Read With Your Heart
Many of us have a practice of reading scripture daily. It’s a great way to connect with the manner in which faithful people have understood God’s presence and activity over the years and it inspires us to a more faithful lifestyle. Probably the most effective way to read the bible daily is to follow the Book of Common Prayer’s Daily Office Lectionary. This week’s readings, for instance, are found on page 970 (Year One, Proper 6, Week of the Sunday closest to June 15). There are also daily office apps that make reading more convenient. The Daily Office presents readings in a two year cycle and following the prescribed readings takes us through the vast majority of scripture in those two years. After the two years are completed, we begin again and continue reading daily. It’s a daily practice which never is finished. Another big advantage in this way of reading scripture is that it gives us a small amount of scripture from the Old Testament, the New Testament letters, and the Gospels. That allows us a broader landscape than just reading the Bible from front to back or a book at a time.
Studying scripture has great value. Delving into the details, cross-referencing, reading commentaries, considering backgrounds and historical contexts are all wonderful ways for studying God’s word. Attending Bible studies and classes is a good practice. Extended courses like EFM (Education for Ministry) really help us understand the texts.
When we take up a daily practice of reading scripture, however, we are trying to do something other than study. We are looking for some quiet and peace in our lives. We are looking for the inner voice of encouragement. We are looking for something outside ourselves to break through and give us a new perspective. When we read the bible daily, we are more in the mode of meditation than study.
Learning to read the bible with our hearts rather than our heads leads to a kind of reflection that involves not just the text in front of us but the context of our own lives and what eternal wisdom has to say to us. When we read scripture with our hearts, we are not just learning what happened long ago. We are treating scripture as a living story that includes us.
Reading with your heart, instead of your head, brings scripture alive. It also leads us to see how our present circumstances are places of God’s activity. When we read scripture with our hearts, we come to apply eternal truths to our lives, find encouragement, and become more responsible decision-makers.
Reading with your heart involves listening, listening to the text and listening to what is going on inside you as you read. It means considering how the text makes you feel. Listening to other people is hard and so is listening to scripture. Both involve acceptance and patience. When we listen to someone talk to us, we have to refrain from reacting too quickly with our own words. “Let me finish,” is a phrase that reminds us we have been too quick to react. The first part of listening is just letting the other speak and giving them time to do that. “Yes, but…”, is that impatient voice inside us trying to control the other and a good listener learns to keep that voice quiet. Listening is being quietly respectful. It involves me being silent and not jumping too quickly into action. Very few of us are really good listeners. All of us have potential and can get better. Good listening involves doing less – less talking, less assuming, less avoiding.
Active listening involves allowing what has been said to sink in deeper. It involves a response on our part but one of checking in to see if we have really heard what has been said. It further honors the speaker by seeking clarification. Too often we switch the subject from the speaker to ourselves. Someone shares a struggle they are going through and we tell them about our own struggle. A better response is to identify the struggles within us that the speaker has touched and then allow our compassion to further connect with the one we are listening to. Active listening usually means asking soft questions instead of taking over the conversation.
Active listening applies to reading scripture with our hearts. Listen to what the text is saying. Listen to what you are hearing. What we hear often has more to do with what we are going through than what is actually going on in the text and it’s good to ask if I might be projecting something onto the text that really isn’t there. Often, however, the feelings elicited in us bring out the deeper meaning of the text itself and there we see something we haven’t seen before.
Listening for tone is important when we read. What is going on behind the words? Is there sadness, anger, joy, humor? There is “body language” in scripture that we can learn to appreciate.
Looking for a smaller phrase that speaks to us is a good way of listening. What are a few words that you have just read that you can carry with you into your time of reflection? Listening to scripture, or anyone, involves the time when the words are offered and then it involves hours of consideration. We can go back to the person who has shared with us and let them know what their words have meant to us. We can practice that same appreciation with scripture.
How else may listening to scripture with your heart be a helpful guide? As people of faith, we live in a holy conversation with God. Let God’s ongoing word become part of your heart.
Robert C. Wisnewski, Jr.