The Bible is like a love letter from God. That’s how Rev. Susan Miller described it to me as we talked together about the spiritual practice of reading Scripture devotionally.
Miller is a pastor ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). Her current ministry position is as assistant to the bishop for the Southeastern Minnesota Synod of the ELCA. She’s also a trained spiritual director.
Perhaps it has been a while since you spent time with a Bible. Curious about where to start?
Miller advised: "It depends on the person. Some people are historians. I might send them to the book of Acts. Other people like mystical stuff. I’d send them to John’s gospel. For anyone, I’d invite them to read a familiar story like The Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37). Read it. Then begin to sit with it. Ask a couple questions: What’s God up to in this story? Why do I like it? Why do I hate it? What’s God saying to me through this story? It’s as simple of that. We want to make it a lot more complicated, but it’s really just as simple as that."
An important piece of developing a spiritual practice with Scripture is to utilize a Bible that makes sense to you.
"If people have a Bible they don’t understand, I’d invite them to seek out a different translation like the Good News Bible or The Message … or even a children’s Bible like the Spark Children’s Bible can be a good place to start," Miller said.
During our conversation, Miller highlighted three specific approaches to reading the Bible as a spiritual practice.
Lectio Divina (should last about 15 minutes):
• Begin by taking cleaning breaths.
• Read a short passage of the Bible.
• Sit and ask yourself what you notice.
• Read the Scripture passage again.
• Ask yourself what you notice the second time.
• Read the passage a third time.
• Ask yourself what you think God is saying to you in this Scripture.
St. Ignatius Method of Putting Yourself in Scripture (should last about 20-30 minutes):
• Read a story from Scripture.
• Begin to think about the story as a real story. Play with the story. Ask yourself: What details are missing? What might it have smelled like? What was the weather like? Who are the people in this story who are not mentioned?
• Ask yourself, "Who am I in the story? Which person in the story do I relate most to today?"
• Ask yourself, "What does this story reveal about God?"
Kelly Fryer Approach with Three Questions (should last about 15 minutes):
• Read a passage of Scripture and then ask three questions.
• What is God doing here?
• What is God saying to you?
• What do you think God is saying about us or the world?
In choosing a Bible passage to engage with for these approaches, consider using the weekly readings of the Revised Common Lectionary (available on textweek.com). I’d also be glad to email you a list of Scripture readings to use. Email me at email@example.com.
My time with Miller inspired me to look back at my own relationship with God’s love letter over the years. Some of my first memories with the Bible are of myself as a little girl opening up to a random verse and hoping it would make sense. Now and then, I’d land on a verse of a Psalm that comforted my little heart. Many times I remember opening to a passage or verse that made no sense to me at all. Perhaps you can relate.
At seminary, I became more interested in the historical context of all the different books of the Bible. Exploring the Hebrew translations of the Old Testament books and the Greek translations of the New Testament books added another layer of curiosity.
Most meaningful of all to me have been the times when I’ve had the chance to explore a chapter or book of the Bible in a small group. When I was serving in a parish, I loved Wednesday night confirmation classes and Thursday morning Bible studies. We’d read the Bible, share and ask questions. I treasured those times.
These days, my favorite encounters with Scripture happen when I’m preparing for a sermon. Reading a passage. Re-reading. Asking questions. Exploring history and context. Asking for the Spirit’s guidance to discern what the reading means for a congregation and for our wider world. It’s a process not unlike the ones Miller described, and it fills my soul with wonder and gratitude.
Peace to you on your Bible explorations. May you find an approach to the Bible (or other sacred text) that ignites the flame of your spirit in a way that draws you closer to your deepest nature, your loving Creator, and all the rest of creation.