word on the goPrayer

Scripture isn’t just the greatest story ever told, it’s also a fantastic prayer book. Praying with the word is a powerful way of tuning in to God. And it needn’t be a headache - there are many simple ways that you can use the Bible to pray.

For almost 2,000 years, Catholics have turned to Scripture to guide their prayer lives. The words of some of the best-loved prayers – such as the Our Father, the Hail Mary and the Sign of the Cross – come from the sacred page. For centuries, meditation on Scripture has been at the heart of the Church’s daily prayer.

The reason is simple. The Church tells us that prayer is ‘the raising of one’s mind and heart to God’. This can involve speaking to God, prayerful reflection or simply listening to him in silence. The Bible has a role in all of these. We can talk to God using the words of Scripture, meditate on a particular passage or simply allow him to speak to us through the text itself.

As St. Isidore of Seville put it:‘Anyone who wants to be always united to God must pray often and read the Bible often. For in prayer it is we who are speaking to God, but in the readings it is God speaking to us.’

St. Isidore of Seville

This kind of reflective, prayerful reading of Scripture can really bring the words to life for us.

Pope Francis also talks about the value of praying with the Bible. He says: ‘There is one particular way of listening to what the Lord wishes to tell us in his word and of letting ourselves be transformed by the Spirit. It is what we call Lectio Divina. It consists of reading God’s word in a moment of prayer and allowing it to enlighten and renew us.’

He goes on: ‘In the presence of God, during a recollected reading of the text, it is good to ask, for example:

  • Lord, what does this text say to me?
  • What is it about my life that you want to change by this text?
  • What troubles me about this text?
  • Why am I not interested in this?
    Or perhaps:
  • What do I find pleasant in this text?
  • What is it about this word that moves me?
  • What attracts me?
  • Why does it attract me?’

And of course, there are many different kinds of prayer, as well as a range of methods. St Paul tells us that that petition (asking for what we need) is just one type of prayer: ‘I urge then, first of all that petitions, prayers, intercessions and thanksgiving should be offered for everyone.’ (1 Timothy 2:1). We also learn from Scripture that prayer can be about everything from issues at home (Genesis 25:20-23), to thanks for food (1 Timothy 4:3-5) to issues of national catastrophe (Lamentations chapter 5).

Case Study Louise tries Lectio Divina

We spoke with Pilates teacher and busy mum Louise about ways she could incorporate the Bible into her hectic life. Louise agreed to try out Lectio Divina, a four-step method of praying with Scripture, during her daily walk with her dog, Hagrid.

‘Originally I used a special Lectio Divina version of the Bible, which spoon-feeds you a little bit more’, she explains. ‘But actually when I kept going I found that I didn’t really need the spoon-feeding. It became a really natural process.’

Initially, she had some struggles – especially with her dog misbehaving during reflection time - but she eventually found a way that worked for her. Louise says: ‘My advice for someone who wanted to start reading the Bible is to begin with the gospels, the way I did. It’s the story of Jesus’ life and the easiest way in.’

 

Here are some other ideas on how you might build the Bible into your prayer life:

Start with a prayer

God of peace and stillness,
let me be open to your presence
in the Scriptures that I read.
May my heart be turned to you
whenever you call.
Amen.

The Church’s rhythm of daily prayer, the Divine Office, is designed to help refocus our everyday lives. It will help you both to ‘tune in’ to the word and also join your prayers to those of countless others across the globe. The Divine Office is readily available online in a variety of forms – try pray-as-you-go.org or universalis.com

As the Pope said, Lectio Divina (Divine Reading) of Scripture can be a life-changing method. Follow the four-step process to reflect prayerfully on a text’s meaning for your life:

  • read slowly,
  • reflect,
  • respond to God and
  • contemplate what he is saying to you.

Like Louise did, beginners may find The Catholic Prayer Bible: Lectio Divina Edition a helpful introduction. Or lectio-divina.org.

The Psalms have long been a mainstay of the Church’s prayer life. Some of the most famous, due to their focus on repentance, are known as the ‘Seven Penitential Psalms’. These are Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143. You might pray with one each week during Lent.

The international and ecumenical Taizé community, based in France has a major focus on praying with the Bible. Every day, the community meditates together on a short bible passage. You too can join in by downloading their app, which enables you to get a few lines of Scripture to pray with right onto your smartphone.

It’s easy to build Scripture readings into Catholic devotions, such as the Rosary or the Stations of the Cross. The Vatican website features biblical reflections to include in these popular prayers, which are at heart meditations on the lives of Jesus and Mary.

The Spiritual Exercises were a series of biblically-based meditations or ‘exercises’ written by St Ignatius Loyola to help people to deepen their relationship with God. The method partly involves visualizing the scene of various biblical stories – for example, imagining the Holy Family’s journey to Bethlehem or what took place at the Last Supper. You can do the Spiritual Exercises online or as part of a guided retreat.

Colossians 3:16 encourages us to ‘sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God’. Singing the Psalms – or indeed, other parts of Scripture - is another great way to make the Bible your own. You could join in with Gregorian Chant on YouTube, meditate with biblical chants from Taizé or pray with carols during the Christmas season.

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