Hidden in a courtyard in the winding, cobbled streets of Jaffa*, near Tel Aviv, is a hanging orange tree. Seen through a nearby arch it looks surreal, as though it’s trying to break out of the giant suspended pottery egg that holds it.
Some miracle of engineering must keep it fed and watered, or someone tends it carefully. Can it be the same tree that was first planted there, more than 20 years ago? Perhaps one day small roots will push their way through cracks in the pot, or reach out over the sides and seek fresh soil.
I’ve seen many potted trees before, and never gave them a second thought. But this one, hanging in the air, begs for freedom. It is too dependent on others for its life and isn’t in a place where it can reproduce.
How many of us are like that potted orange tree? Planted in a parish somewhere, fed by weekly “waterings” at mass but root-bound, seldom seeking deeper growth through prayer or personal Bible reading or study of our faith. How many of us soak up second-hand wisdom and insights from others, depend on their prayers, but don’t go the next step to plunge our own roots into the soil of the Word and let it make us vibrant, fruitful, food for others?
I find that it’s harder to find food on my own. It takes effort and discipline and above all time, which is so hard to dedicate to something that might seem “extra.” But reading the Bible myself–even a little bit daily, incorporated into my prayer–feeds my soul in a way that no homily or teaching ever did. Why? Because the word of God is living and active. It is planted in my heart when I receive it and ponder it and let it lead me into prayer. It takes root and adds its life to mine, giving me strength and encouragement and guidance and reproof when I need it.
I love what Psalm 1 says about the practical impact of daily meditation on Scripture (by “the law of the Lord,” the Psalmist is referring to the Torah – the first five books of the Bible):
Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers.
The wicked are not so, but are like chaff which the wind drives away.
Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment, nor sinners in the congregation of the righteous;
for the Lord knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the wicked will perish.
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If you would like to start reading the Bible on your own–or if you’d like to begin the prayerful reading of Scripture using lectio divina–but aren’t sure how to go about it, these posts might help:
*Jaffa is the modern name for the ancient port city of Joppa, in Israel. Jonah went there to flee from the Lord’s call, and St. Peter was there, in the home of one Simon the Tanner, when he received his vision that the gospel was to go to the Gentiles.