Friday, April 27, 2012

Don't just read the Scriptures

but pray them as well.  In this era of Biblical Illiteracy (and I'm not simply talking about being able to quote book, chapter and verse. That's fine, but that does not constitute literacy), it is not uncommon for even clergy to be woefully ignorant of the Scriptures as much as the laity, the flock they are entrusted to shepherd.  We can go into the many reasons for the cause of this illiteracy, but I suspect that one of the main reasons is that the Scriptures are not prayed.  This is particularly prominent in western confessions of Christianity where the worship services have been largely stripped of their Scriptural identities.  It has been said that, at least for the Eastern Church, if all the Bibles in the world were destroyed, the totality of the Scriptures could be completely reconstituted from the offices and the liturgy.  The fathers knew that the Scriptures were not simply some book to be read at one's leisure.  Why else then would our hymns and whole prayers be derived, whether verbatim or paraphrased, from them?  The scrapping of the historic liturgy and the historic lectionary have robbed people in the western churches of both a rule of prayer and a knowledge of the Scriptures.

Ignorance of the Scriptures also stems from how it is merely become a book to be read from. I recall a Simpsons episode where Springfield's Presbo-Lutheran pastor, Rev. Lovejoy receives a call from Principal Skinner who is complaining, yet again, about another spat with his mother (The episode is "In Marge We Trust" from the eighth season).  Skinner asks, naturally, from Rev. Lovejoy what to do.  Rev. Lovejoy responds, "Maybe you should read your Bible."  Skinner asks, "Uh...any particular passage?"  Lovejoy concludes, "Oh, it's all good."   At that point, disheartened, Skinner hangs up.  Yes, it is all good.  That's not the question, but what Rev. Lovejoy suggests is, unfortunately, the same thing that pastors are advocating across the nation to their congregations:  Just read your Bible.  Reading the Bible is fine, but if it is not read prayerfully or even as prayer, then the knowledge gained is only stored in the brain not also in the heart. I've read countless books on ancient Rome and Greece.  I don't pray those books (and I shouldn't).  They're in my brain, not in my heart and that's where I want them to stay.

The hardest thing in the Christian life, in my opinion, is to get the head and the heart to talk to one another.  My priest often says that we have to move the brain into the heart.  I'm an intellectual at heart (no pun intended) so I know it is extremely very difficult for me to realize something in my brain and yet firmly trust in it with my heart.  I have Christ in my head though He is lacking in my heart.  If we only have an intellectual knowledge of the Scriptures are we any better than the demons?  They know the Scriptures, too. They quote it. Satan quoted the Scriptures extensively to Christ during the temptation in the desert and I'm sure Satan was whispering Scriptures in his ear while our Saviour went His way to Golgotha to convince Him not to go through with it.  We shouldn't just know the Scriptures, we should be praying the Scriptures.  They are the witness to the Word, Christ Himself.  And how much better it is to pray using the same words which the Word Himself spoke? It certainly saves us the problem from having to come up with our own prayers.

Thus, I submit that to combat the problem, nay, epidemic, of Scriptural illiteracy, we need to incorporate them more into our prayer life.  The Psalter is perfect for this and has often been referred to as the Church's hymnal.  Simply reading the Scriptures or having Bible studies runs too much of a risk of simply knowing the Scriptures, but not believing them. 

I also submit that this problem is not one limited to the western confessions. We have our problems with this in the Eastern Church, though we have the advantage of not having purged the historic liturgy and lectionary.  In fact, one of my favorite hymns is the Great Canon of St. Andrew of Crete.  Now, that is a walking tour of the Scriptures.  After the first four days of Great Lent, I find myself having to relook up certain passages that the Canon alludes to directly or indirectly.  I'm grateful that the Eastern Church has retained that.  But outside of the church's formal services, many Orthodox do not make the Scriptures their own private prayer.  It is certainly something that we also need to address in our own communion.

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