In this story from August 1965, star of stage and screen Agnes Moorehead reveals the importance of the Holy Book to her life and her career.
- Posted on Oct 3, 2014
I was asleep in my home in Beverly Hills, California, the other night when the telephone rang. It was my mother, in Wisconsin.
“Who,” she inquired, “was Moses’ mother?”
For the moment I’d forgotten the name “Jochebed” but believe me I never will again. Mother often checks up on me by phone this way, just to make sure I’m not neglecting my Bible.
She needn’t worry. I may forget a Biblical name occasionally but I’ll never forget that I need this Book every day of my life. For me, as for my parents before me, the Bible is as current as today’s newspaper.
When I was small I loved the story of the Israelites in the desert. My father was a Scottish Presbyterian minister and from the pulpit he would make very real the cloud by day, the fire by night, and the manna that God sent from heaven.
This was more than ancient history to Father; it was a description of God’s caring here and now. He firmly believed that God has a sign in His sky for us this very day, and guidance for us tonight, and manna for every need of our lives.
How I tested these passages during my own desert days in New York City! I’d gone there with the goal of every young actor: to make my way in the theater. To make my money last, I ate almost nothing: hot water for breakfast, a roll for lunch, rice for dinner.
It was hungry work, making the rounds of casting agents, mile after mile on the unyielding sidewalk, and I used to wonder fervently just how God was going to provide manna in this man-made wilderness.
At last came the day when I was literally down to my last dime. I stood in front of an automat gazing hungrily at the plates of food behind their little glass doors.
The trouble was that one of the agents had given me clear instructions, “Phone, don’t come in,” which meant that five of my 10 cents would have to go into a telephone box instead of opening one of those little doors.
With dragging feet I went into the drugstore next door and changed my worldly wealth into two nickels. I shut myself in the phone booth at the rear of the store, inserted one of the precious nickels—and then waited in growing alarm for the operator’s voice.
Half my fortune was in that phone, and nothing happened—the coin was not even returned to me! I jiggled the hook. I pounded the box, but it held tight to the coin that would have bought me a big white roll—and a pat of butter on the plate beside it.
As always when I let myself think about food, a kind of desperation seized me. I thrust two fingers into the coin return, clawing the cold metal sides of the tube. They closed on a piece of paper.
Though I didn’t know it then, I had stumbled onto a familiar racket of those days. Pay phones were built in such a way that a piece of paper inserted from the bottom would trap the money in the chute.
All I knew was that as I drew out the paper, a little river of money streamed into my lap: dimes and quarters as well as nickels. In all, when I had finished my incredulous count, I had $4.25.
I knew, of course, that the money belonged to the phone company—and I paid it back with interest as soon as I could. But I never doubted, also, that this money was manna direct from heaven. The oatmeal and rice it bought lasted until I got my first part.
Does God drop manna through phone boxes? Of course. Anyone who spends much time with the Bible recognizes humor as one of the surest signs of His presence. And the Bible-reader also comes to accept this loving involvement with the details of our lives as a fact about Almighty God.
The non-Bible-oriented mind reels before a fact like this. That the Force which flung out the universe should also stoop to feed sparrows is too much for our unaided intelligences, and so we devise descriptions of the universe other than the Biblical one, mechanical and naturalistic theories that better fit our own man-sized understanding.
These philosophies are particularly hard on young people. I can still remember what my father said when I first encountered them in college. I would come home puzzled by a lecture or a book that flatly contradicted the Bible-centered world in which I’d been raised.
Father never attacked the argument itself. He would simply ask one question: “What interest does it pay?” The thing that you believe in, he used to say, is the greatest single investment you can ever make. Before you invest, he would tell me, check on the kind of return you can expect.
Father believed in the Bible, in every word between its covers, and for him the return was joy, peace, victory, a serene and unassailable love of God and men. This didn’t mean that he understood every word of Scripture.
“When I come to something I don’t understand,” he would say, “I leave it for later. Perhaps I’ll have to leave it till this life is over. But don’t doubt it. In my hands I hold a holy thing.”
I had dramatic proof of this when I did a one-woman show recently in Israel. After the performance an official of the national museum asked me if I would care to see the Dead Sea Scrolls.
For an hour and a half I wandered through the vaults where these treasures are kept, marveling at the scholarship which assembled them. But the true marvel, the revelation which sends you to your knees, is that the “Isaiah” so recently unearthed here is the “Isaiah” in your own King James Bible.
Every actor knows how hard it is to be sure exactly what Shakespeare wrote, less than 400 years ago. Different manuscripts of his plays disagree. But in thousands of years of travel, turmoil and translation, nothing has been lost from God’s word.
My father is dead now. He died in his pulpit at the close of a Sunday sermon some years ago, and I like to think of him now sitting at the foot of the Author Himself, learning at last every secret of the Book he loved. But the love itself lives on: in Mother, in me, in the congregations he served.
The Bible is the first thing I read every morning of my life, and the last thing at night. Most mornings now I have to leave the house at 5:30 for a six o’clock call at the TV studio. This means that my Bible reading time comes at 4:45 a.m., but I would no more skip it than I would skip dressing.
Again at night, when I’ve read the next day’s script, I open the Bible. There I find rest for my weariness, strength for the job ahead, a pillar of fire to guide me through the night.
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