Tag Archives: Bible

Take and Read

The sheer activity of reading scripture … is itself an act of faith, hope, and love, an act of humility and patience. It is a way of saying that we need to hear a fresh word, a word of grace, perhaps even a word of judgment as well as healing, warning as well as welcome.  To open the Bible is to open a window toward Jerusalem, as Daniel did, no matter where our exile may have taken us.         ~ After You Believe, N.T. Wright

A temptation in the contemplative life is to step away from our theological and Biblical underpinnings and become self absorbed in one’s own experience of God. Prayer, meditation, and contemplation are important practices, but without turning and returning to the Word of God in scripture we may lose our bearings. The witness of those who came before us, which we find recorded in the narratives, histories, wisdom literature, and poetry of the Bible forms us in the mystery of the human experience of the Holy One.

Yes, the Bible is sexist, racist, contradictory, bound by historical events, political realities, tribal animosities, tedious, nonsensical, and  a host of other limitations imp0sed by the motley crew of human beings, who have put their hands on it. The Bible also has the hands of the Holy One on it. It is  shot through with the sublime and transcendent Holy Spirit, who has chosen to associate with our species  (only God knows  why) and expose itself to all our messes, as it calls us and holds us accountable to a Being  greater than we ourselves.

Reading the Bible is like opening up a dusty old trunk in the attic full of family records, dim photos, grade cards, farm records, yellowed newspaper clippings, diaries,  bills of sale, and baby booties. Why did they save this? What was so important about this clipping that someone put it away so carefully? Oh, look, there is great great grandpa by the old homestead. Hey, listen to this entry. It’s about great uncle Harry’s trial for stealing horses, “They led the disheveled man in chains into the courtroom…”

In scripture we learn about our roots, who God is and who God calls us to be. We come to know the nature of God, the limitations and weakness of the creation and what it means to be in right relationship with God, with ourselves and with one another. Scripture is a privileged place of meeting the Holy One and a powerful means of spiritual growth.

The discipline of daily Bible reading and reflection holds our feet to the fire. We are unable to squirm away from confronting difficult texts, hard sayings, and truths we may not want to hear. Being moored to scripture keeps us from floating off into philosophical abstraction and metaphysical flights of fancy, by anchoring us to the specific ground of God’s revelation in time and space in particular communities and individuals. Likewise reading scripture encourages us to pay attention to God’s revelation in the concrete messy details of our own lives.

Here is a resource for daily Bible Study I highly recommend.

Disciplines – A Book of Daily Devotions 2013.  Find light for your daily walk with God through The Upper Room Disciplines. In this best-selling devotional book, 53 writers from diverse Christian backgrounds and locales help you explore the Bible’s message for your life. 

New in 2013: Each week opens with a Scripture Overview, followed by four questions or suggestions for reflection for personal or small-group use. Widely available online and at your local bookstore in Kindle and paperback, Disciplines 2013 makes a thoughtful gift for Sunday school teachers, pastors, or anyone who wants to mine the rich treasures of scripture.  

I am honored to again be invited to contribute a week of reflections on the readings from the Revised Common Lectionary. But don’t buy the book just to read my thoughts. You will discover fifty three other writers, waiting to guide you into the transforming encounter with the Word of God. ~ Loretta F. Ross Take and Read
Here is a little story about the power of reading the Bible.

I  was . . . .weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighboring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take and read; take and read.” 

Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon.

For I had heard of Antony, that, accidentally coming in whilst the gospel was being read, he received the admonition as if what was read were addressed to him, “Go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come and follow me.” And by such oracle was he forthwith converted unto Thee.

So quickly I returned to the place where . . . . I had put down the volume of the apostles, when I rose thence. I grasped, opened, and in silence read that paragraph on which my eyes first fell, — “Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying; but put ye on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof.”

No further would I read, nor did I need; for instantly, as the sentence ended, — by a light, as it were, of security infused into my heart, — all the gloom of doubt vanished away.      ~ St. Augustine, Confessions

Stepping Back from the Glib Café

I have been dining at the glib café too frequently.    I have been listening to too many bitter, angry, paper-hearted ones, locked in their own glare. I am turning from the table of TV dinners of MSNBC, CNN, and POX News – that alphabet soup of garish headlines,  cynicism, blame, and eternally breaking bad news.

Instead, I am taking in the words of scripture. Poet and scholar, David Rosenberg  exposes anew the dive of imposters, held captive in their own minds. His translation of  Psalm 1 feeds me with the truth of the word of the infinite.

Psalm 1

Happy the one
stepping lightly over
the hearts of men

and out of the way
of mind-locked reality
the masks of sincerity

he steps from his place at the glib café
to find himself in the word
of the infinite

embracing it
in his mind
with his heart

parting his lips for it
day into night

transported like a tree
to a riverbank
sweet with fruit in time

his heart unselfish
whatever he does

while bitter men turn dry
blowing in the wind like yesterday’s paper

unable to stand in the gathering

they fall
faded masks
in love’s spotlight

burning hearts of paper
locked in their own glare

but my Lord opens
his loving one
to breathe embracing air

David Rosenberg, A Poet’s Bible

Oh won’t you meet me there for dinner in that living word
and embracing air?

Shall we together part our lips lightly for this feast?

Yielding to Grace

Maybe you have taken on a very difficult and demanding task. Maybe you have been engaged in a burst of creative activity. Or perhaps, you have been involved in the long, slow, steady, outpouring of yourself for family, friends, or your job.

You may have noticed the signs: an anxious, sleepless night here or there; drinking too much caffeine or alcohol; not enough time to get to the grocery store; a sudden attraction to playing solitaire, and a rush of those Please-Lord-give-me-the-strength-to-do-this prayers.

In my case I was following my own devices again, rushing ahead of the Spirit, plowing my own path. Finally I was stopped by a sharp, shard of sorrow in my heart, a sense of restless unease, and the accompanying guilt and self-recrimination about my lack of motivation. I did not miss God’s irony that this should assail me over the Labor Day holiday.

After thirty years of devoting myself to prayer, I am amazed at how hard it still is to expose myself to the direct presence of Christ. I really think I would be the one in the back of the crowd, wanting desperately to push through to touch his robe, but fearful and cautious, and resigned to making the best of things on my own.

Many of us find it easy to read about faith and prayer. Books on these topics are best sellers. Countless people read the Bible. Most of us do not have much trouble telling God what we need. We may even write out a list of our needs and longings and hand it to the person in front of us, asking, “Would you pass this on up to Jesus, for me?”

What I hadn’t done was the simple, radical exposure of myself and my need to God. What I hadn’t done for several weeks was a sustained, still, silent offering of my being to the being of God. This is what I believe truly heals and redeems: contact with Holiness, that mysterious communion and co-mingling of my spirit with the Spirit, a dance of love beyond my understanding or control.

I know why I avoid it and why I, suppose, that I have to write about it. The reason is that this communion may hurt at first. The exposure of a raw, chaffed heart to the burning brightness of Grace can be excruciating. (Yes, that is the word for it: ex- crucifix, from the cross.) It may be the last thing we want to do. So we often just tell God about it, then get up and go on fretting, and look about for something to do, anything other than just sitting there in that fear and pain.

Now think for a moment. If you were sick, would you not pay attention to your symptoms, maybe check them out on the internet, and go to a physician and describe what you are feeling? And then, would you get up from your chair and go home, before the doctor had a chance to ask questions, to examine you, run tests, and prescribe your treatment?

Surely you would you wait for the examination. You would answer questions. You would you lie down on the table, bare your chest to the stethoscope, your arm to the blood pressure cuff, and take whatever tests the doctor advised. You would take your medicine and follow a treatment plan.

I had been making drive-by visits to God, where I would drop off my laundry or tell God what I need for today. I was sipping those devotions for busy people, spouting sound bite prayers on the run. I was not coming before God and disrobing. I was not holding still for God to search my heart and probe my mind.  I would not wait for his grace to move into me, to absorb the pain, to refresh and heal me. Further, it was all about me. I was all about me. I had nary a thought of what God might desire or need from me.

We fool ourselves if we think a quick shot of God, a pithy quote, or Bible verse alone will do it. God desires a relationship with us, not a power lunch, and depth relationships require leisure, attention, vulnerability, and mutuality.

Part of us really does desire this. However, another part of us is just not that interested. I hear about this internal conflict over and over in my practice of spiritual direction. People are sincere and have good intentions. Yet nearly everyone I know finds him or herself facing obstacles to a sustained presence to God.

Try it. Find a quiet place where you will not be interrupted. Set a timer. Twenty minutes is good. Ten minutes will do. Even five minutes can hold a miracle. Breathe a while. Just be there and allow yourself to be open to Christ, the patient physician, who has been waiting for you for an eternity. Now right off, you may notice all sorts of responses in yourself: a sudden urge to get up and tend to some task; some buried pain rising up, burning and stinging like really bad heart burn. You will take little sorties into the past and into future. You will write fiction, little novellas, about your life. You will discover some hurt or slight or worry to gnaw on.

Just stay there. Hold still. You are getting a CT scan. Don’t move. This time is for God’s examination of you. What you think and how you feel about this isn’t all that important. The physician is at work. Trust that. You may feel panic or anger or despair. You may feel deep peace and joy. Whatever you feel, just stay there opening yourself to the one who loves and cares for you beyond your wildest dreams.

When the timer rings, give thanks as honestly as you can. Then do the same thing the next day and the day after and the day after. Don’t look for “results,” just be obedient in allowing the doctor to heal you. Thomas Keating calls this form of centering prayer “divine therapy.” You, of course, may also read the Bible, pray in other ways that you are drawn to, do acts of love and service, and whatever else that seems right for you.

Sometimes this prayer is like detox, a weaning from some addiction, and we go through the painful withdrawal of whatever we may have been substituting for God in our lives. Other times this prayer is like the surrendered offering of Mary to the angel, Let it be to me according to thy word.

Always such yielded prayer is an act of faith in the mystery of God’s love and purposeful activity in the human heart and soul.

Hold your eyes on God and leave the doing to him.
That is all the doing you need to worry about.  St. Jeanne de Chantal

Have Thine Own Way – Organ Improvisation

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