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WEEKLY REFLECTIONS

~ Exegesis and Prayer ~

Our forefathers would read the Scriptures aloud, or, when alone, with moving lips. Books and scrolls were rare and treasured in their days. Today, most of us in first world countries have hundreds of books sitting on our shelves, needing frequent dusting. Many of us subscribe to one or more newspapers delivered to our homes every morning, along with many more magazines. Our local bookstores are stocked with thousands of literary works, supplanted weekly by the publishing industry.

This overwhelming abundance of reading material, both in print and electronic formats, and the overwhelming time needed to consume them, produced the popularity of speed reading techniques. More information enters our homes through television, to the point that many of us practice channel surfing with our remote controls and watch several broadcasts simultaneously.

While these ways of assimilating information are useful in keeping up with the explosion of news and knowledge, they become spiritually deadly when applied to the reading of the Scriptures. The relatively new programs of "Reading the Bible in a Year" with the reward of a certificate or inscribed coffee cup would have been so strangely incomprehensible to the ancients. Their first problem, I believe, would be "reading."

The Bible cannot be read like other literature. What our Creator has provided must be savored in the context of our personal needs and spiritual development, not in a goal of accomplishment in time. Reading the Bible following a daily schedule has little to do with understanding it, and less so with praying through it. Unless it is understood and incorporated as prayer, reading it is just a prideful accomplishment, I believe.

While it is not popular to admit it, we all talk to ourselves. We can talk to ourselves better than anyone can talk to us. Likewise, only God knows best how to talk to God. That's why Jesus' apostles asked Him, "Lord, teach us to pray." They did not ask Him, "Teach us a prayer." They already had many prayers memorized and were not interested in another one. So Jesus taught them how to pray, not providing another prayer, yet we took His teaching and turned it into a memorized prayer rather than a format or teaching on how to pray. Furthermore, we say it much too quickly. (Take a look at our Reflection on "The Lord's Prayer" which you'll find in the Subject Index of the Weekly Reflections on our web site.)

The Psalter was Christ's (and His followers) prayer book. Too much misguided theology has been devoted to the meaning of "Christ's Seven Last Words on the Cross." Another Reflection, that can be found in the Subject Index of our web site, documents how every one of His last words were prayers and quotations from the Psalms, including the physical sounding statement, "I thirst." Like Christ, His predecessors, His disciples, and the monastics after them, I love praying from the Psalms. There are no needs in my life that are not already expressed in them. There are no praises and thanks that I can give our God in greater eloquence than is already provided in the Psalter.

I believe and experience that the Psalms are inspired ("the breath of the Holy Spirit"). So when I pray them, I am praying God's own words to Him. Can I pray any better words to Him, He who knows all my words before I utter them, along with the number of hairs on my head?

I end with a sixth century document quotation written by Pope Gregory of the Roman Catholic tradition: Since one who loves more risks more, I must reprimand my most illustrious son Theodore. He has received from the most holy Trinity the gifts of intelligence, well-being, mercy and charity. But they are forever stifled by profane questions, by constant comings and goings. Thus he neglects to read the words of his Redeemer each day. What is Scripture if not a letter from almighty God to his creature? If Your Excellency lived somewhere else and received mail from an earthly monarch, he would have no peace, he would not rest, he would not shut his eyes until he had learned the contents of that letter. The king of heaven, the Lord of men and angels, has written you a letter that you might live, and yet, illustrious son, you neglect to read it with ardent love. Strive therefore, I beg you, to meditate each day on the words of your Creator. Learn to know the heart of God in the words of God. Thus you will long for the things of heaven with greater desire, and your soul will be more eager to for the joys that are invisible...May the Spirit fill your soul with his presence, and in filling it make it more free. (Gregory, Epist. IV, 31 [PL 77, 706ab])

John S. Hilkevich, Ph.D.
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