Just shut up and listen.

I’ve been reading a wonderful book I picked up at Clear Creek Monastery in Oklahoma called ‘Praying the Bible – An Introduction to Lectio Divina‘ by Mariano Magrassi. Its a wonderful book in which I hope to learn more about ‘praying’ the Bible instead of ‘reading’ the Bible. Its been wonderfully informative thus far.

This morning I spent some time reading the chapter on Concrete Dispositions in which Magrassi talks about preparation for Lectio Divina. One of the dispositions on which he focusses is ‘Dialogue’ about which he explains that the reading of scripture is a dialogue between two people – God and the reader.

When I read, he speaks to me. When I pray, I respond to him. (p. 78)

What struck me, however, was the reminder that God speaks to us first.

The whole Bible stresses the primary of the divine initiative. Augustine says that we would have not sought God if God had not first sought us. It was not Israel who chose God, but God who chose Israel. Speaking of love, John observes that it was God who first loved us. The same must be said of that primordial reality, the Word. God is not only someone who listens to me. Before that, he is someone who speaks to me. The Word is the act by which he takes the initiative: he seeks me, enters my life, takes hold of it and molds it through the power of his love. It is, in a way, the central point of God’s intervention in human life. Our history becomes sacred the moment he intervenes in it.

As I read this, I felt a pang of personal ‘guilt’ as I realized that I have stopped listening to God recently. Its not that I haven’t been ‘praying’ per se, but my prayers have not been a dialogue with God. Over the past several years I had been very good at listening to God and maintaining that dialogue, but more recently – I’ve been doing all the talking.

It struck me that I’ve become somewhat stunted in my spiritual growth in the same way a child or young person can become stunted in their own maturity. As children grow and learn more about themselves and the world around them, they come to a point where they believe that they know what is best for them and that the things that we – as parents – have to say are very ‘nice’ but not entirely necessary. They are kind suggestions, but they need not be taken to heart or given serious consideration as the child believes that they know what is best for them based on their own experiences. It hit me right between the eyes – I have become that child of late.

Its not so much that I don’t follow the 10 Commandments or respect and fully love my faith. I know that the 10 Commandments were not called ‘commandments’ and not ‘suggestions’ for a reason. My spirituality, however, has shallowed somewhat in the sense that I have been going through the motions but without any real or deep intentions. I have continued to believe and practice – but the practicing has been lacking at best and fairly non-existent at the worst.

Does that make me a fraud for trying to write a blog about being a Catholic convert? No – quite the opposite. It makes me a human being on a real and true faith journey in which one will not always be fully immersed in their beliefs to the fullest extent possible. I need to be fully honest about where I am on my faith journey at any given moment in time and know that I am not alone in these experiences.

Thankfully, however, God had us spend a couple of nights along our vacation journey at Clear Creek Monastery and had me stumble upon this wonderful book so that he could give me the good whack up the side of the head that I needed. The whole book has been wonderful reading and has me very excited to return to my Bible with an eager and open heart and prayerful mind, but this chapter in particular has helped me to stop and consider where I most need to modify my behavior.

Too often, God is seen only as an object of faith. All I have then is a set of truths to memorize, rather like dry grammar. I cannot enter into communion with the living God. No, he is first of all the subject of the relationship. God ones to meet me and addresses me through the free and sovereign initiative of God’s love. Then for me, as for Abraham, God has a face and a voice. God called me by name and speaks God’s Word to me. And I fall on my knees before God like Thomas, with a cry of faith, “My Lord and my God.”

With regard to prayer in particular:

… the two participants are the soul and God; the initiative must belong to God. What he says must matter most. We could even say it is the ONLY thing that matters. Thus prayer is first of all listening – listening to someone who speaks in Scripture.

Magrassi explains that prayer that does not begin with the Bible is inconceivable. Here is what I had been missing entirely – I had stepped away from my Bible. This hasn’t been an intentional act, but one that had simply ‘happened’ through the basic acts of ‘life’. Fr. Larry Richards is known for saying

No Bible, no breakfast. No Bible, no bed.

I had always thought that this was a nice discipline, but didn’t understand – until now – the considerable importance summed up into that simple statement. I had thought it something one should ‘do’ to be a good and faithful servant, but had no real understanding as to ‘why’. As I read the chapter in ‘Praying the Bible’, I realized that prayer and the Bible go hand in hand which led me to understand why I had felt a spiritual void. My morning prayers in the Magnificat had been put by the wayside recently meaning that I have had no daily connection with Scripture. I am abundantly aware that this has to change.

Scripture is a letter. Unlike a book, a letter always bears a personal message.

In my own life, I had put aside the importance of reading the personal letters that God wishes for me to experience as part of my faith journey – not just read, but fully experience.

On a larger scale, however, I was also struck by the idea that we, as a society, have stopped listening and have become stunted in our growth. We have decided that we would prefer to life perpetually in a state of childhood whereby we insist that we know best and need not consider that there is a power greater than ourselves that set out to love us first, as our parents love us, and guide us to a greater joy and happiness than we could know if left to make our own decisions without experience or wisdom. One only has to glance at the world around us to realize that we have made a conscious decision to stop listening.

Thankfully, however, I had an opportunity to stop, shut up and have listen to God by reading the book he placed before me and recognize its intention for me as a gentle nudge back onto the path in which he knows will lead me to a more peaceful and meaningful existence. It may not always be ‘easier’, but it will be the one that God intends.

Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.

… and don’t hesitate to remind me to shut up and just listen.

Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come – finally!

For the past three years I have been leading a series of Great Adventure Bible Studies at St. John Neumann Catholic Church. It has been a wonderful journey along a path of deepening faith. There are three foundational studies – The Bible Timeline, Matthew: The King and His Kingdom, and Acts: The Spread of the Kingdom. You can read more about the studies here. I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment spent reading and learning more about the Bible and how it pertains to my faith. I should preface my writing by noting that I am NOT a paid employee of Ascension Press or Great Adventure Bible Studies. I am simply a woman on a journey who found a key to unlocking the doors of understanding in these wonderful studies!

I have, however, been very keen on one study in particular – Revelation: The Kingdom Yet to Come. Learning more about this little known book at the end of the Bible has been something of which I have been curious about for some time now. I really wanted to be committed and dedicated to the idea of completing the foundational studies before taking on Revelation in order that I had the necessary background upon which to learn.

I am so very excited to have FINALLY started the Revelation study just yesterday! It is always so exciting to receive the new materials for each study and Revelation didn’t disappoint. The study guide includes a wonderful introduction outlining the *way* in which we will study Revelation as well as an overview of the relevance of numbers, colors and symbols in the Book of Revelation. This is exactly what I’ve been waiting to learn! I know there is much much more to the Book of Revelation, but we have already seen so many references to significant numbers in the studies thus far – though have been limited in our ability to go deeper into their meanings as there has been so many other significant and important things to focus on in our studies. Having the opportunity to reflect on these in great detail will be truly fascinating.

While far from an expert on scripture, I have managed to learn in the past three short years that when reading scripture it is important to read it in its ‘literal sense’, but also in its ‘spiritual sense’. When considering the ‘spiritual sense’, we can break this into three categories. The first is the allegorical sense – or how it relates to Christ. The second is the moral sense – or how it relates to me and how I live my life. Finally, the third is the anagogical sense or how it relates to ‘things beyond this world’. EWTN provides a great article regarding how all scripture is inspired by God.

While providing a great overview of the history of the Book of Revelation, Jeff Cavins also provided a great outline of  the different ways in which the Book of Revelation has been interpreted by various Biblical scholars. He spoke of how there have been interpretations that followed the seven stages of Church history and have mapped out historical events. He also outlined the approach that looked at the past and how it related to events that took place in the first century. He then noted the interpretation that notes that Revelation is an outline of the last days of mankind. Finally, he spoke of the ‘Idealist’ view which doesn’t reflect on past or future events and focuses on an allegorical interpretation concerned with ideas and principles and timeless truths.

What struck me most was the idea of the Book of Revelation as an ‘unveiling’ of both the Lamb (Jesus) and the Bride (the Church and us). The first eleven chapters will cover the unveiling of Jesus and chapters 12 – 22 will unveil the Bride.

I cannot wait until next week and to start reading this wonderful scripture! The women in our study are also very excited and almost all of them have completed at least one other Great Adventure study and have noted how the studies have become ‘addictive’. We are all excited about this next step in our journey.

For those of us who 'struggle' with Genesis

We were in our Bible study recently and were discussing some of the challenges of being lay people discussing and learning about theology. The biggest one, for me at least, is the idea of creation and the Book of Genesis. The challenge comes, for my simple little mind, when trying to determine where the dinosaurs fit in and how, if Adam and Eve only bore two sons, we ended up with an entire population. Taking these ideas and rolling in the concept of evolution (not in the sense that we were formed on the back of crystals and evolved from there) and intelligent design.

The challenge is to learn *how* to read the Bible. After three years of Bible studies – I’m still learning SO much about the *how*.

I stumbled across this piece recently which is a wonderful piece on reading the Book of Genesis. If you are searching and trying to understand, this is a great piece to read.

The Genesis Problem: Fr. Robert Barron