Radical trust and holy love: embodied encounters with Scripture
Having just read a blogpost entitled, "Read More, Write Less," I find it fitting, if a bit ironic, that I now sit to write about reading, praying and meditating on Scripture. In the article, Carole McGranahan writes about the Cuban poet Dulce Maria Loynaz, whose advice to writers serves as the title of the post. McGranahan admits that only years later did she come to understand Loynaz meant you could only write as well as what you read.
Those of us who consider ourselves people of faith, whether we consider ourselves writers or not, might take the Cuban poet's advice to heart, particularly when we read our holy, ancient Scripture texts. Scripture encompasses stories passed down from century to century, told around campfires and dinner tables, whispered in the dark and proclaimed at sunrise. The Scriptures that comprise the canon of our faith continue to teach, inspire, haunt, challenge, horrify and beckon us into lives of radical trust and holy love.
Often, good students are tempted to write about the Scripture stories, or analyze, dissect or discuss them until we can whittle them down to something we can more easily understand. However, I wonder if, during these seasons of Lent and Easter, we might suspend our need to understand the Scripture stories. Instead, we might ask ourselves how the stories feel, what they invoke and where they resonate in our bodies. I wonder if we might find ways to carry the Scripture stories with us, not as texts to prove our faith, but as guides to illumine it.
Perhaps this Lenten season we will read more and write less – or read more and speak less – or read more and analyze less – practicing what my counselor refers to as "a losing of our minds so we can come to our senses." Hence, we enter into embodied encounters of reading, praying and meditating the Scripture stories so that we might experience them anew in our minds, our bodies and our spirits. After all, if we can only write as well as what we read, then, as people of faith, it becomes essential to read, pray and meditate well and fully on the Scripture texts that enlighten our lives.
Lectio divina and sitting with Scripture
One of the more obvious ways of suspending our need to analyze and control that which we read is the ancient practice of lectio divina. Practiced for centuries, lectio divina (a holy reading) invites us into a place of holy listening as the Scripture text is read. We need not listen in order to analyze or dissect; we need only ask the Spirit to draw us to the word or phrase that calls to us, allowing the word or phrase to be our prayer throughout the day.
Similar to lectio divina is the simple practice of sitting with Scripture – or allowing the Scripture to sit with us. Sitting with Scripture is not just a one-time thing; rather, sitting with Scripture repeatedly is an important element of spiritual practice. Read the same story every morning for a week. See what it yields, teaches and inspires. Expect surprise.
We often are tempted to go to the Psalms or other Scripture stories about community, love, grace and trust. Such stories offer easier themes on which to meditate or pray. However, difficult or obscure passages often are the ones that need sitting with the most. Take Acts 5:1-11, for instance, the story of Ananias and Sapphira falling dead after lying about the price of their sale of property. Only after sitting with this story for more than a week and reading it repeatedly each day, did I realize that the lying, not God, killed Ananias and Sapphira. In fact, I was drying my hair one morning when I stopped and said to myself, "That's it. The lying. Because living a life of lies is what kills all of us." I am certain I would never have reached this understanding without returning daily to the story, reading it, breathing with it and asking it to teach me. A Scripture story I was tempted to ignore offered me truth I did not know existed.
Moving with Scripture
Another helpful way to read, pray and meditate Scripture is to move with it. Dance. Walk. Run. Stretch. Place the Scripture story on the yoga mat before class begins; read the Scripture before a dance; listen to the Scripture on a walk or a run. Moving with Scripture invites us to ask, "How does the movement change the story, song or prayer? How do I experience this story differently when I move with it?"
One of my writing companions told of a friend recalling a liturgical dance class she took in seminary. The professor encouraged students to position their bodies in ways that would capture what they wanted and needed to say to God. "It would be interesting," wrote my friend, "to pray the same Scripture for a week, and each day, see what position our bodies find as we pray it."
Studying Scripture in community
Perhaps the most important practice in which any of us can engage when approaching the Scripture stories of our faith, is reading, praying and meditating on Scripture in community. What if our churches and faith communities encouraged congregants to pray and read Scripture as detailed in the practices above over the course of a week and then hosted small groups of continued learning and sharing about each person's experience with the particular Scripture text and prayer practice? What might we learn from one another, and how might the Scripture continue to change for us as we hear other's interactions with it?
While the personal, private practice of engaging Scripture is important, hearing Scripture together keeps us rooted to our ancestors and connected to God. All of the practices named above can and do happen both in the private places of our lives and in the communal ones. If some of these practices seem absent from our faith communities, we might ask if it is time to invite a dance teacher, a yoga instructor or a Christian contemplative to lead us in new ways of reading, praying and meditating on Scripture together.
During this season of Lent, a time when we lay to rest certain practices and invite new ones into our lives, we have a beautiful opportunity to try something that might be new to us, but ancient and holy to another. We have a chance to read more and write less, suspending our need to know in our minds what makes sense, and instead, listen to our hearts, our bodies and our spirits for deeper truths that encourage us on the way to resurrection.
May our reading, praying and meditating on the holy Scriptures of our faith lead us to radical trust and holy love, and may our embodied encounters with the Scripture stories of old lead us to places we never thought we would go.
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