You’ve heard the old saying – you can take a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink! Well, it’s the same with us and the Word: you can hear Scripture read at mass, and go to Bible studies, and even read the Bible every day — but if you just let it wash over you instead of plunging your roots in deeply and drinking from it, it’s not going to do you much good.
I once thanked a priest for his homily. It was rich with meaning and heartfelt, tied all the readings together and made them relevant. It really spoke to me. I said that I appreciated the care he took preparing it, and that I knew how long that must have taken. He looked at me a minute, then said “it’s not so much that it takes a long time. But I find that the years of day-in, day-out reading and meditating on Scripture and listening to what God says there prepares me for what I need to say.”
That reminds me of the blessed man in Psalm 1: the one who is like a tree planted by the stream, flourishing in spite of drought. How can he do this? Because his “roots” are in the “water”: literally, “his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night.”
Meditation is almost a lost art today. The best way I know to meditate on Scripture is to use lectio divina, the ancient practice of “divine reading.” It involves four simple steps that you can remember easily because they all begin with “R”: Read, Reflect, Respond, and Rest.
Pray before you begin, and ask for help if you’re distracted. Ask God to help you hear him.
Step 1: READ
Choose a small passage of Scripture. Read it slowly three-five times or more. Let it sink in.
Notice details, gather the facts. Look for the Who, what, when, and where.
Step 2. REFLECT
Turn from thinking and observing to meditation. In Hebrew, that means “chewing” on the Word of God, getting out every last bit of flavor.
How do you do it? Think. Ponder. Ask questions about the details you noted in the last step. You’ve been asking who, what, when, where. Now ask, Why? What does it mean?
Step 3. RESPOND
As you continue to read, ask God to speak to you. The seed is sending out roots to drink. Listen to Him and respond.
There’s no one way to do this. The Bible gives examples: Mary pondering things in her heart. Abraham arguing with God. Jacob wrestling with him. The father of the son possessed by demons: “Lord I believe; help my unbelief!” What is in your heart? Talk to God. Stay with Him and expect an answer. As you pray, listen. And RESOLVE to act on what you hear.
The point of this step is to set up two-way communication, to bring your life in contact with the Word so the Word can change you.
Finally, Step 4: REST in God’s presence and love.
Sometimes this is called “contemplation.” It is less something you do than it is the result of what you have been doing. Your mind is lifted to God, and you experience His presence with joy and peace.
Practice praying with Scripture on a regular basis, and soon you’ll move without thinking from reading and reflecting to responding and rest. And you shall be like a tree planted by streams of water, that yields its fruit in its season (Psa 1). Keep your roots down in that stream and you won’t fear when the heat comes. Your leaves will remain green; you won’t be anxious in the year of drought; you will not cease to bear fruit (Jer 17).
Writing your reflections and resolves in a journal can help you keep to a reading plan and see your progress. Download a free template here: Planting the Word in Your Heart (lectio divina).
May the Lord bless you as you spend time in his Word!
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This is part of a 4-part series that includes: