A conversation about faith practices for Lent with my good friend Jason Evans.
Mike: Today I want to lay aside arguments about scholarship and talk about reading Scripture as a Spiritual practice. Christians disagree about how to read the Bible, but surely we can agree that studying Scripture is a basic important Christian practice. Whether you are engaged in erudite academic commentary or “sword drill” memorizing and looking up snippets, regularly engaging with Scripture is an important practice.
I was at the clergy retreat for the Diocese of Missouri yesterday with The Rev. Brian Taylor. Brian says that clergy people and lay ministry leaders tend to engage scripture in two ways that may not be spiritually helpful. If we are preparing to preach or teach based on a passage, we can tend to a very academic/cerebral approach to scripture. We are planning, “what can I say about this passage?” If we encounter Scripture in our daily prayers, we can be moving quickly on to the next thing, on to the Canticle in Morning Prayer or on to the next reading, not meditating and digesting.
Jason: Scripture reading is vital. I couldn’t agree more, Mike! A few years ago a survey of more than 1,000 congregations found personal Scripture reading to have an impact on the overall health of a congregation. That said, how to read the Bible is a challenge for many. What is a practice that you have found helpful in reading the Bible, Mike?
Mike: The ancient practice of “Lectio Divina” is a method for ruminating on Scripture. There is a great post by the Benedictine priest Luke Dysigner explaining, in detail, a method of Lectio. This ancient way of reading scripture has many approaches, they all ask us to do roughly the same thing: read the passage multiple times. Don’t just engage your mind. Listen to the passage; read it out loud. See the images conjured by the words. Feel the sun or the mist in the clouds. Engage the text with your body. Pay attention to the words you hear. Often this kind of engagement described as “ruminating.” To ruminate is to think something over and over again, the way a cow chews on its food over and over again. For Scripture study to be spiritual, I think we need to slow ourselves way down.
Jason: It’s also helpful to get a version that is easier to read. I would recommend The Message for ease of reading and personal reflection. I’ve started listening to the Bible read aloud using the YouVersion app on my phone. It’s been helpful for “rumination” as you said, or if I might paraphrase Eugene Peterson, letting the Bible read me more than me read the Bible.
Mike: In a Presbyterian service I once visited, they introduced the Readings from Scripture this way: “A reading from the First Letter of Paul to the Corinthians. Listen for the Word among the words.” This captured my sense of Scripture well. Scripture is inspired, not because every word was written by God, but because as a whole the Bible points us to God. Scripture relates the ways God has interacted with God’s people. Though written by people, we can catch the Word among the words. The God that inspired the writers can also inspire the readers.
Jason: Please share with us what Bible versions, techniques and tools you’ve found helpful for reading Scripture. We’d love to hear from you!