Praying with the Bible

There are many ways the Bible can help us in prayer, and using it is a long tradition in the Catholic Church. Praying the 150 Psalms of the Old Testament is still done in monasteries and by priests. This is not always easy for a beginner, but a few favourite psalms are worth noting. Many psalms help put us in a mood for praise – notice the Great Hallel (Halleluia) Pss 144-150. Psalm 23 (22 in some Bible numberings) is a classic: ‘The Lord is my Shepherd…’ Other favourite selections are good to keep at hand; some people like to put markers in the Bible or even ‘highlight’ passages that inspire, comfort or challenge.

Using the bible for meditative prayer (Latin name ‘Lectio Divina’) is an ancient practice. The early church Father, St John Chrysostem: ‘It’s wrong to think that the reading of scripture is for monks only, when you need it more than they do. Those who are placed in the world and who receive its wounds everyday have the most need of medicine.’

The texts used as Mass readings are one place to start. Or you may decide to read through a book, like one of the Gospels, each time taking a self-contained selection, like a parable. Or you may read for a while, until one particular idea makes a strong appeal.

There are a number of descriptions of the process in books and on the web: here are a few that may help you begin.

Thomas Keating:

Lectio Divina is Reading or more exactly, listening to the book we believe to be divinely inspired. In this way we hear the word of God in the scriptures. It is the most ancient method of developing friendship with Christ by using scripture texts as topics of conversation with him.

The four stages, moments or movements in Lectio Divina are otherwise known as the four R’s

Reading
Reflecting
Responding
Resting or Contemplation

Read
Choose a text of the Scriptures
Place yourself in a comfortable position
Turn to the text and read it slowly

Reflect
Take a word or phrase into yourself. Memorise it, repeat it allow it to interact with your inner concerns. Do not be afraid of distractions. Ponder the words and be invited into a dialogue with God.

Respond
Speak to God. Use your own words to pray – prayer of the heart.

Rest
Finally simply rest in God’s embrace

From Abbot Christopher Jamison on the basic process:

Look at the text as a gift, not a problem to be dissected. Ask God to speak to you through the text. Let the text question you, show you something about yourself as well as God. Go slowly, with repetition, using the ‘right brain’ (the wholistic, creative part of our mind rather than the logical, wordy ‘left brain’). Allow it to evolve into meditation, then contemplation. Take a phrase from it into the day.

Summary: Pray first. Expect text to speak to you. Read slowly with repetition. Keep some phrase in mind to carry on after you finish.

Mary Crowley:

Mary Crowley teaches a method that starts with a Gospel passage, and the Gospels with the words and life of Jesus are the core of the Bible for Christians.

‘Spend a little time opening yourselves to Jesus. First read through the passage slowly, breaking it into sections. Try to hear Jesus saying the words. If it helps, imagine yourself in the scene – but remember you know more than the disciples did at that time – you live in the light of later knowledge and experience.

‘Perhaps there is a particular word of phrase that echoes with you, that you like, that you find beautiful – think on that.

‘And then – be still, just try to open yourself, trust, wait, listen. Maybe you will feel that nothing happens, that’s no problem. Just try to develop a stillness.’

I think the last point is important: we probably all have days when prayer feels beautiful and enlightening, and other days of what has been called ‘dryness’, when nothing seems to happen, when we have no feelings or just countless distractions. This does not matter, the point is that you made some time for God, and God can ‘work in mysterious ways.’

After a good day, you may like writing down some of your reflections to remember them and come back to later.

This type of meditative reading also works well in a group that is willing to spend time in silence together. Someone may read the passage aloud, or all just read silently, then quietly reflect on it. Mary Crowley says after the time of silence, ‘If you feel like it, share how the experience worked for you, or what insights struck you.’ A time may be set to pause, or it may just naturally come to end, when one person is ready to speak.

St Jerome – Prayer before reading the Bible

Lord, you have given to us your Word to shine on our path: grant that we may so meditate on that Word and follow its teaching that we may find it in the light that shows more and more until the perfect day.

Joan Griffith

Reflecting on the Sunday readings

For several years now, Joan Griffith, a parishioner, has been writing reflections or commentaries on the Sunday scripture readings. Originally written for the candidates on the parish RCIA course, Joan was happy to make these available to the whole parish via the website even though it meant having to produce a piece every week instead of just for the duration of the RCIA programme!

Joan’s writings are based on her scripture studies in the USA and refer to the works of authoritative scholars. These give readers a greater depth of understanding of the background, historical and scriptural context of the selected scriptures and so extend the value of the Sunday homily. Joan has also written guides to assist in reading each of the 4 gospels.

The currently-published reflections including a fuller introduction to her work and background can be found here and here.