he Christian scriptures are the primary text for Christian spirituality. Christian spirituality is, in its entirety, rooted in and shaped by the scriptural text. We do not form our personal spiritual lives from a random assemblage of favorite texts in combination with individual circumstances; we are formed by the Holy Spirit following the text of the Holy Scriptures. God does not put us in charge of forming our personal spiritualities. We grow in accordance with the revealed Word implanted in us by the Spirit.
A friend told me recently of an acquaintance, a lifelong reader of the Bible, who one day realized that his life was not turning out as he thought the Bible said it would; he decided then and there to “make my life my authority instead of the Bible.” Most of our culture, both secular and religious, supports the man’s decision. Characteristically, contemporary spirituality takes the sovereign self as text. But the groundswell of interest in spirituality as our millennium draws to a close, does not seem to have produced any discernible outpouring of energetic justice and faithful love, two of the more obvious accompaniments of a healthy and holy Christian spirituality. In fact, we are at the point now that the term “spirituality” is more apt to call to mind dabblers in transcendence than the lives of rigor, exuberance, and goodness so long associated with the Word.
I am interested in pulling the Christian scriptures from the margins back to the center as the text for living the Christian life deeply and well and in recovering what Austin Farrer once named in his Bampton Lectures as the “forbidding discipline of spiritual reading” that ordinary people have characteristically brought to this text that forms their souls.1 Forbidding because of the endless dodges we devise in avoiding the risk of faith in God; forbidding because of our restless inventiveness in using whatever knowledge of “spirituality” that we acquire to set ourselves up as gods. Forbidding, indeed. Our ancestors set this “forbidding discipline,” (their phrase for it was lectio divina),2 as the core curriculum in this most demanding of all schools, the School of the Spirit, established by Jesus when he told his disciples, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all truth...he will take what is mine and declare it to you” (John 16:13-14; also 14:16; 15:26; 16:7-8).
Feeding on Scripture
Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the Holy Community as food nurtures the human body. Christians do not simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father.
The image given prominence by St. John the Theologian is a good place to start:
... I went to the angel and told him to give me the little scroll; and he said to me, ‘Take it, and eat; it will be bitter to your stomach, but sweet as honey in your mouth.’ So I took the little scroll from the hand of the angel and ate it; it was sweet as honey in my mouth, but when I had eaten it, my stomach was made bitter (Rev 10:9-10).
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