“Listen… with the ear of your heart.”
-Rule of St. Benedict
I was just able to give a talk to a group of Confirmation volunteers and peer leaders on just how important it is that we all read the Bible. And in getting ready for it, I found myself really questioning what it was all about, with all the crazy stories and very different translations. But with all the reading up I did, especially books like Scott Hahn’s latest, Consuming the Word, and a beautiful writing of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, called Verbum Domini (“Word of the Lord”), it kept coming up that the Bible is not just a book. So my question about Scripture became not so much What is the bible? but Why the bible? For in asking Why the bible? Why is it important? What does it mean for us personally? we might just see that it’s so much more than a dead book, a text book for confirmation class, a script for mass. It’s a conversation God has had with the people He has loved into being, with us, who He has loved into being.
You see, the Bible is the word of God made flesh. Yeah, that’s right, kind of like Jesus (well, a lot like Him actually). And what do we believe about the Eucharist? That Jesus, the Word made flesh has given his whole self, his body and blood to us in the almost embarrassingly simple form of bread and wine. I mean, it’s almost too obvious, because He’s telling us every Sunday: “Consume me and you will be fed.”
So it’s pretty much the same with the Bible, if we stop and think about it. If the Bible is the Word of God, and if the Word of the Lord, as we call it at mass every Sunday, is spoken in words we understand, words we can also misunderstand (after all, how often do we misunderstand something when talking with even our closest friends, who we can see!), God has yet again given himself to us in a way that’s almost embarrassingly simple. He speaks to us in our own language in the written word because he wants to have a conversation, and he doesn’t want it to be one sided.
Ever think of the Bible that way before? How about the readings at Mass? God’s speaking to us as plainly as He can, we just need to learn how to listen! Since God has put his Word into human words, we’ve been able to know his Word and reflect on his Word and share it with others. Since the people of Old Testament Israel started putting the Law and the Prophets into writing, and even before then, they’ve been letting it be written on their hearts. The Church calls this lectio divina, or sacred reading.
It’s more than just reading the Bible like a text book. It’s entering into a dialogue with God, because he doesn’t want to just talk at us. God wants us to join in: to listen, to ask him to speak to us, and then to tell God what we want, what we desire, what we love, where we’re struggling. You can do it by yourself in five or ten minutes a day, or you can do it in groups. The only wrong way to do it is to not read the Bible at all!
I’m really no expert at this, but I’ve been learning, and I just want to share some of what has really touched me. And so can be a few easy steps to this, and the first and last are always to pray to God. First to ask him to reveal himself in the way you need to hear His voice today. And finally, in thanksgiving for whatever you’ve received from the Lord during your time of prayer. After prayer for God to reveal himself, we begin by simply reading a passage one time through. It can be anything really, but it’s really helpful to do this with, say, the Gospel reading for the coming Sunday. This time, be careful to listen for any word or phrase that catches your attention. It could be anything, just remember what sticks with you. And so we read through, slowly and deliberately.
As we read through a second time, listen carefully for that word or phrase that stuck out the first time. Ask God to show you why it hit you the way it did. This is when we focus on what that word or phrase tells us about ourselves. It’s ok if something else catches our attention, that’s the beauty of scripture, it’s so deep. But here, we’re focusing on ourselves. What do these words tells us about ourselves? What do we desire? What are we afraid of? What are we challenged by? What are we comforted by? What are we called to?
We’re going to read through this same passage one more time. And while we’ve picked out a word or a phrase, and we’ve seen what it tells us about ourselves, all prayer is meant to tell us more about God, and how he wants to reach out to us. So keep listening for that word and phrase. Let it color the way you hear the whole passage. And ask God to reveal to you not only what it tells you about yourself, but what it tells you about Him. How does it reveal his love? His mercy? Our relationship with him and how great it is or how hard it is? Trust God that he will reveal himself to you. That is why he wants to meet us in this way.
And so now we close in prayer, knowing that maybe we’ve been challenged, maybe we’ve been comforted, maybe we’ve heard nothing at all. All the same, we thank God for his Word, knowing that He is so much bigger than any words we can say about him, but that doesn’t matter to Him. He comes to meet us where we are at, struggles and joys and all that comes with just who we are at this moment.