Stay Focused: Savoring Scripture
Her growl caught my attention.
George and Gracie came into our lives several years ago. Severely abused, abandoned, and ready to be euthanized, these two unwanted dogs have provided great enjoyment for my wife and me.
Even after three years of living with us, shadows and unexpected sounds can send them running. I’ve learned how important it is to move slowly. Any sudden movement, or a quick-raising-of-the-hand, can cause them to cringe.
We’ve noticed how with love, patience, and consistency, they are much more comfortable around us. Strangers are still threatening to them, although they are gradually becoming more trusting.
Unlike a warning shot fired across the bow, signifying potential danger, Gracie’s low guttural growl was delightful. It caught my attention.
I noticed she was lying on the floor, chewing on a bone. Held between her paws, she savored that bone as if it were a delicacy. Her moan revealed delight as she relished her treasure. Watching with great pleasure, I recalled the words of the Psalmist:
“Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all the day.”
- Psalm 119:97 (ESV)
The Psalmist not only loved God’s Word (the law), throughout the day, he “meditated” (gave thoughtful consideration) to Scripture.
Do I enjoy God’s Word as much as Gracie wants her bone, I mused? Perhaps that’s an appropriate question for each of us?
As a minister, I’m quite familiar with Scripture because I’m required to study God’s Word to teach accuracy. I want to know I’m correctly interpreting Scripture. It’s essential to have a proper understanding of the context, type of genré used, cultural norms, and a sound familiarity with the biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek).
While I enjoy study, it takes time and effort for me to dissect God’s Word. Unlike those with
natural academic capacity, it requires more work for me.
I confess: At times, studying the Bible feels more like an obligation than savoring a delicacy. How many times have I recognized: Sunday’s coming, and I have to have my sermon prepared for the people!
The Hebrew word for “meditate” is הגה (haw-gah). It means: to coo, growl, mutter, read in an undertone, speak, or proclaim. Like a lion relishing the delightful taste of marrow in a bone, or a baby cooing with a pacifier, we have a word picture of what it looks like to “meditate” and “delight” on God’s Word.
The opening words of Psalm 1 reminds us that those who “avoid the counsel of the wicked” and “whose delight is in the law (God’s Word), are blessed.
Although it’s important to study Scripture,
we must allow God’s Word to “study” us.
That only happens when we slow down and savor (taste, smell, touch, see, and hear) what God speaks to us through the Word. Meditating on God’s Word engages my senses, sharpens my focus, and unites me with Christ — the Living Word.
Thomas Cramner, the first Protestant archbishop of Canterbury, ended a Homily on Scripture with this exhortation:
“Let us ruminate, and, as it were, chew the cud, that we may have the sweet juice, spiritual effect, marrow, honey, kernel, taste, comfort, and consolation of them [the scriptures].”
He understands that the Bible offers more than understanding. It provides us nourishment and enjoyment — a delicacy to be savored.
One spiritual practice to help us fully receive and appreciate God’s Word is Lectio Divina. It’s a Latin term that means, Divine reading.
As far back as the 6th century, the Christian Church’s mothers and fathers demonstrated this thoughtful, reflective, and intentional reading Scripture practice.
This type of Bible reading is a way we pray the scriptures. We slow down, read a short passage more than once. Like a dog with a bone, we carefully and slowly chew on it, savoring each word, phrase, and image reflected in the text.
As we slowly savor God’s Word, the text speaks to us, deepening our union with God through Christ, who is himself the Living Word. We discover areas of our lives that need transformation, and we sense God’s invitation.
Fr Christopher Jamison, former Abbot of Worth Abbey in Sussex, England, in his book Finding Sanctuary, writes of three features of Lectio:
First, “the text is seen as a gift to be received, not a problem to be dissected… let the text come to you.” The Psalmist recognized that the LORD’s commandments are more valuable than gold or silver, a treasure beyond measure (Ps. 119:127).
Second, the Lectio tradition “teaches us that to receive what the text has to offer we must read slowly.” You cannot fully experience the delight of a meal by inhaling the food or analyzing its contents. Savoring the taste, smells, and visual appeal of the meal bring great pleasure. So it is with Scripture.
Third, Lectio is “a way of prayer. Before reading, pray that God will speak to you through the text.” Prayer is as much about listening as it is speaking. God desires to talk to us through Scripture. As we meditate on the words of the text, we receive them with gratitude and allow our real selves to be touched and changed by the Word of God.
This thoughtful, reflective way of reading is notably different than a Bible study. It becomes a meeting place for a personal encounter with the Living God, allowing us to connect the heart and head. Through this spiritual practice, we are open to allow Christ to transform us into his likeness. Another way to phrase this is:
Lectio Divina is more about formation than instruction.
We need both.
Living with uncertainty and distractions can divert our focus from God. Lectio Divina is a spiritual practice that encourages us to stay focused on God’s Word.
You can access a complimentary Lectio Divina guide that I’ve prepared for those interested here: How to Practice Lectio Divina