How should we study the Bible, anyway?

I‘ve studied the Bible for 35 years for lots of reasons:  information and knowledge, to figure out a crisis I’m going through and to help me defend the faith.  But without doubt the best thing I try and do daily (if possible) is to study for the purpose of encountering the living God.

Bible reading has it’s deepest effect on me we I approach the text with humility, reverence and expectation.  Scripture has changed my mind and molded my heart, especially when I haven’t tried to control the process or been so concerned about the time.

I follow my own style of the church’s ancient way of reading called Lectio divina (LEK-tsee-oh dih-VEEN-ah).  It’s best translated “sacred reading.”  It’s a way of approaching the Bible where I, you might say, try to listen deeply.  St. Benedict in the 16th century described this way of hearing “with the ear of our heart.”

There are five basic movements:

1.  Read the text and ask: “What does the text say and what does it mean?”  Here I merely read the text and then just write down in my journal what I think it means.

2. Next the reader asks, “What does the text say to me and mean to me?”  There could be some overlap from point 1, but there might also be some new revelation that God wants to give you here.

3. “Now what am I going to say in response to God?” If God truly is speaking to you, what are you going to do about what God just said to you about the text you read?  Say “yes” to him?  Say “no” to him?  Ignore it altogether?  Try and control the process?
4. Here’s where we continue thinking about what God is saying, but we don’t have to think or reason, listen or speak.  We have read the Word and thought about it, and perhaps even wrote in our journal what it is we think God is saying.  But at this point we just sort of let the Word of God read us.  We relax and not worry too much about what we’re getting from the Word.  Sometimes I set my watch at this point and try and do this for 2 minutes.  I sit in my chair with my hands turned upward, breathing softly and thinking about what I have read from the Word, but not really doing anything other than trying to bask in God’s presence.  2 minutes is longer than you think.  This time is like lovers holding each other in wordless silence or a sleeping child resting in the arms of her mother.  This is where God’s grace truly is at work, and the Holy Spirit is changing us without our direct knowledge or understanding.

5. As the time of reading and praying comes to an end, we ask, “So, how am I going to live today as a result of this sacred reading?”

[Next time I’ll tell you more about my simplified version of Lectio Divina.]

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