If we do not enable directee’s to pray the scriptures, then we are giving them nothing but ourselves
Sister Margaret – Franciscan Spiritual Directors Course Director.
This was a silver bullet moment for me. Not only because I came to see prayer – praying scripture in a deeper and more essential way, but equally it has been a practice I have been attempting myself for a few years with a modicum of regularity.
At the heart of all prayer is the dynamic interplay between the Divine, the Word and ourselves. This practice is at the heart of the Columban spiritual life. St. Columba was a monk who would have prayed the scriptures everyday as a part of the daily office, would have moved through a recitation of the entire Book of Psalms every month with the entire monastic community. So much so St. Columba would have known by heart all the Psalms, and in doing so they would have moved from being external words on a page to becoming an internal part of his person. The Word lived inside him.
It would appear that the role of scripture in the Columban community life was not primarily rooted in an intellectual study or theological discourse. The scriptorium was a place to copy manuscripts and no doubt learn them as you copied. We know that the library on Iona contained St. Jerome’s translation of the Bible, works by Basil the Great, John Cassian as well as material on the metaphysical sciences. Scripture served a far more vital devotional and meditative purpose. Scripture was learned by rote, sung, chanted, ingested and lived out on a daily basis. The Word was an active member of the community that played a front and central part of everyone’s life. This devotion to scripture manifested itself in a far more creative way than merely being a means of appropriating information for the head.
Once, while St Columba was sitting in his hut copying a book, his expression suddenly changed, and from his pure heart he cried out: ‘Help! Help!’ The two brethren standing at the door, Colgu mac Cellaig and Luigne moccu Blai, asked him why he had suddenly cried out. St Columba answered them, saying: ‘There was an angel of the Lord just now standing between you, whom I have sent as fast as possible to help one of our brethren falling from the very top of the great house which is now under construction at Durrow.’ (Vita. III.15)
In many ways St. Columba teaches us not to be Celtic in our orientation to the Christian life, but to be rooted in the earliest tradition of the gospel, Jesus as The Word of God. St. John calls us ‘to abide in Word’ (John 15.7) and to be open and available to this Word shaping our internal life into a state of such intimate knowing, that we can ‘ask for whatever we wish’ (John 15.7) and our Father in heaven will be more than pleased to grant us our wishes. This state of being exists beyond whimsical material needs and emotional gratification, it is the goal of the faithful; unification with The Trinity. Abiding in the Word leads to alignment and the unity we discover with the Holy Spirit opens up the whole of creation to the redemptive ‘in-breaking’ power of the resurrection.
There are many ways to pray the scriptures, many use Lectio Divina – Divine Reading, the slow and steady way of applying key questions to your life as a passage of scripture speaks to you. Others use themed study bibles, elect to use the Daily Offices, the Examen and much more. The list is in fact endless in regards to praying scripture. Personally I try to learn by heart sections and passages of scripture. I find this process aids in the Word being formed within me, it in fact becomes a part of me, rather than in an external book I carry around with me. Critically for me I have learned to ‘turn up, be available’ and ‘not to read scripture as a text book from which I can assimilate intellectual knowledge’, rather to treat it as my devotional companion on the pilgrimage to the Paradise of Souls.
Adomnan, the author of The Life of St.Columba was very focused on presenting him to the world as a Holy man rooted in prayer. Praying with the scriptures was the spine of St Columba’s practice. We would do well to copy his example.