Mine is a liturgical tradition with all the ceremony that goes with it. Our services begin with song, and prayers that our hearts may be readied for worship, as well as a particular thematic prayer for each Sunday of the year. This next Sunday brings us to my favorite of all preparatory prayers, one that I treasure on this Sunday and use often during the year.
Blessed Lord, who Caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.
It’s hard to know exactly what went through the minds of those who first used it as found in the 1549 Book of Common Prayer, but it appeals to me in this way. It affirms my understanding that God caused all holy Scripture to be written, but that in no way implies that God dictated it, or that it is intended to be read literally, or that it is inerrant. To hear, read, mark and learn (be instructed by) holy Scripture affirms what I’ve called the practice of wallowing in the bible, or what more sophisticated folk call Lectio Divina. Maybe wallowing is not such a good metaphor since it is often associated with pigs rolling in mud. My personal image is of being washed chest deep in the warm waters of Hawaii, letting the waves lift me up, set me down, move me about, cause my feet to be buried in the sand, banged up against rocks, dodging coral and being investigated by creatures of the sea. Holy Scripture is like that: it lifts and sets, moves, washes over, hits and probes. It is alive, comforting, threatening, enfolding, dangerous and alluring.
To inwardly digest it is to think, analyze, reflect and probe back. To inwardly digest brings into conversation with Scripture all that one has learned from every source and all of tradition, as well as one’s own prejudices and assumptions. It also means to directly engage God in conversation, both to talk and to listen. But digestion also has another aspect, and that is elimination. Some things have to go. The sign on the UCC church down the street boldly proclaims that “God is Still Speaking.” I agree. God is still speaking in new ways, and never more powerfully than through the written words in this ancient text. Sometimes God, through these old and familiar words, simply shakes us to the core and demands that the old be sifted out to make room for the new.
There are a lot of mission statements in the Church and for the Church. I can’t think of a better one for youth and adult bible study than this 460 year old prayer.