Friday, October 25, 2013

Captivated by God's Word

There is a prayer from Safro (Maronite Morning Prayer) for Thursday morning that I've been mulling over in my mind and heart for the past couple of weeks. Let me quote the complete prayer as it appears in Prayer of the Faithful.

Lord, in your goodness have compassion on sinners and bring back to your truth those who are wandering.
Draw us to yourself,
enrich our voices with your praises and our tongues with inspired songs.
Captivate us by your teachings.
Drawing from your treasure of compassion,
grant us the consolation that gives healing to body and soul.
Lord and God, to you be glory forever.

"Captivate us by your teachings..." Think about that for a moment. Let that phrase sink in good and deep. How many of us can truthfully say that we are captivated by the teachings of Christ? If you look up some synonyms for "captivate" you'll discover the following: enthrall, charm, enchant, fascinate, enrapture, delight, attract, allure. Can we apply these words to ourselves and the level of our captivation with Christ's teachings? More specifically, can we apply these words to ourselves and our reading of the Scriptures?

I bring this up because the daily reading of the Scriptures is something that was central to the spirituality of the Eastern Church Fathers and Mothers. Universally they encourage us to read the Scriptures on a daily basis. St. Seraphim of Sarov is known to have read through all four Gospels once a week. I'll admit that I have a hard time getting through just one Gospel in a week. But we are talking about the Word of God here! Just as Jesus is the Word of God incarnate, so too the Scriptures are the Word of God in the words of man. Are we captivated by the words of Scripture? Are we enthralled by the Word of God? St. Jerome says that ignorance of Scripture is ignorance of Christ! Do you delight in the pages of Scripture? Do you encounter Christ there?

I know that I personally struggle with the daily reading of the Scriptures. To me so much of it seems so far removed from our time and space that I feel as though there is no possible way I can understand the text. So I turn to commentaries if I'm having a good day. Otherwise I put down any pursuit of knowledge of the Scriptures and turn once again to that which is comfortable for me - the spiritual writings of the Fathers. But ought not the Scriptures take huge precedence over the writings of the Fathers? After all, the Bible is the inspired (Spirit-breathed) Word of God; the writings of the Fathers are not. Plus, the writings of the Fathers are so steeped in the Scriptures that one would be hard-pressed to accurately understand their teachings without a firm foundation in the Scriptures.

It seems to me that many Christians like the idea of the Scriptures and of reading them daily. But when it comes to the work of actually daily reading the Scriptures and encountering Christ there, I think we all shy away from it. I may be presuming too much here, but this has been my own personal experience. I've made excuses such as, "Oh, I hear the Scriptures every Sunday in the Liturgy," or, "I read a passage from the Scriptures every day in the Liturgy of the Hours," or, "Tradition is so steeped in the Scriptures that I can gain knowledge of them simply by being attentive at Liturgy and reading the writings of the Fathers," etc., etc., etc. All of these are excuses to avoid actually picking up a Bible and reading it. Is this being "delighted" in the Word of God? Is this being "enthralled" by what God has spoken to us? Is this being "captivated" by the teachings of Christ? Certainly not!

Perhaps there are folks out there who are afraid that they will not understand the Scriptures. I know I'm certainly afraid of that every time I pick up a Bible (and I've taken multiple university courses on the Scriptures at both the undergraduate and graduate levels). I begin reading and I just become confused. I wonder why certain passages were retained. I wonder what the significance of certain stories are. Some books I wonder why they're in there at all.

Don't be afraid of the Bible. Pick it up and start reading. If you are actively engaging the Word of God, then questions will start to form. Be attentive for answers. Just as the Scriptures are God's Word in writings, the Liturgy is the Scriptures in action. Being attentive at the Liturgy (and I mean the entire liturgical life of the Church, not just the Divine Liturgy/Mass/Qurbono) does so much to open up the Scriptures to us and reveal their meaning. Also, having a good commentary, or concordance, or Bible dictionary (or all three) can do wonders to aid our understanding. The main thing is that we need to engage the text. We need to start asking questions and seeking answers. This is our conversation with God through His Word. If we don't understand what He is saying to us, then we must as Him what He means and trust Him to reveal the answer. But we must be willing to do the work. To engage the text. To read prayerfully and, yes, even to study prayerfully.

The Fathers of the East and the West all encourage us to read the Scriptures daily. The only way you are going to gain knowledge of the Scriptures is to sit down and read them. May we be captivated by them. May we be enthralled and delighted by the Word of God. And may heaven consume us.

1 comment:

  1. Amen brother Philip! Reading God’s Word is the other – the listening half – of prayer, which is a dialogue between creature and Creator, saved and Savior. If in prayer we’re doing all the talking then our prayer is only a monologue. There are many different methods to reading God’s Word. Lectio divina, the Franciscan, and the Alexandrian methods incorporate a lot of imagination and freedom which I think the Pope would consider “private revelation.” The Alexandrian method particularly seems open to psychological – especially Jungian – ways of interpreting and applying the biblical text to one’s soul condition. But straight up study is important too. As the Protestant Calvin Miller wrote, “Mystics without study are only spiritual romantics who want relationship without effort.”