A Prayer of St Benedict

Grant to me, O Father,
most holy and most merciful,
wisdom to understand Thy intentions with
regard to me, a heart to share Thy feelings,
courage to seek Thee alone, and a way
of life that contributes to Thy glory.

Give me, O my God,
eyes that see only Thee,
a tongue that may speak only of Thee,
and a life devoted entirely to Thy will.

Finally, O my Savior, grant me the joy
of seeing Thee one day, face-to-face,
with all Thy saints in glory.

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Reading St. Paul

There’s a lot I don’t understand when I read the Epistles of St. Paul.  This shouldn’t surprise me, given his background.  The man was utterly brilliant, and he had what sounds like the equivalent of a doctorate in his Hebrew studies, as well.  I don’t, I can’t operate on that level.

But what I do understand grabs me and won’t let go.

I’m rereading the Pauline epistles for the first time in a number of years.  I keep going back and reading portions of Philippians and Ephesians again and again – and Romans 12. . .   so I decided it’s probably a good idea to just start with Romans and read through.  I’m keeping a journal as I read, and my color pencils are by my elbow as well (although I’m really not using them as much as I’d thought I would).

Frankly, most of the first half of Romans zooms right over my head.  Paul gets into some pretty heavy theology there, and while the first two chapters are vividly accessible to me, only bits and pieces grab me from the beginning of Chapter 3 into Chapter 8.  I’m trying to use those bits and pieces, and a general sense of background as I know it, to construct a clearer sense of Paul’s teaching.  After all, this is an epistle — a letter! It’s not supposed to be his dissertation! even though that’s sometimes how he feels.

Paul was writing to the Romans, here, and it seems so apt that this epistle begins the succession of all his works. Rome ruled the world, politically, militarily, and culturally. It was a place of tremendous sophistication. It was also a hotbed of depravity.

Amazing that a core group of Romans rejected the strength, the power, the luxuries and excesses of Roman culture to become followers of that still-obscure cult, Christianity.

In fact, this is the whole point of the Pauline epistles: to teach a formerly pagan people how to adapt to the radically different paradigm of Christian discipleship.

More soon. — God bless you.

 

Draw close to Christ

So much upheaval, and the acceleration is alarming! – Planned Parenthood, gay marriage, Islamic terrorism on the rise, public school crises, personal violence  . . .  crises in the Church . . .

It’s easy to take our eyes off God, but now, more than ever, we must draw close to Him.  All the indignation in the world, all the activism, means nothing if we aren’t close to the Source of our passion.  There must be time each day, out of the craziness, which we devote to being still and quiet with the Holy Trinity. Time for prayer, time for Lectio, time for entering a personal sanctuary where nothing matters at all but His sweet Presence.

 

Drifting by the Sloth of Disobedience

From the Prologue of the Rule of Benedict:

. . . The labor of obedience will bring you back to him from whom you had drifted through the sloth of disobedience. (v. 2)

It’s a funny thing about drifting:  you’re just there, and you get distracted by new ideas, new distractions, new activities . . . and you finally look up and — Whoa! where am I?  I was over there, but now I’m over here! How did that happen?

It’s particularly easy to do in our walk with the Lord.  A day of skipping prayer makes it easy to skip again, and before you know it, weeks and even months have gone by . . . and you’ve lost your bearings and you aren’t really even sure when or how it happened.

Sloth. Laziness. Slack off in the habits of discipleship and before you know it you’ve been carried way on downstream and not in the direction you’d intended to go.

So stick with it.  If you’ve been lazy, if you’ve been careless, renew your resolve and turn the “ear of your heart” to sound instruction.

Lectio Divina – baby steps

Please, please read through to the end of this post, because I’m about to open with a very controversial statement, here:

I am not a biblical literalist.

The reason for this is simple:  I’m an American, steeped in a culture that still clings to vestiges of Puritan legalism and narrowness of perspective. Puritans left the Church of England because they thought all the splendor retained after the break from Rome was an insult to God — never mind that the Bible is chock full of descriptions of the extravagant beauty associated with worshipping Him. Ignore the beauty and splendor associated with worship of God from time immemorial. We have a purer way … 

The writers of the Bible, however (and remember, the Bible is a collection of Books, not just one Book), were not Puritans. They were Middle Easterners, a people whose culture and manner of speaking and writing are colorful and poetic and… probably quite antithetical in many particulars from our Puritan forebears.

An example of that poetry that no one, not even the most rabid fundamentalist, takes literally is found in the Psalms — 17 and 91, to name two — where God’s love and provision for His people is described through a hen covering her chicks. No one thinks God is a chicken or any other type of bird.  But the first thing a fundamentalist will ask you is whether you take the Bible literally.  He forgets that powerful truths are conveyed through the poetic devices which are never to be taken literally.

Even the anthropomorphic representations of God as a man with hands, feet, eyes, and so on, are metaphor.  But the metaphor gets the point across. That’s what metaphor does.

Much of the biblical narrative is metaphorical.  There are bigger truths to be gained behind the word pictures we read.  So when we read the Bible, we’re going to look at a literal context, yes – but we’re also going to look for a spiritual meaning.  When Israel battles a particular enemy, we may be reading an account of a war that might have actually occurred…  but there’s a spiritual significance to this story, it’s included in the text for our benefit — and our benefit goes far beyond an isolated literal event.  So we’re going to be conscious of that, and we’re going to look for that deeper meaning.

In other words — I may not take the Bible literally, but you can bet your bottom dollar I take it seriously.  Very seriously.

 

Next up: some tips to get more mileage out of your reading.

Beginning a Bible Study – Part Two

Part Two: Other Considerations

In Part One, I gave you my ideas about choosing a translation for your personal Bible reading.  But translation is just the first step in the decision-making process. When you get to the bookstore, you’re going to find a vast array of publishing differences within each translation:  print size, cover type, paper thickness…  cost.

You can actually buy a paperback NAB for less than $7.00.  Sounds like quite a deal, doesn’t it? It is… until you discover that the fine newsprint pages tear easily when you turn the pages, and the spine of the book is glued and the whole thing comes apart easily.  Then you’re going to set the thing back on the shelf and what good will that do anyone?

By the same token, unless you’re Daddy Warbucks, you don’t want to run out and spend a couple hundred dollars on your first Bible, either. Even if you were Daddy Warbucks, I wouldn’t recommend throwing money away like that; it’s bad stewardship.

You can get a decently-bound vinyl (imitation leather) cover NAB, or a quality paperback RSV, new, for less than $20.00.  That’s probably a reasonable place to start.

You see, there’s an aesthetic consideration to this business.  You want the Bible to feel good in your hand while you’re holding it. You want it to feel balanced.  You want the cover, whichever you choose, to feel pleasing to your fingertips.  A cheaply-bound Bible will have you clutching at it, trying to prevent it falling to the floor in a scattering of loose pages. A cheap cover feels tacky to the hand. You’ll find yourself fidgeting with it, and that will distract you from reading.  It will create in your subconscious mind an aversion to reading, which defeats the purpose (but the Enemy would delight in).  A quality paper cover or a well-made “imitation leather” cover will feel secure and comfortable as you hold it; you almost won’t notice it at all. And that’s good.

And since no one has money to waste in this day and age, I do recommend going with one of those options while you get started. Once you know you want to stick with a particular translation, you can invest in a quality leather-bound Bible for … a bonded leather Bible RSV, Compact Edition (be warned: SMALL PRINT) can be bought new for less than $30.00. The prices go up from there.  Ignatius Press has a leather-bound RSV that feels like butter, it’s so soft and pliable, and it just drapes in your hand in the most luxurious manner…  Sigh.  I don’t have that one.  I have a mid-sized, standard-print bonded leather RSV and a heavy, real-leather Douay.  They’re not luxurious, but they are very comfortable, and they are standing up well to the hard use I give them.

I also have a leather-bound Compact Douay that I tuck into my suitcase when I travel.  But compact Bibles have small print, and I’m almost at the age of having to abandon that one, even with bifocals (I’m too impatient to hold a magnifying glass).

So – those are the things I think about when recommending a Bible to someone.  Take your time. You don’t have to sneak in and sneak out (one hopes) as if buying a Bible had become an illicit activity. Stand there a minute – or sit, if the store is courteous enough to have chairs – and handle the Bibles.  Read from them – a Psalm, a portion of a Gospel. If you find yourself reluctant to stop once you’ve started, that’s a very good sign you’ve found a good Bible for you, but the whole point here is to feel comfortable, not intimidated by reading.  Okay?

 

Next up: How to read this new Bible.