When I was twenty years old I embarked on the journey of faith in earnest. As with most things in life, spirituality was something that I caught more than I was actually taught. What I caught was quite typical of modern American Christianity—a mixed bag of great and not so great theology and practices. Though some practices, such as reaching out to the poor and gathering for worship with other believers, were very beneficial, other practices concerning reading the Bible were much of the time unfulfilling and sometimes even detrimental to my spiritual growth.
There are two techniques to reading the Bible that I caught (as if by osmosis) in those early days. The first was the read-as-much-of–the-Bible-as-you-can approach. The underlying philosophy of this approach is that the power of the word is in direct proportion to the quantity of one’s intake. This approach is very tempting to the new Christian who sincerely wants to get on with becoming a good Christ-follower as quickly as possible. So every year for my first several years of being a Christian I would make the type of resolutions that people make about diet and exercise as they step into the new year, except my resolution would be to read more Bible. So my attempt would usually include some type of One Year Bible or reading regiment that would get me through the whole thing in one year. I would usually make it until the end of January or mid- February when the occasional missed daily readings would start to stack up on me. This combined with the daily readings in the daunting books of Exodus and Leviticus would finally find me dropping the one-year program all together. And like a dieter who has made a go at a new diet only to fail, I carried a sense of shame at how lousy of a disciple I was.
This made me a prime candidate for another kind of Bible reading—the ask-God-to-show-you-something-and-open-your-Bible method (otherwise known as Bible Roulette). This method was a spiritual crap-shot. Sometimes it worked wonderfully such as those times when I would open the Bible and read some profound word about loving others or dealing with anger but other times the results were a little confusing. For instance, there was the time when as a single college student I really wanted a girlfriend. So I prayed my little prayer for God to show me something (specifically something pertaining to getting a girlfriend) and then I opened my Bible. The pages fell open to the book of Isaiah chapter 55. Then my eyes landed on verse 12 “You shall go out with Joy…”—and what do you know, I actually knew a girl named Joy. So of course I interpreted this to mean that God wanted me to ask her out. It didn’t occur to me to question why my dating life would make it into the Holy Scriptures (pretty narcissistic of me I must admit). Well, you can see how this approach can get one in trouble.
So bit by bit I grew weary in my approaches to the scripture until I finally gave up on reading it all together. And this is exactly what needed to happen. For so much of my early years of being a Christian the Bible was something I needed to read to make God happy, or something like health food that I knew I must include in my spiritual diet (“to prevent truth decay!” as the church marquees frequently remind us) or even some kind of superstitious formula to get the things I wanted in life whether they be a girlfriend or money or position.
So I stopped reading the Bible…and started listening to it.
I stopped reading the scriptures and started praying the scriptures.
I stopped trying to get through as many chapters as I could and slowed down to savor the words of life.
I stopped treating it like an owner’s manual or recipe book or even book of magic to use for my own gain and instead have begun to find my story in its greater story.
I stopped looking at it as some kind of spiritual obligation and more as a sacred privilege.
I stopped looking at it as a sword to fight others and more as God’s scalpel to do heart surgery on me.
I’ve stopped trying to dissect every chapter into manageable bits that I can understand and have instead welcomed its mystery.
Sure, I have relapses more often than I wish, but for the most part, I am finding a richer path and a bigger story.
I have to admit that I read less Bible now than at many other times in my Christian journey and yet I am more nourished and sustained by it than ever before. I am finding that the words of Jesus truly are life to me. This doesn’t mean that I never study the scriptures anymore but rather than seeing the Bible as something to check off my to-do list, I may find one simple verse and chew on it all day or all week, letting it effect me at the deepest places and change the way I live. At other times the scriptures simply come alive in conversations with friends where we walk away knowing that we have just encountered God.
Pray As You Go
I will close this blog with something practical to help those frustrated with Bible Roulette as well as the trying to read-as-much-Bible-as-you-can method, or for those who have faithfully read the scriptures for years but yearn for a fresh way of reconnecting with them. Recently I stumbled across a great resource for meditating on scripture called Pray As You Go, a podcast produced by English Jesuits. The Pray As You Go podcasts are ten to fifteen minutes in length and typically have a song at the beginning to prepare one’s heart to receive from God and then a reading from the scriptures followed by some reflective questions. You can find the podcast on Itunes or at http://www.pray-as-you-go.org/
The podcasts are for Monday through Friday each week and can be downloaded at the beginning of the week so you don’t have to sync your ipod every day to get them. This week there are additional readings to go with the daily prayer readings that look at the way of Ignatius (a primer for St. Ignatian spirituality).