Last week I discussed the tools and blueprint for reading the Bible. We explored the importance of selecting a good time of day to read, a Catholic Bible and a good Bible commentary. Then we discussed the need to pray before reading the Bible, how it’s helpful to have a plan as you read, and how important it is to know the background of the particular book in the Bible that you’re reading. Finally, in this third and final post in this series, let’s discuss four pieces of wisdom you should remember while reading the Bible and beyond.
1. Less is more. Don’t just open up the Gospel and read until you get tired or ‘for fifteen minutes’ because that’s what you committed to doing. Most Bibles break down the chapters into subchapters. If you began in the Gospel of Mark, for instance, you shouldn’t just start in verse 1 and continue through verse 45 (the end of the chapter). Instead, take verses 1-8 and spend 15 minutes meditating on them. Take just verses 9-11 and ruminate (chew) through them. That first chapter (the 45 verses) should be broken down into about 10 different studies alone. Studying the Scriptures is not like driving across country … it’s not about how much distance you cover in a set amount of time. Enjoy the time, roll down the windows and take everything in.
2. Periods are there for a reason. The periods at the end of each sentence are almost as much a gift as the words that precede them. Each little ‘dot’ is an invitation to take a breath and reflect on what you just read and prayed. At each period, take a moment to envision the story that’s unfolding. If you are reading about the Baptism of Jesus (Mk. 1:9-11), don’t just say ‘Hey cool, Jesus is getting baptized.’ Go deeper. At each period, put yourself more deeply into the story … at His baptism, where are you? Are you on the shore, on the mountain overlooking the scene or in the water right next to Christ? Is it hot out? Does the water smell bad? Is it noisy or peaceful? Let the story come alive.
3. Journal. As you are writing and verses confuse you or questions arise, write them down in a journal. Don’t allow yourself to get hung up on ‘tough verses.’ Scribble down the verse number with a question mark and keep moving. Later on you can search the footnotes, other books, this website or just ask someone knowledgeable in the Bible for more help. The journal isn’t just for questions, though. You should also use it to write out reflections that the verses stir within you. Write down images God gives you in your imagination. Record key verses that stand out to you spiritually. God will reveal a great deal about yourself to you when you let Him.
4. Put the Book down. Don’t become a bookworm, who never takes their eyes off of the page. The Bible is the Living Word (Jn. 1:1-5, Heb. 4:12). It lives and breathes well beyond the page that contains it. Share what you learn. Write out passages and post them up in your room, locker or office. Email verses to people. Put them on the fridge. Just like the Eucharist, the Word should be taken, blessed, broken (down), and shared. The greatest gift you can give someone is to live a life that mirrors the Gospels … reflecting God in all you do. The second greatest gift is to invite others to peer into that mirror.
Okay, so that’s a substantial start. Get the tools, pull together your blueprints, and start building your love for God’s Word. There are several ways to begin reading Scripture … these are just what I’ve found over the years to be the best, most realistic steps to begin and keep reading it daily.
And don’t just think that you have to ‘study’ every time you open the Bible. It’s great if you set aside 30-45 minutes every day to begin studying, but that doesn’t mean you can’t flip the pages in other books like the Psalms, Proverbs, Sirach, Wisdom, Ecclesiastes, or in St. Paul’s letters … you’ll be blessed by all of them.
I also strongly recommend the Book of James in the New Testament. Romans is a gorgeous and extraordinarily well-written book but is sometimes a little ‘too deep’ for the biblical beginner. While Romans teaches us how to get to Heaven, James teaches us how to live on earth (with people who might annoy you and try your patience). It’s great.
All I can tell you from my own experience is that the Word of God has changed my life. It has deepened my experience of the Eucharist, both at Mass and in Adoration. It has deepened my love for our Mother Mary and my gratitude for intercessory prayer and the communion of saints. It has deepened my love for the Church, the Papacy, and basic human dignity. It has fueled a fire within me for truth, the need to proclaim it, defend it, and uphold it – especially in this morally relative culture. I pray it will do the same for you.
Photograph via Wikimedia Commons