I have recently returned to a spiritual discipline I had gotten away from for a while: a more focused reading of the Bible. You might be surprised to read that I had gotten away from regular Bible reading. After all, aren’t clergy supposed to be reading the Bible all the time? You would be surprised. Mostly, I deal with the biblical passages that are to be read in church the upcoming Sunday. But when that is the focus of your biblical reading, you notice after a while that your sense of the Bible becomes a bit disjointed, because you are really interacting with Scripture in a piecemeal way: a passage here, a passage there.
So, I’ve returned to following a scheme that is rooted in an Eastern Christian monastic practice, which is to read one chapter of a Gospel and two chapters of another New Testament writing in order. When one begins, for example, one starts by reading the first chapter of Matthew (the first gospel in the order of the New Testament) and then the first two chapters in Acts (the first book after the gospels). The next day, you then read the second chapter of Matthew and the third and fourth chapter of Acts, and so on. The practice is also accompanied by a reading of the Psalms in order over a period of about 20 days.
While it is true that this scheme leaves out all of the Hebrew Scriptures except the Psalms, it also reflects the fact that as a follower of Jesus the primary biblical texts for me are the New Testament writings.
The thing that I find valuable about this practice is that it allows me to become more immersed in the Bible, like a kind of spiritual marinade. Sustained reading of the biblical text allows it to gradually seep into me. And it brings me into a kind of sustained dialogue with the Bible and, through the Bible, with the Spirit.
And it is this dialogue that to me constitutes the most valuable way of approaching the Bible. Rather than treating it like some kind of text book as some people seem to do, I find it valuable to place myself in conversation with the Bible. In doing so, I often find myself challenged by the text and I find myself challenging the text in return. I don’t always agree with everything I find in the Bible; sometimes I am led to the conclusion that the biblical authors missed something or got something wrong. That process forces me to ask myself what I may be getting wrong. This back and forth with the Bible leads me, I think, to a place of deeper encounter with the living God. It is a sacred dialogue that helps to form me as a follower of Jesus.
So many people seem to think that the Bible is supposed to be the end of the conversation. In fact, I am increasingly sure that it is meant to be the beginning of a conversation that lasts a lifetime. The Bible is not the limit beyond which we cannot go; rather, it is the jumping off point, a springboard into friendship with God.