After the first few days of trying the new prayer preparation practice (found here), my partner, Nick, asked me what scripture passage he should be reading in conjunction. Feeling like this question is probably pretty high up on the list of, “things that pastors should be able to answer without thinking about it,” I did some thinking about it anyway, then decided it might be useful to share in case anyone else had a similar question.
I have been through a personal journey over the last several years from complete Bible novice to someone who can think of nothing more enjoyable than snuggling on my couch with my 5-pound tome written in the original Hebrew and Greek. Indeed, when we recently reframed our mission statement, I was studying this Bible and came across the word “hesed” in Psalm 89, verse 2.
In Hebrew, this line reads, Olad hesed yibbaneh, which is commonly written in English translations as, “your steadfast love stands firm forever.” But I found a different translation from a Rabbi of this line written as, “the world was built on your steadfast love.”
I looked at the individual translations of each word. Hesed is roughly translated into English as “steadfast love.” Yibbaneh can mean “is firm” or “stands upon.” Olad can mean “the ages” or “forever” or “the world.”
Permuting these phrases together, you get these two very different takes on this verse. I realized that they are probably both right: hesed is the reason we exist; hesed is the foundation of everything; and hesed will always be there. But, what shocked me, was the thought that no standard Christian English translation contained this depth of understanding. All of our translations are actually like two-dimensional renditions of a three-dimensional object. And the three-dimensional object (in the original Hebrew) is really just a representation of something much greater that is unexplainable and unknowable.
I hope that through the prayer practice or some other entry point you might be inspired to dig into scripture, whether you are just getting started or whether you have had decades of practice and instruction. What I have learned is that there is always more to meditate on. If you are interested in (re-)engaging, here are a couple of tips:
I just want a recommendation for what to read for my prayer practice.
If you’d like to have a structure for the readings for your prayer practice, reading one psalm (or part of one for some of the long ones) a day is a great companion to prayer. The psalms really are prayers and express a lot of our very human emotions. Because of that, some parts can be hard to read. If you’d like to learn more about the Psalms or more about prayer, we read and discuss a Psalm a day in the morning prayer group.
I’ve never cracked open a Bible, where do I start?
I highly recommend bibleproject.com, which has a whole library of amazing, short videos explaining what the Bible is, where it came from, how it is structured, and what it contains. When you are ready to start reading, begin by watching the video for the book that you are going to read to get some context, then read through the whole book.
If you aren’t sure which books to start with, I would turn first to the four gospels at the beginning of the New Testament, which describe the life of Jesus as experienced from the perspective of four different apostles. Then you can turn to the Psalms and then to the book of the prophet Isaiah, which connects the Old and New Testament.
Most any Bible will do to start, but I would additionally recommend the NRSV translation if you don’t already have one. Also, reading together, even (or maybe especially!) at the beginning can be really helpful for context. The Bible study group on Thursdays, the morning prayer group, or the Sunday morning contemplative prayer and Lectio Divina (a structured way of reading scripture) would be great places to start.
I’d like a structured plan to read the whole thing through in a year.
That’s how I started but I would definitely not recommend it. I got rather lost in the difficult passages, particularly of the Old Testament, but then felt like I had to stick to the program and didn’t have time to really understand what I was reading. Also, reading piecemeal and skipping around made it hard for me to follow the threads of connection that exist everywhere. Instead of following a certain plan to read through the whole Bible in a year, I would recommend setting aside a time for prayer each day with a short scripture reading (see above).
I’ve already read the whole Bible, and decided it was awful. Why and how should I pick it up again?
There are awful parts to the Bible, there is no question. But it is also incredibly rich and powerful and, next to prayer, our best way to engage in conversation with God. If you are in this place, I would encourage you to join one of our small groups to begin the conversation again.
Do you have other questions about engaging with scripture or prayer? Let us know! Some day I will figure out how to allow comments on this blog. Until then, drop me a text: 210-851-6284. (Dianne Garcia, Pastor of Family)