How many times does this happen: we sit in prayer, we sit in silence, we read a theological or devotional book, we pick up our Bible…. and then set it down. Well, why would we need to pray with that? We’'ll hear the readings at mass the next day, we could recite the psalms, the Gospels, the Old Testament stories, and the letters of Paul front to back. So why read scripture in prayer if we already know what we will find?
I know I am guilty of this so much in my prayer, and I know a lot of people are as well. We think that we have exhausted scripture, and that we can gain so much more from something else. But what could be more fulfilling than the very word of God? Of course, we still should leave room for quiet and contemplative prayer, and of course we should always seek to learn from other sources, but we should never, ever think that we can ignore the words of scripture.
In reading scripture, we are actually able to encounter the very person of Jesus Christ. In every word, there is a deep and unique meaning that can lead to a deeper encounter with the Lord. We often read through a whole chapter as if it were a regular book, and we fail to stop and contemplate each and every word and use it as a chance to bring ourselves into greater unity with Christ and to live the life of mission.
Read scripture until it is exhausted
A friend of mine once told me that we have to “read a scripture passage until it is exhausted”. The irony that she meant by this saying is that you can never exhaust even a single word of the Bible. 2 Timothy 3:16 says that every single word is inspired by God. In an encounter with the word of God, we discover Saint Augustine’s “beauty ancient, beauty so new”, in that what has been around for thousands of years can always lead to new discovery and a new depth in our union with God.
“All scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness” (2 Timothy 3:16)
How to read and pray with scripture
So where do we get started praying with scripture and allowing it to lead us to greater intimacy with Christ? Here are three key ideas that can help lead you to praying with scripture well.
- Interpretation: When reading scripture, it is very important to read everything in the context of the other and the context which it was written in. To read the Bible, it must be interpreted in terms of the historical context and what the words are literally saying, how it can instruct us to living the moral life, how different themes or “types” fulfill each other (typically pointing to Christ) in the Old and New Testaments, and how everything points to heavenly reality. (For more information on the four senses of scripture interpretation, see Catechism of the Catholic Church 115-119). If all four of these are not present, it is easy for scripture to be misunderstood.
- Context: It is extremely difficult to pray with and understand one single verse of scripture without the context of the surrounding verses and the chapter as a whole. Simply reading one verse can often lead to a misunderstanding and discontinuity of scripture. Scripture can only be understood in light of the other.
- Lectio Divina: A great way to pray with scripture is through “Lectio Divina” in which you pray for the Holy Spirit to inspire your reading, read a passage carefully, discern what parts pull at your heart, and then decide how the Lord is calling you to act and respond through your reading.
Scripture is Jesus Christ
As Jesus Christ is, scripture is the Word of God, so it follows that an encounter with scripture is thus an encounter with Christ. As Saint Jerome said “ignorance of scripture is ignorance of Christ”, so let us not allow ourselves to become ignorant of Christ, and instead allow His word to speak into our lives and lead to a greater encounter with Him.