A great professor I had in college spoke to our class one day about something he called, “praying the Bible.” He explained that this can be seen as a form of lectio divina, but it is truly in its own category.
The mission and motive of this prayer is to read a Gospel passage, or any Bible passage, slowly and intently which will place the reader in direct and divine contact with God. Praying a passage is different than reading it, the priest claimed. After combing through the reading two or three times, one should focus on a word or phrase that has been jumping out at him or her. Then, slowly repeat those words over and over again, what the saints have called, “chewing the word.” This places us in the position to ponder the word like Mary (Luke 2:19) and consume the word.
In order to place ourselves in the position to be receptive to how God is speaking, the priest who taught that course stressed several instructions. One must remember how clearly is the fact that all God does, his very life, is an attempt to get close to us. However, that priest never outlined specific directives regarding this process. That was the role of the one doing the praying. Below is a chronological approach to bring us to the place of intense focus on God’s presence which has been woven throughout the lives of the Bible and the saints.
Setting the Stage
First, it is helpful to close your eyes and begin to think intensely about who we are, how we got here, and where we came from. Once you finish “praying” (slow and intentional reading) the passage, you may begin at the beginning (Genesis). We can trace back our family heritage in countless ways, and we can study different theories of evolution until we are blue in the face, but there is no getting around one fact about reality: something cannot come from nothing. Someone must have placed us, and all the other living things here, on earth.
From the beginning of time God has destined to create and be near to his creatures, to you and me. Most importantly, this exercise should force us to face the beautiful fact that, like everything else in the world, we did not have to be here; we did not have to be given life and breath, but we did. Because Someone chose us and loves us into existence.
God in the Old and New Testaments
Next, it is very helpful to call to mind all of the ways the prophets foretold the birth and coming of Christ. Israel was waiting and waiting for their Messiah and king to come and save them, to set them free. At Christmas we celebrate God breaking through the barrier between Creator and creature in the most powerful and literal manner. Here we are reminded that not only does God place us in this world and give us life, but he also becomes one of us. He will forever have an intimate link with humanity. God takes flesh and walks the earth with other human beings; he was actually here among us. At one point, one moment in history he was born and entered the same condition we are in and prayed just like we are at this moment.
When Jesus encountered people in need he transformed their lives in unexplainable ways. There was no explanation for someone who was lame for over thirty-eight years suddenly having the capacity to walk (John 5:5), simply on the word of a man who was the son of a carpenter from a poor town in Galilee. There was no explanation for how a man (Lazarus) could be dead and buried for four days and at the command of a traveling preacher, he was brought back to life (John 11:43-44). There is one undeniable fact about who Christ was: he entered people’s lives and completely turned things upside down, for the better. Jesus came, lived, taught, and worked miracles that could not be explained away. He was there with them and he changed everything in the process. During prayer, he desires to do the same for us.
God did create, then he sent his son, Jesus worked awesome miracles, and then, on the night before he died, he offered his life for us with his words at the Last Supper:
“This is my body, this my blood … ”Matthew 26:26-28; Mark 14:22-23; Luke 22:19-20
He was saying, ‘I am going to give everything up for you.’ He would die and leave them, but Christ will never abandon us because the Eucharist will be his true Presence among us. As he is talking about leaving this world and the apostles, Jesus is—at the same time—stating that he is not going anywhere.
Waiting for the Eucharist
Finishing the meditation on the Eucharist makes sense because praying the Bible is most life-altering when we do so in front of the Blessed Sacrament. This way we remember that the Bible is made up of God’s words to us, and that he is with us when he speaks to us. So we start listening when we place ourselves directly before him, open our eyes and realize that he is about to start a conversation with us. Because he is always the one who gets things started: he creates, then he is born among us, then he searches for people to heal, offers his life, and continues to come to us each day at the Mass.
While we wait to be reunited with the Presence of Christ in the Blessed Sacrament, we can prepare for that tremendous meeting through truly encountering him in the Bible. Pray the Bible and see him look at you, reflect (ponder) and receive him, like never before.
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Thomas Griffin teaches apologetics in the Religion Department at a Catholic high school and lives on Long Island with his wife. He has a master’s degree in theology from St. Joseph’s Seminary and College along with a bachelor’s degree in theology and philosophy from Molloy College. Thomas has written for several online Catholic blogs. Follow his (and his twin brother’s) article posts and videos @CalledTwin.