9 Pentecost, July 30
Writing on the Feast of Shavuot, I cannot help but contemplate the giving of the law, the Ten Words to Moses, and the gift of the Word made flesh in Jesus Christ. The presentation of the law and the incarnation of the Word are each a sign on earth of what is true in heaven. The God who is high above the heavens comes among humans and gives himself as “our ruler and guide” (the Collect). In a sense, God issues an instruction, a text, the Bible, which we are to “read, learn, mark, and inwardly digest.”
How are we to approach sacred words? The psalmist answers the question: “Your decrees are wonderful; therefore I obey them with all my heart. When your word goes forth it gives light; it gives understanding to the simple. I open my mouth and pant; I long for your commandments” (Ps. 119:129-131).
Wonderment, enlightenment, and deep emotions are brought to the text and educed from it. Moreover, the sacred Scriptures, and preeminently the eternal Word of the Father, to whom the entire Bible is a witness, provide direction for daily life. “Steady my footsteps in your word; let no iniquity have dominion over me” (Ps. 119:133). “Happy are they who fear the Lord, and who follow in his ways” (Ps. 128:1). Finally, all deep reading of Scripture must include a time of resting in the warm radiance of divine presence. “Let your countenance shine upon your servant and teach me your statutes” (Ps. 119:135).
“We do not know how to pray as we ought,” says St. Paul (Rom. 8:26). We may say the same about reading Scripture: “We do not know how to read as we ought.” In the case of reading, “the Spirit helps us in our weakness.” The Spirit intercedes and helps us to see wonders, to sense direction, and to feel and know the divine countenance. The Spirit makes us like “every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven” and who “like the master of a household brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old” (Matt. 13:52). Reading is discerning, an act that, in the collective life of the Church, bears fruit that builds up the whole body of Christ. So, there is broad agreement in acknowledging God’s mighty deeds and wonders; there is broad though not unanimous agreement on what, in Christian terms, is the “good life.”
There is yet a deeper and more personal reading, a discernment of one’s vocation, one’s bounden duty. As we read, the “Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26). The Spirit may cause our eyes to “shed streams of tears” (Ps. 119:136). The Spirit moves emotion and thought to discern the will of God. Looking to God, and looking at our lives, we are in search of the small seed, the bit of yeast that leavens the whole loaf, the hidden treasure, the pearl of great price, the net thrown into the sea. We are looking for that small treasure that is our lives under the direction and rule of God. Put another way, we look for our lives as they are hidden in God with Christ.
We will make mistakes. We will not always discern correctly. But this is not mere guesswork. Given that our lives are socially constructed and morally interconnected to our environment and the people near us, duty is often perfectly clear. Be honest with yourself.
A true reading of Scripture will confirm and strengthen you in the duties you must fulfill. And, ideally, you will learn to love what God commands.
Look It Up: Psalm 119:129
Think About It: Find things that are old and new that build up your faith and strengthen you to get on with life.