently purchased and hung on my bedsit wall excited and intrigued me. Fascinating new names, vast open spaces, desert terrain, and two great rivers meeting in Khartoum surrounded by lots of brown! I picked up a wife from that place lodged in the confluence of those two great rivers; the Blue Nile and the White Nile. Lord Kitchener would have been proud of me and for our first date I took Jill to the tomb of the ‘Mad Mahdi’ better known to his ‘Ansar’ cult as Muhammad Ahmad, the self-proclaimed redeemer of the Islamic world. For a second date I took Jill to the crumbling museum containing the artefacts of Muhammad Ahmad’s erstwhile opponent General Charles ‘Chinese’ Gordon. One sure way to capture the heart of a woman! Well it worked for me!
After being evacuated ourselves from the Sudan – we made it Gordon never did - during the first Gulf War Jill and I spent some time in Bangladesh, got married and finally returned to ‘a land of whirring wings along the rivers of Cush…to a people tall and smooth skinned’ [Isaiah Ch. 18]. Ethiopia was our happy home for more than 20 years and there we acquired two little ones, Joshua Melaku and Hannah Mariam.
I never imagined what would finally transpire. What a perfect epitaph and joyful conclusion to the circle of life. My daughter worked hard and St Edward the Confessor’s Anglican Church in York made it financially possible for Hannah to read Business and International Management in the very same place, Loughborough University, where I once opened my bible and stuck my finger into the book of Zephaniah.
Sing, Daughter Zion; shout aloud, Israel!
Be glad and rejoice with all your heart, Daughter Jerusalem!