It is easy to think that reading the Bible is a fairly strait forward practice. Open the book. Read the words. Close the book. It's that simple, right? In reality, reading the words of scripture is a lot more involved. Reading scripture is not like reading any other book. We read scripture as a spiritual discipline - a devotional act in which we live out our longing for God in our lives. Psalm 1 declares that the blessed of God are those who 'delight in the law of The Lord, and on his law they meditates day and night.' Similarly, Psalm 119 is an extended meditation on God's word. We simply cannot deny our calling to live to a life of continual immersion in the word of God.
The term meditation can be confusing word in our time and culture, particularly because of the ways meditation is treated in other religious contexts. We must realize, however, that Christian meditation differs from the more 'eastern' understanding. Christian meditation is not an act of emptying - it is an act of filling. We do not attempt to jettison ourselves of everything we are, rather we engage in the activity of filling our lives - our minds, hearts, and souls - with the things of God. Richard Foster writes that 'Christian meditation, very simply, is the ability to hear God's voice and obey his word' Thus the call to meditate on the God's word day and night is, at its heart, the call to listen to God's words. For the psalmist, the law's of God were not just the dry commands as written in the Torah - they were the voice of God detailing how to live in covenant relationship. The words of God are to be listened to as an act of faith and love.
So how do we meditate in the way that the Bible instructs us to? A cursory look on the internet will uncover many different systems and styles to choose from. The most famous way to meditate on Scripture is what is known as 'Sacred Reading' or Lectio Divina. This practice occurs in four distinct movements.
The first movement is to read a passage slowly and thoughtfully. Importantly it should be a chunk of scripture - not just our favourite verse. Importantly our attitude is not to simply read the words of the text, but to listen to God's voice as He speaks. We imagine God speaking to us through the words of scripture. In this movement we listen for a word or phrase that jumps out at us. This isn't about understanding or definition. We seek not to 'study' anything. We simply remain open to whatever in the reading seems to grab our attention.
The second movement is to read the passage again, this time focusing on how the reading touches our personal lives. Instead of the question 'what strikes you in the reading' we ask ourselves 'what is Jesus saying to me?' We don't force this, or rush past it, for our desire is to interact with God's voice in a very personal way. This may mean we may have to sit in silence for a while until we hear the text 'speak' to us personally. That's ok. Time we spend in this movement is never wasted.
The third movement calls us to ponder what this reading calls us to. There is a sense of prayer here. We offer ourselves to God in response to what we hear God speak to us. We can understand this as a pondering of the question: 'what does Jesus want us to do?' We allow the words of God that we have read and listened to, to touch us and change. We amend our lives in response to what was spoken to us and sit with the practical implications of God's words. We seek to be formed by the words of scripture, and the voice of God spoken into our lives.
The last step in meditating on scripture is to to sit with it. We carry the words of scripture with us throughout the rest of our day. In his 'Introduction to the Holy Life'; Saint Francis De Sales instructs us to 'carry our spiritual bouquet' Just as the fragrance of a bouquet of flowers fills a room, we allow the God's word, listened to and reflected upon, to linger in all areas of our life. Importantly, this is not a conscious pondering of the scriptures. There is no intentionally mindful reflections that takes place. We merely rise from our time of meditating on God's word, and carry God's voice with us as we enter into the rest of the day. We proceed with our tasks of life attempting to be open to God's voice, still living and active.
Meditation on God's word is essential to the discipline of Simplicity because it is only through opening ourselves to God's voice that we can truly say we seek first the kingdom of God. What is more, as Psalm 1 so vividly images, this desire for God's word to be spoken personally into our lives, and the cultivation of it, is to be a continuous habit of our lives. We are called to meditate on God's word 'day and night'. The person in blessed relationship with God is imaged as a stalwart tree, one who is continually and constantly feeding from the ever-flowing streams of water. So too, we are called to the devotional act of sitting with, listening to, and living out God's word in our lives. It simply is a practice and an habit that we cannot deny.