Like most Christians and people of faith, I have several stories of failed attempts to make prayer a regular part of my day. I remember one resolution, when I was 19, to get up at 5 am every day and read my Bible. What was I thinking? Now, at 25, I feel too old for such a rigorous schedule.
But I find that often if I just aim myself in the right direction, a structure for my life will emerge, and I will organically become the person I want to be rather. This tend to work better than trying to force some structure onto my life.
So now, 6-7 years after my conversion, I find I am starting to do some daily scripture reading, and to really internalize it rather than just studying it for class. Now I find that if I don’t do it, I feel like something is missing. It’s a good I pursue rather than something I do out of obligation.
So what helps me connect with scripture?
I highly recommend investing in a Journaling Bible. This Bible has large, lined margins for personal spiritual writing and reflection. Once I got past my initial hesitation at writing in a Bible, I really started to benefit from this tool. Now I bring it to church and take notes on the homily!
One thing I like about the Crossway Journaling Bible is that it has very, very minimal scholarly notes. My New Oxford Annotated is full of them, and for my classes, that is great. But I don’t want those things distracting me when I am just trying to pray the Word.
One thing I really admire about my Muslim friends is the emphasis on the orality of scripture in their tradition. I don’t know of any Christian equivalent to the Islamic tradition of memorizing the entire Qur’an. I have heard of Christians who have memorized the entire New Testament, or monks who know the Psalter by heart, but it’s just not promoted as much for us. So taking a cue from my Muslim brothers and sisters, I am trying to find ways to engage in the orality of the Bible.
One great way to do that is Faith Comes by Hearing, an organization that produces free audio Bibles in hundreds of different languages. They have an iOS app where you can download the entire Bible in several English translations. I am using the ESV, and this recording of it uses multiple cast members, reading dramatically, with light background sound effects. I do a lot of walking every day and this gives my mind something to contemplate, even if it (inevitably) wanders astray.
Another method I’ve been using is Scripture Typer, a website and app for memorizing Bible passages. I have played with memorizing scripture before, but this really makes me do it in a systematic way. I’m starting small: Philemon, 2 John, 3 John, Psalm 23, and some other popular passages from the Bible. It’s pretty fun to see my progress and accumulate points. I admit, my competitive side likes racking up points and seeing where I stand in the website’s rankings. Sometimes God uses the less holy parts of ourselves to do good.
One mode of teaching that I discovered at the Parliament is bibliodrama, a method of biblical study used by Christians and Jews that can only be described as group theater. In it, the leader calls on the group to take the part of biblical characters, to try to go through the feelings and motives of each character in a biblical story. At Parliament, we did this for the Garden of Eden narrative: what made Eve eat from the tree? How did God feel about it? I liked this method because it brought home the humanity of biblical characters and helped us bring our own life into the story, to make it our own. Armed with inventor Peter Pitzele’s book on the method, and the many web resources offered on it, I hope to try this out at my own church.
In short, I am trying to engage with scripture in as many ways as possible. Zabriskie hit the nail on the head when he said that seminary courses are no substitute for daily spiritual reading.