I stand at the lectern and gently smooth the pages of the open book. Not because the pages are wrinkled, but because I adore the words printed there. God’s word is precious because in it I have found light in the darkness. When I read God’s word, I sit down to a banquet. When my spirit is starved for sustenance I am fed with poetry that reminds me of the beauty of our world and wisdom to direct my way forward. But most of all, I am told how much God loves me.
Mass will begin in thirty minutes, and it’s my turn to be the lector reading assigned passages from the Old and New Testament. Although I have practiced this week’s Mass reading at home, I arrive early so I can practice again in the mostly empty church.
There are others here, too. Barb, our Sacristan, is preparing the altar. Deacon Chuck is checking notes, Elizabeth, our pianist, and Steve, one of our Cantors, preparing our song worship. Father Joe is in the confessional hearing confessions before Mass. So many dedicated volunteers (and staff) bring church together each week.
But my favorite role is being a Lector with the honor of sharing God’s word with our parish. I read slowly in a manner I hope will express what God wants us to receive that day. I do this because I know God reaches us through the Bible. A familiar verse that had no resonance on any other day, will suddenly speak directly to a need we have been praying about fervently.
In Spiritual Direction, Henri Nouwen writes, “Through regular spiritual practice, we develop an inner ear that allows to recognize the Living Word in the written word, speaking directly to our most intimate needs and aspirations. In the spiritual reading of scripture, we focus on God and on God’s words. We seek a word and then concentrate on that word in prayer. It is in the listening to particular word in the scripture that God suddenly becomes present to heal and save.”
We will meet God in his holy word if we read slowly, contemplatively, and then listen into the silence. Reading a Bible passage out loud, two or three times, has brought surprising truths to light more often than when I read silently. I learned this method when I began using a Lectio Divina (sacred reading) journal. This journal follows a lectionary calendar which takes usu through the Bible in three years. Each day we read a brief passage from a different part of the Bible: Monday Old Testament, Tuesday New Testament, Wednesday Psalm, Thursday Gospel, Friday Proverbs. Each day’s reading takes no more than 5-10 minutes.
More times than I can count I have opened the Bible and found a verse or passage that comforted my uncertainty: “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.” (Rom. 15:13)
Courage when I was afraid: [God said], “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor. 12:9)
Consolation when I felt overwhelmed: “Come to me, all of you who labor and are burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28)
Direction when I was lost: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding, in all your way acknowledge Him and He will direct your path.” (Proverbs 3:5-6)
Encouragement when others doubted my ability: “The fear of human opinion disables; trusting in God protects you from that” (Proverbs 29:25)
But most of all, God lets me know how deeply I am loved and his word helps me see myself as God sees me: “He who began a good work in me will be faithful to complete it.” (Phil. 1:6) and “Nothing can ever separate me from the love of God in Christ Jesus.” (Rom 8:38-39)
The most compelling reason I’ve found for approaching the Bible in a more contemplative manner is discovering the real presence of God, the Living Word, within the word of God. Henri Nouwen explains it perfectly:
“What I am trying to say is that God has written us a love letter in the scripture, the written word. The written word points to the Living Word, which is God incarnate in the person of Jesus. In both the Living Word and the written word, God continues to speak-personally and in a quiet voice.” (Spiritual Direction, p. 101)
This wisdom, encouragement and love is available to all in just minutes each day. In comparison, think of the time we have spent reading self-help books. I’ve consumed my share. Which is why I feel confident promising that the most reliable self-help you will ever encounter is within the pages of the Bible.
Post Script: As I mentioned earlier, it takes many volunteers to prepare church each week. One of the best ways to live your faith is to volunteer at your church. They need you!