… an ancient method of prayer that consists of four steps. In English, it’s called “sacred reading.”
Another book was left on my desk this morning: Read. Think. Pray. Live. by Tony Jones. Never heard of him, but he’s from New Jersey, so he’s okay in my book. And before you roll your eyes, stop using Jersey Shore, Jerseylicious and The Sopranos as your indicators of what New Jersey and its natives are like. Yikes.
I was guided by a well-placed index card to the fourth chapter: Lectio, which means “reading.” This is Bible Reading 101, as basic & simple as it gets. “This is the kind of pace you should read.” “Here’s a recommended way to sit so you can focus calmly.” “Here’s what you should think about when deciding on the time of day to read.” Wow. Sometimes I just need the process spelled out for me. I like procedures, I like templates, tried & true methods. But I often find it difficult to create the method on my own. I guess I didn’t realize how far back to being a beginner I need to go to get the hang of my quiet time with my Savior. It’s so elementary, and I say that with more wonder and realization than chiding. It’s really not that hard! It just requires effort. Another sacred thorn in the side of my foolish passivity. I might get out of this desert yet.
In the midst of this chapter was a heading that leapt off the page at me: PICKING THE PASSAGE. This has been an area of tremendous struggle for me. I habitually gravitate toward the same passages, the same books I’ve read over and over. Or, I play “sword drills” and let the pages fall where they may, followed by randomly picking a passage with eyes closed and finger pointed down towards the open sheets of paper, and I find myself struggling to find any meaning within the words I just read. Usually, I’m left completely empty. Without context, without any idea why this particular passage passed beneath my gaze, unsure if God took charge over the laws of physics and forced those particular pages apart and then caused my eyes to seek those words in particular, or if it was just the luck of the draw, a random throw of the dice.
Our spiritual walk isn’t a gamble, and we shouldn’t ever treat it as such. There’s too much at stake. There’s no room for playing roulette, no room for taking wild guesses at what He (to Whom nothing is ever a surprise) is aching to show us. God is specific, there is no gray area with Him. How dare I treat His Word with such fleeting hope, with no real confidence! If He approached our future the same way, the word “hope” would disappear from our vocabulary, having never existed in the first place.
So how can I break this pattern of reading at random? Make a plan. First thought: find the right translation for me. I received a Bible several years ago that was in the New Living Translation. (If you’re concerned about it being truly accurate, check out their website for more info on how the translation was made.) I call it the “Plain English Version,” it’s a bit more conversational without being anecdotal and I’ve really taken a liking to it. I’ve also started to like The Message translation, it’s a bit more “artful” than the New Living and is actually a paraphrase version that was created to bring the words into a more modern idiom. I’ll often use it alongside another translation (usually the NLT) to gain even more clarity on a confusing passage, and I’ll also use it for a more poetic view at the scripture for songwriting. By using translations that read a bit more relevantly to me and my understanding, I find life and clarity in passages that previously would have seemed tired or confusing.
Second thought: try using a “read the Bible in 1-2-3 years” program. YouVersion.com has one, and I’m going to give their program a go. It’s a vastly different approach to just reading the Bible cover to cover, which I did a number of years ago. For one, reading the Bible cover to cover can be both boringly predictable and frighteningly daunting. Instead, going through specifically chosen passages laid out by someone who has a deep knowledge & comprehension of scripture can open up entirely new realms of understanding, even in passages you’ve read a thousand times before. In these programs, the passages to be read on any given day often tie in with each other thematically. I’m really looking forward to seeing the connections between scriptures that were penned centuries apart by so many different historical figures.
The other major theme here is finding the right environment, the ideal place to quiet myself and read, where I’m subject to little to no distraction. Even while typing this blog post, I’m tempted to open up another browser window to check out the latest technology news, or check the email that just came in even though I know I can’t address it until later in the day, etc. Like most musicians I know, I get distracted far too easily. I love reading. I love stories and history and immersive plot. The Bible has plenty of all that, but I find it hard to keep myself focused enough to absorb any of what I’m reading because of everything else going on. I need to separate myself from the world for a time, dig my heels in and just go for it.
Oh, and one more ingredient: patience. Lord only knows I don’t always have it, and He knows I dread asking for it. It’s high time I buckled down and started practicing it. Care to join me?