When I went to work on my new book, I thought the counter-cultural bit was asking 21st century Christians to learn from a 12th century monk. I had no idea that the biggest stretch would be the invitation in the first part of the title: Love Your Bible! Alas, many do not.
There are lots of reasons loving the Bible seems like a stretch today.
Many of us are under such constant pressure between work and family that opening the Bible just doesn’t come to mind.
Many have spent years following Christ, whom we know in our hearts; we just haven’t picked up the habit of Bible reading.
Still others are put off by a book written thousands of years ago in distant cultures and foreign languages.
And those who want to ask hard questions and wrestle with answers dislike the superficial way many Christians do read the Bible.
Is it surprising that the people who find it hard to love their Bible are real Christians, people who follow Jesus with passion? Surprising or not, it is a loss--a crippling loss that keeps us from flourishing as disciples.
It is not that we need to know the Scriptures so we can have snappy answers to the world’s pressing questions. Knowing the Bible does help you understand your faith and the good news that needs to be shared. But I’m talking about something deeper.
The Bible is not given to us as an answer book or a user’s manual. The Bible is intended to lead us into the presence of the living God.
So here’s the risk: if we don’t find a way into the Bible, we may not find our way into God’s life-giving presence. We may end up following a figment of our imaginations, or a projection of our own neuroses.
We need the real God who so loves the world, the same God who called Abraham and Sarah, and who came in person in Jesus. His words and acts have been preserved for us in Scripture. His Spirit is whispering there still.
What we need is a faithful guide who knows the way.
In Love Your Bible I suggest a 12th century monk as that guide: a fellow named Guigo, who wrote the go-to book on the ancient Christian practice of lectio divina or “divine reading.”
You may have heard of lectio divina. Lots of Christians are exploring classic approaches to spiritual disciplines these days (I recommend ten of them in my earlier book Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History’s best Teachers).
Commonly lectio divina is presented as a group process in which a text is read aloud three or four times and people listen for words and phrases that jump out evocatively. That can be helpful, but it is a far cry from the classic form of the practice.
Guigo teaches a much more serious practice. Joyful, prayerful, gentle--but fully engaged. It starts with careful study of a biblical text, and moves with the text through meditation and prayer to the very presence of God.
Guigo didn’t invent lectio divina. By the time he wrote, Christians had been honing the practice for centuries. Monks were instructed to spend a couple of hours a day at it.
Every day they encountered the Bible in ways that were intellectually rigorous and spiritually engaged.
Every day they went from the text of Scripture into the presence of the living God.
It shaped their minds to the Gospel--often when you read the writings of medieval monks they are virtually a patchwork of biblical quotations.
And it shaped their hearts and their lives. Dwelling with God through Scripture turned monks into the missionaries and leaders that spread the faith across Europe.
Lord knows, we need to drink deeply from those living waters today.
Lord knows the world needs a new generation of disciples formed by the Word and empowered by his presence.
I hope you’ll give classic lectio divina a try. Isn’t it time to find a way to Love Your Bible?
Gary Neal Hansen is the award-winning author of Kneeling with Giants: Learning to Pray with History's Best Teachers (InterVarsity Press, 2012). On his blog, GaryNealHansen.com, he mines the Christian past for wisdom in the complex changing present and future. He serves as Associate Professor of Church History at the University of Dubuque Theological Seminary.
Gary has kindly offered a free paperback of Love Your Bible to one of my readers. To enter: comment on this post with your experiences of Bible Reading in the past and how it affected your life and faith. Winner will be selected randomly from the comments on 10 May 2015.