Sometimes I think my cell phone is possessed. Little burps and chirps and whistles come from it at the oddest times, for no apparent reason. There’s no new text, no new email. Someone is trying to reach me, I think. But who? If only I was better at figuring out technology.
The Bible is like a cell phone, in that regard. It’s a way God communicates with us. Sometimes bits of messages enter our consciousness: part of a reading at Mass, maybe. Or a verse on a billboard. They hit our minds like those clicks and chirps from my phone, then disappear . . . unless we know how to access the message.
God wants to speak to you in his Word. Do you want to hear him, but don’t know how?
1. Learn the Story
I frequently hear from people who have tried to read the Bible but gave up because it didn’t make sense, or it felt dry. It didn’t speak to them. There are lots of possible reasons for this, but one common problem is they read pieces without knowing the context. For example, St. Paul writes in I Corinthians “not to put the Lord to the test, as some did and were destroyed by serpents” (10:9).
Okay, and that applies to me how? Unless I know about the journey the children of Israel made through the desert and the ways they rejected God’s provision and failed to trust him, I won’t fully get Paul’s instruction. Even though the Bible’s more like a library than a single book, there’s one story that runs through the whole thing and ties it together. If you don’t know the main outlines of that story and the key people and events within it, it’s well worth the time it takes to find that out.
+ + + + + + +
+ + + + + + +
2. Read it like a Letter
Knowing something about those people and events will do more than give you understanding. They will help the Word come alive. Ultimately, they are people and stories from your family tree.
Think of the difference it makes to reading a box of old letters, when you know the people in them. When I read your grandparent’s letters, I might learn a lot about a family. But when I read the letters I found in my mother’s attic, I don’t read about a family. I hear from them. The stories grab me somewhere inside because I know them and they’re mine in a way that others aren’t.
The more familiar you are with the Bible, the more these stories will stick with you and become part of you and – yes – speak to you in a new way.
3. Listen for God’s Voice
Another common reason we don’t always hear God’s voice is that we’re not paying attention.
Whether you know the story or not, one of the best methods I know is the age-old, tried-and-true practice of lectio divina—“the divine reading.” In lectio divina, we prayerfully read a passage of Scripture; we ponder it in our hearts; we respond to the Lord; and we rest in his love.
Studying Scripture helps us learn about God and get to know him. In contrast, lectio divina draws us close where we can hear his voice and talk with him. As Pope Paul VI wrote, “in the sacred books, the Father who is in heaven meets His children with great love and speaks with them” (Dei Verbum, 21).
4. Make it Part of Your Life
That is why it is so important to make the prayerful reading of Scripture a regular part of our lives. It draws us into intimate communion with the Lord, into a place where he can talk personally to us. And by doing that, it bridges the gap between what we know and what we do. How? By planting God’s word inside us in such a way that it can grow and transform our lives.
As St. John Chrysostom said, “The Holy Scriptures were not given to us that we should enclose them in books, but that we should engrave them upon our hearts.” In Matthew 13, Jesus tells a parable in which he compares the Word sown in our hearts to seeds scattered along a path. It’s the seed that falls on good soil that’s pressed in and allowed to take root, that grows and bears fruit.
When you begin praying with Scripture using lectio divina, the ears of your heart will open to hear God’s still, small voice. You’ll be more receptive to what you hear, and that Word will start to penetrate your heart. It will become implanted like a seed and start to grow, transforming you from the inside out with the life of God. And if you nourish it, that seed will grow and bear fruit in the world. You yourself will become a kind of sacrament of the Word, an incarnation of love.
+ + + + + + +
+ + + + + + +
5. Learn from Mary’s example
Mary listened; even though the words troubled her, she considered what they might mean. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son.”
“How shall this be?”
“The Holy Spirit will come upon you … the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.”
She heard what must have seemed an impossible word – and received it. She gave herself to God, to write in her what he willed. “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.”
And the Word become flesh through her, and dwelt among us.
Even after Jesus’s birth, Mary must have often wondered about this Word that had been born to her. Again and again, we read of her response: “Mary kept all these things, pondering them in her heart.” She listened. She allowed God to plant his word in her. She pondered, she responded. She gave birth to the Word; and in the end she became the mother of all the Church.
That is our pattern with lectio divina: listen to the word, receive the word, ponder the word. Respond to the word, abide in the word. And if you do so, you—like Mary—will bear the Word to the world.
© 2018 Sarah Christmyer.