Dear People of God . . . I invite you . . . in the name of the Church,
to the observance of a holy Lent, by self-examination and repentance;
by prayer, fasting, and self-denial; and by reading and meditating on God’s holy Word.
Week V – Reading and meditating on God’s holy Word
According to the Book of Common Prayer, we believe that the Holy Scriptures are the Word of God. This means that God inspired their human authors and God still speaks to us through the Bible. The Catechism continues by saying that we understand the meaning of the Bible by the help of the Holy Spirit, who guides the Church in the true interpretation of the Scriptures. (BCP pp. 853-854)
Sadly, not enough Episcopalians read the Bible on a regular basis and meditate on the Word of God for the purpose of personal growth and spiritual transformation. I know I am not alone in this experience: too often I find that after reading the Bible or hearing a sermon, the nugget that captures my imagination, the insight that speaks to my heart, can too easily slip away and quietly fade amid the clutter and noise of the day.
One of the best ways to remedy this is to practice the spiritual discipline of meditating on God’s Word. It is a discipline that takes time and intention, but one that brings great benefit to the soul. Meditation is to focus our attention on what God has said to us in the Bible and personally apply it to our own lives and circumstances. In this way, Scripture becomes the foundation of our prayer and of our action in the world.
Psalm 77 uses verbs that capture the essence of meditation.
11 I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord;
I will remember your wonders of old.
12 I will meditate on all your work,
and muse on your mighty deeds.
The first step is to remember. We call to mind what God has accomplished for God’s people in the past: events like the Exodus and Passover, the giving of the law on Mount Sinai, the conquest of the Promised Land, the Incarnation, the Passion, the Resurrection. Meditation begins with bringing back into our minds the truths and the promises of God. As we remember the deeds of God we remember how God is steadfast, trustworthy, and full of mercy.
The second step is to ponder or meditate. The word in Hebrew, hagah, literally means “to allow to resonate.” We want to spend time focusing on how Scripture can guide us in our lives. Some good questions to ask are Why is this passage important? What do I need to know? What does it say about God? What does it say about me? How does this reading point to Jesus?
This pondering leads to wondering. The word used is siyach, which means to muse and wonder and dwell on, to think deeply about something. Used literally it means to murmur, mumble or talk to oneself. It is the idea that something has so taken hold of one’s thinking that one can’t stop thinking about it. The negative aspect is that it troubles and disturbs us; but on the positive side, it captivates us so that we “dwell on” it. This is the way we want God’s Word to lay hold of us and find its way into our choices and decisions. This is how we move from asking What do I need to know? to asking What do I need to do?
The Puritans described meditation on the Word of God in this way as “preaching to yourself,” and any clergy person worth her salt will tell you that preaching is not an easy task. So what do we do when meditation seems impossible, when our focus is affected by outside circumstances and our hearts feel torn in many different directions? We ask for God’s gracious help. We cling to the promise of the Holy Spirit, and we keep trying.
If you’ve never meditated before today, know that it is never too late to begin. If you have tried it and found it difficult, give it another chance and be gentle with yourself. This is but another way to strengthen our relationship with God and it will be pleasing to God even when it is far from “perfect”.