When we read the bible, or listen to the Word proclaimed at Mass, I believe it is important how we relate to those words on the page or how we listen to the spoken word. Scripture is not simply an occasion in which we figure out what happened to God's people in the past or read about the historical acts of Christ. Of course, there is significance to such an interpretive reading. Yet, in the reading or in the listening, there is also that greater faith element of believing in the immediacy of God's real presence. In those acts, God is speaking to us.
One of the richest Gospel passages for me was read a few days ago: the parable of the sower. We listen from Mark 4:
"Hear this! A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seed fell on the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Other seed fell on rocky ground where it had little soil. It sprang up at once because the soil was not deep. And when the sun rose, it was scorched and it withered for lack of roots. Some seed fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked it and it produced no grain. And some seed fell on rich soil and produced fruit. It came up and grew and yielded thirty, sixty, and a hundredfold. He added, 'Whoever has ears to hear ought to hear.'"
Of course, one way to read this passage is just to skim read it and to glance its meaning. "Okay, plant your seed in fertile ground...duh" You hear it, you've "attained" its meaning, and then you forget about it. In this type of reading, has God's word really taken root?
Those religious who have written about the formal prayer of Lectio Divina understood the significance of prayer as an event. In the slow reading or hearing of a text, they understood prayer to be a means in which God can take root in us, to form us and to shape us, to change us into who we are fully meant to be. We allow God to speak, and we challenge ourselves to actually listen.
In an increasingly technological age of efficiency in which our greatest commodity is our time, the deficiency of our culture is our inability to pause, to be still, and to listen. I say that, because I understand the effects technology has had on my own life--the power of television and computers and iPods, to name a few. It's quite hard nowadays to think of a world without electricity and technology, but those days did indeed exist. I'm sure the experience and relation our ancestors had to time was far different from our experience now. Five minutes can seem like an eternity to us--I'm not sure they would have experienced time like that in the same way.
When I ask my 7th graders to sit silently for a few minutes in prayer, I see how extremely difficult it is for many of them. Yet, after those few moments, I have experienced a greater calm in them than if I did not start off my classes with those moments of silence. If we have not cultivated an inner space of silence in which we can listen to and respond to the Word of God, how can we ever have a real experience of God? How can we ever enter into those relational events with the Divine?
St. Ignatius, with his emphasis on the Spiritual Exercises, understood the importance of the relational event with the Divine in his promotion of using our senses and imagination with respect to the Gospels. For Ignatius, the words become more than simply bearers of meaning. The words become the bearer of God himself, the Word, through which, by faith, we are able to have a real and immediate experience of God. The words open up a world unto God's self, a realm in which His grace radiates forth in the here and the now.
It is perhaps a good question for us to consider our own relationship to Scripture--of how we read and hear the Word of God. What kind of soil are we cultivating through which God desires to take root in us? Where do we need tending? Where are the weeds?