Friday, August 23, 2019 - Updated: 3:46 pm
The ideal way to read the Scriptures is to be informed by them and at the same time to be formed through them to live what we believe. Formative reading happens when we approach sacred texts as pilgrims on the way to faith deepening and ask ourselves the following four questions:
1. How at this moment does this passage speak to my spirit, heart, mind and will?
2. Do I feel resistance or resonance when I read it?
3. What is the source of these feelings?
4. Do I take time to dwell on the text as if the Holy Spirit were addressing it to me personally?
Slowed down, meditative reading of God’s word helps us to link Bible quotes to life questions and to act upon what God teaches us.
This kind of listening helps us to understand the mystery of our calling by the Lord and enables us to relate what we read to the details of our here-and-now situation in family life, church and society.
We read the text in a relaxed yet vigilant and prayerful way. We train ourselves to stay with any “aha experience” until it evokes resonance inside of us. Even if this response does not happen immediately, we bide our time until the smallest light turns on and the fire of love glows within.
A great deal of the reading we do requires us to master the text to gain information. Thanks be to God, this head-knowledge gives way to the heart-knowledge that allows the text to master us. Once we have a general idea of the doctrinal meaning of the biblical selection before us, we ought not to stop the flow of inspirational heart-knowledge by focusing too much on conceptual head-knowledge.
Formative Scripture reading restores the connection between our current life and the new life the Holy Spirit ordains for us. This way of reading welcomes the power of sacred words to touch and transform our inner and outer experiences.
The Spirit invites us to pay attention to the divinely guided wisdom God wants us to act upon. However busy we are, such reaching reminds us to open our hearts to the Father’s will. Certain texts, ones that may not have spoken to us for years, may strike us in a personal way, clarifying the path the Holy Spirit wants us to discern.
Essential for formative reading is the virtue of docility or the inner availability to any word the Spirit wants to use to inspire us to be more obedient. Each time we read sacred texts with dispositions of openness and respect, we behold in them hitherto undetected treasure troves of meaning.
Such reading does not depend on the discovery of something new. Its aim is to make available the wisdom that has guided grateful hearts over the ages. The shift to formative Scripture reading, interspersed with pauses for meditative reflection, is not easy to do in a fast-paced culture like our own, but it can and must be done.
We need to resist the urge to turn to the next page and instead tell ourselves: “This time read with ease. Dwell on the words. Muse about their meaning. Try not to become strained, tense or willful. Be open to sudden flashes of insight. Maintain the freedom to close the book when a thought strikes home. Stay with it while sitting quietly and reading reflectively.”
It is important not to give in to the anxious drive to cover as much material as possible. This stance of impatient pushing may be felt in the tautness in our neck, the tiredness in our eyes, the tension straining our muscles. No effort of ours can command the text to make itself clear. We must be content with what we receive at the moment, happy with being given more or less light in accordance with God’s guiding will.
The virtue of docility quiets the push and pull of too many pressures. It tempers the “get it over and done with now” mentality. It allows us to center our life on unnoticed service of God and neighbor rather than focusing only on our own accomplishments.
Now is not the time to engage in argumentative critique nor to focus on whether or not the text fits into a philosophical or theological system. Such concerns may interest us at other moments, but now they need to be postponed.
In other words, we try to strike a balance between inspiration and information. We allow our reading of God’s word to become a source of direction rather than treating the text in an aggressive, analytical manner.
In the words of St. Isidore of Seville (560-636): “Learning unsupported by grace may get into our ears; it never reaches the heart. It makes a great noise outside, but serves no inner purpose. But when God’s grace touches our innermost minds to bring understanding, his word which has been received by the ear sinks deep into the heart.”
Muto is dean and executive director of the Epiphany Academy of Formative Spirituality in Pittsburgh’s Beechview neighborhood. Visit www.epiphanyassociation.org.