Reading the Scriptures: Practical Ideas

This blog continues the series dealing with the Bible and scriptural issues.  It began with the 1st blog:  Reading the Bible Means Opening a Treasury.  The immediately preceding blog is Preparing Oneself to Hear God’s Word in Scriptures.

In this blog we will consider some practical thoughts about the quantity of Scripture that one might read at any one time or on any given day.  That we read the Holy Scriptures on a frequent and regular basis in a disciplined way is assumed by the spiritual teachers of the Church.  But reading Scriptures is not mostly about  the quantity which we read at a given time, but more how we allow them to affect our daily lives.

 “When we read the Holy Scriptures, the proper method is not to have it in our minds to read, page after page, but rather to reflect over each word.  When some words make us go deeply into ourselves or stir us to repentance, or fill our heart with spiritual joy and love, let us pause with them.  The stirring they give us means that God draws near us, so that we may receive Him humbly with an open heart—for He Himself wishes us to partake of Him.  … One of the great obstacles to preserving inner peace is binding ourselves by some unchangeable law – a set and undeviating rule—to read, say, so many psalms, so many chapters from the Gospels, and so many chapters from the Epistles.  After we have set such rules for ourselves, we sometimes get in a hurry to complete the readings, forgetting to concern ourselves with whether our heart is touched by them or not—or whether spiritual thoughts and contemplations arise in our mind.  Then, if we fail to finish the reading, we become agitated and worried – not because we were deprived of the spiritual fruit of reading… but simply because we didn’t get everything read.  On this subject, Saint Isaac the Syrian writes:  ‘If you wish to obtain joy from reading texts and understand the words of the Spirit, brush aside the quantity and number of verses, so that your mind can be absorbed in studying the words of the Spirit, until, filled with wonder at the divine dispensation, your soul is aroused to a lofty understanding of them and is thus moved to praise of God to or to sorrow that benefits the soul.  Slavish work brings no peace of mind.”   (Jack Sparks, VICTORY IN THE UNSEEN WARFARE, pp 106-107)

“St. Isaac the Syrian advises us not burden ourselves with a great number of psalms to be read and thus to be slaves to the rule.  For there is no peace in slavish reading. … Every day you should read a chapter of the Gospel and a chapter of the Epistles.”      “The Holy Fathers advise us to read the Holy Gospel every day.  If you have very little leisure, read one lesson anyway.  Read not just for the sake of getting it read, but pray inwardly to the Lord to open the eyes of your heart to understand the power of Christ’s good news; read attentively, as if you were spelling it out.  Your will learn from experience the spiritual power  that comes from such reading…”   (Father John, CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST, p 106, 118)

There is a famous story in the desert fathers of the man who wanted to become a monk, and the elder tells him that first he must memorize the Psalms.  So the elder teaches the man Psalm 1 and instructs him, “When you can live according to this Psalm, come back and I will teach you the next Psalm.”   Years go by, the man never returns and the elder assumes he lost interest in being a monk.  Then one day the elder sees the man and asks him why he abandoned his goal of becoming a monk.  The man replies, “I never gave up that goal.  But you told me that when I can live by the Psalm to come back to learn the next Psalm.  Psalm 1 begins, “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…”   I am still trying to learn how to live by this verse so that I can live by the Psalm and come back to learn the next Psalm.   The elder marvels at the man’s dedication to God.

We can read the Bible personally, following our own discipline.  We also are taught to read Scripture from the Sunday lectionary during the week so that when we show up for the Sunday Liturgy we have throughout the week already made ourselves familiar with the Gospel to be proclaimed.   This helps us to hear the Gospel with and in God’s community.

 “Let each one of you, on some day of the week, even on the Sabbath itself, take in  his hands the selection of the Gospels that is going to be read to you  [at our next meeting].  Read it frequently as you sit at home in the time intervening, and often ponder with care the thoughts stored up in it and examine them well.  Note what is clear and what obscure, and which thoughts seem to be contradictory, though they really are not.  And when you have finally sampled all of it, thus prepared come to the sermon. … And because of this preparation you will become keener and more discerning, not only in hearing and learning yourselves, but also in teaching others.”  (DAILING READINGS FORM THE WRITINGS OF ST. JOHN CHRYSOSTOM, p 64)

 Next:  Further Reflections on Reading Scripture