[This religion column appeared in section B-3 of the Sunday Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette (2/17/2013). Currently, the paper does not include their local columnists pieces on their website. With their permission, here it is.]
Don Follis February 17, 2013 column: “Reading the Bible can lead to some major remodeling”
One day when I was a student at Kansas State University a friend invited me to join a Bible study with a bunch of guys in his dorm room. An early assignment was to read the New Testament book of Hebrews from start to finish in one sitting. I had never heard of the book of Hebrews and really had never read the Bible.
Early one morning I went to the K-State student union and started reading the book of Hebrews, all 13 chapters. To my surprise, I liked it. It was exhilarating. I lost track of time. I finished Hebrews and then read through James, the next book. Within a week I had read the entire New Testament cover to cover.
I had just purchased a new Bible with wide margins and started making notes in the margins. Then a few years later (1985) I started making notes in a journal from my Bible reading, a habit that continues. 1985 was also when I discovered the ancient practice of Bible reading called Lectio Divina. The Latin words are best translated “sacred reading.”
Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps: read, meditate, pray and contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read. Then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation.
Over the years I’ve come up with my own version of Lectio Divina and found that reading the Bible does not have to be so daunting, as I once thought. First, I decide on a reading plan. There are hundreds of plans, all the way from reading through the Bible in one year (to do this this you really have to march) to reading as little as one verse a day.
With my current plan, I read through one of the Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John) a few times a year, along with something from the Psalms, Proverbs or other books from the Old and New Testament. Whatever your plan, you can always tweak it. I do. My reading plan serves me. I don’t serve it.
These days I read the Bible from Biblegateway.com on my laptop. I like it because I can add several different parallel readings on the screen at the same time. Mostly I read from the New International Version, which I cut my teeth on as a young man.
After I’ve read the passage (usually twice), I simply jot down in my journal what I think the passage means. Under the heading – “What does this mean?” – I merely write whatever comes to my mind about what I’ve just read. It is a stream of consciousness. Sometimes it is one thought. Sometimes it is 5 or 6 and covers a page or two in my journal. I never exactly know.
In doing this, I am not trying to gain new information and knowledge or figure out how to defend the faith or work through a faith crisis. Nothing like that, usually. It is much simpler and more basic. I am trying to encounter God and welcome Him into my day.
Thus, I try and approach this exercise with humility, reverence and expectation. I don’t try and control the outcome. I just try to listen deeply. St. Benedict described this as hearing “with the ear of our heart.”
Next I write this heading: “But what is God saying to ME?” What I think the passage means and what God may be saying to me from the passage are sometimes very different. Sometimes they overlap. Often I sit quietly for a couple of minutes and ponder what I’ve just read. I turn my palms upward and concentrate on my breathing. This is where I try and let the Scripture read me. I’ve read from the Bible. Now I let try to let it read me. As I sit quietly, I believe God is at work changing me, even without my knowledge or understanding of exactly how. After a couple of minutes of quiet, I write down what I think God is saying to me from what I read.
This leads to the final heading in my journal: “How then will I live?” In other words, in light of all that has transpired through the reading and pondering and listening for God’s voice over, say, the last 30 minutes or so, how do I plan to live today?
What do I do next? Well, I read the morning news. Thus, I enter my day with thoughts from God’s word in one hand, and news of the world, however exhilarating or troubling, in the other hand. I embrace both, often feeling the tension, and off I go for the activities of the day.
With 36 days of Lent remaining, want to give it a try. Do it with the Gospel of Mark. It is easy to read and just 16 chapters in length. Read a half a chapter a day. You should finish around Easter. Each day write your headings in a journal and see what you get. If you miss a few days, don’t get your nose out of joint. Just pick up where you left off.
Now, be sure and buckle up before you do it each day. God’s word is sharper than a sword. If you truly give yourself to this, you might find God meddling in your life, tearing out some walls and even doing some major remodeling. He’s the potter. You are the clay. That’s part of the deal with this kind of Bible reading. Just so you know.