If you want to understand your faith, whether to live it with confidence or to share it with others, you need to have a solid working knowledge of the Bible.
The problem for a lot of Christians, though, is that we don’t know where to start. Actually a lot of us don’t want to start.
- Some are convinced that only scholars could understand an ancient book from unfamiliar cultures.
- Some are convinced that what they will find is a rulebook of legalistic “dos” and “don’ts.”
- Some are convinced that it is all about things that science has proven wrong.
Each of these is really a false obstacle.
- Yes, there are things scholars can uncover that ordinary Christians can’t — but these are not the essential things.
- Yes, the Bible affirms some things and disapproves others — but the issue is finding abundant life as God created it to be lived.
- Yes, there are a number of things that reflect the science of past ages — but these don’t touch the actual subject matter.
(And books written today reflecting our own science will look dated in a few centuries too.)
I want to spend a few posts exploring one fine example of a life-giving approach to the Bible. (I’ll be posting on my other themes too, by the way.)
We need it. Becoming fluent Christians requires more than Bible study, but a good working knowledge of the Bible is a crucial first step.
Our mentor will be a man named Guigo.
“Guigo II,” actually, a Carthusian monk who around 1173 became the 9th prior of the order’s mother house, “the Grande Chartreuse.” His little book The Ladder of Monks is the go-to text for people who want to understand the actual monastic practice of prayerful reading of Scripture, or “lectio divina.”
He says in the prologue that his subject is
the spiritual exercises proper to cloistered monks”
but what he recommends is great for you and me too. What you need to know is that all his exercises are about engaging with the Bible.
Cloistered monks had to learn to read, and the most important thing to read was Scripture. Why? Because the Bible is a kind of interface between God and humanity, a meeting ground on which we human beings can encounter the living God. (If you want to be convinced, see The Foundations of Mysticism: Origins to the Fifth Century, vol. 1 of The Presence of God, Bernard McGinn’s history of western Christian mysticism.)
He shows the value of his “exercises” when he describes them under the metaphor of a ladder:
These make a ladder for monks by which they are lifted up from earth to heaven. It has few rungs, yet its length is immense and wonderful, for its lower end rests upon the earth, but its top pierces the clouds and touches heavenly secrets.”
That sounds pretty good, actually. Far from dry scholarship on the Ancient Near East, far from legalistic condemnations, far from outdated views of astronomy, geology, and biology — for Guigo making good use of the Bible is about making contact with God in heaven.
That ladder is not just for monks. It is available to every Christian who can read. And pray.
Come back soon for some thoughts on the Guigo’s first “rung”!
I’d love to hear from you in the comments: What has been the most helpful approach to the Bible in your experience? What have been obstacles to a good working relationship with Holy Scripture?