I was born with a hole in my heart. It tired me out more quickly than my friends on playgrounds and regularly sent me to Egleston Hospital on Atlanta’s Emory University campus to have an EKG’s cold electrodes attached to my chest while caring, serious-faced experts in white coats leaned over me with stethoscopes. When I heard them calling it an “intraventricular septal defect,” I (of course) memorized that to impress my friends.
These experiences showed me at a very young age that I wasn’t going to live forever.
They also convinced me miracles do happen because as I played sports from sixth grade on, slowly my stamina built. Then, when I was thirty-four and first pregnant, I went to a cardiologist who gave me the startling good news that my heart weakness had completely healed.
I always thought my heart “defect” — “not” (de-)“to do” (facere) — was an apt metaphor for my hamartia, the “missing the mark” Paul discusses: “I do not practice what I want to do, but I do what I hate.” He adds, “Who will rescue me from this dying body?” before proclaiming, “Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Romans 7:15, 24-25)
My question was always “How?” On this brief earthly sojourn, I yearn to be led further along the path of love, and I’ve learned by trial and error (much error) that to strengthen my desire of becoming a caring human being, I must feed it genuine, intimate encounters with the Bible.
So my broken, weak self has long been in the process of being mended by Scripture — not simply reading, and not even solely studying Bible verses, but “eating” them through the ancient practice known as lectio divina, the “divine reading” of Scripture that feeds our souls.
It takes no special training or schooling to engage in lectio divina, only a desire to know God — a hunger for the healing that intimacy with God brings. Simply put, we pick a verse. It can be as short as “Jesus wept.” We read it slowly and listen to its words. We read it again, reflecting on its words and their meaning. Then we savor it, tasting its truth inside ourselves, asking what it means for us or for someone we know. Then we swallow it, surrendering to its truth.
Twentieth-century Trappist monk Thomas Merton articulates the power inherent in such Scriptural reflection: “Any serious reading of the Bible means personal involvement in it, not simple mental agreement with abstract propositions. And involvement is dangerous, because it lays one open to unforeseen conclusions.”
This “dangerous" involvement is not the going-over-a-cliff-in-a-car kind of physical peril but the very real invisible risks found in any close personal relationship. It is the vulnerability a person feels who has not only fallen in love, but who chooses to stand at an altar, promising to be faithful and true to his or her beloved — for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death.
In any commitment to love, things shift inside your soul. You start struggling with long-held prejudices. You give up and give over and see the world differently as your world weaves with another’s.
This is what meditating on God’s Word feeds. We naturally grow more intimate with the Lord of peace, becoming better friends with him, where we encounter the nourishing paradox of our faith — Christ’s cross. Jesus says, “For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit them if they gain the whole world but forfeit their life? Or what will they give in return for their life?”(Matthew 16:25–26).
His words describe empathy, when I let go of my concerns long enough to be sympathetic to another’s difficulties or joys. Christ’s empathy is clearly seen as he hangs on the Cross.
Meditating on God’s Word slowly teaches us how to embody Christ’s Passion (from Latin patior “to suffer”). We can be passionate about loving God, ourselves, and others, only when we are real enough to suffer with one other and such realness is fed by a daily diet of Scripture.
In Imitation of Christ,Thomas à Kempis emphasizes the importance of Scripture nourishment: “If you want to grow the faith of your soul, read Scripture with humility and simplicity, never making it your goal to gain a reputation for being ‘learned’.”
Our compassionate Friend “suffers with” us daily. The sweetest-tasting wisdom is Christ’s constant, strengthening presence in our lives, available anytime through meditating on Scripture. John of the Cross promises that quiet, Bible-steeped times lead to real happiness: “We use ladders for climbing, to reach things we need. In the same way, the soul climbs through the usefulness of contemplation and its mysteries up to divine knowledge, our greatest necessity.”
Scripture meditation always brings us back to Christ, as Karol Wojtyla (later Pope John Paul II) reminds us: “I am a wayfarer on the narrow pavement of earth and I do not put aside the thought of Your face, which the world does not reveal to me."
Carmen Acevedo Butcher is a professor of English and scholar-in-residence at Shorter University in Rome, Georgia. She was the Carnegie Foundation professor of the year for Georgia in 2006, and during the 2004-2005 year she and her family lived and learned in Seoul, South Korea, while she taught as a Fulbright Senior Lecturer at Sogang University. She has written books on medieval women mystics and linguistics. More information can be found on these at her website. (Photo credit: Katherine Butcher.)
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