Don't we Americans often have a very goal-oriented approach to life? Every undertaking is evaluated based on the projected outcomes. We have all asked ourselves, "What did I expect would happen?"
This is good to an extent. We shouldn't be absolutely random in our approach to life.
But sometimes it doesn't seem to fit the situation. A man I know has decided to become my friend in order to get me to enter into a business with him. My entering will help him. He is being very goal-oriented. Very American. Very Western.
In relationships we call that "using" someone.
And don't we also often take a goal-oriented approach to Bible study? We want to learn. We want to find a new piece of the great puzzle. We want to build the grand structure of our theological framework.
We should study; we should seek to understand; we should seek to hold a coherent vision of the work of God in the world and in ourselves.
But taken too far I am beginning to think that a purely goal-oriented study of the Bible is also using somebody.
So this evening I led a Bible study group in a very contemplative manner. It was an experiment. Usually any contemplative/meditative reading of the Bible is done in our private time. I've never been in a group that tried it.
We read Psalm 63, an exquisite prayer. Instead of taking it apart and asking "What does it mean?" we pondered a quote from Augustine about prayer. Then we read the Psalm again. Then another quote. Back and forth. As each person was reading the Psalm, the others were praying along, letting the Psalm/prayer reverberate with the ideas in the quote.
Here are the quotes we used:
“A man is what his love makes him.”
“For this is the power of love, that it transforms the lover into the image of the object loved.”
“We must adhere to God by Love, and reach out for him in prayer.”
“Prayer is the affectionate reaching out of the mind for God”
“It is with the heart that we ask; with the heart that we seek; and it is to the voice of the heart that the door is opened.”
“Your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
“The Lord our God requires us to ask, not that our wish may be made known to him−for to him it cannot be unknown−but that through the medium of prayer, that desire may be developed in us by virtue of which we may receive what he is prepared to bestow.”
“The child learns to speak because his father speaks to him. He learns the speech of his father. . . Repeating God’s own words after him, we begin to pray to him.”
“All prayers of the Bible are such prayers which we pray together with Jesus Christ, in which he accompanies us, and through which he brings us into the presence of God.”
“If we want to read and pray the prayers of the Bible and especially the Psalms, therefore, we must not ask first what they have to do with us, but what they have to do with Jesus Christ.”
“If we are to pray aright, perhaps it is quite necessary that we pray contrary to our own heart. Not what we want to pray is important, but what God wants us to pray.”
“The richness of the Word of God ought to determine our prayer, not the poverty of our heart.”
The thoughts, insights, and emotions that I heard expressed during this hour and a half process were very unlike what would have come about had we attacked the prayer/poem with the machetes of our Bible study formulae. Somehow I think that perhaps it was more respectful than my usual approach. I for one found it immensely rewarding. At the first reading I honestly didn't feel it to be a prayer, at least I don't think it was a prayer in me. But by the end that had changed radically! The change certainly wasn't in the text; it was in me.
Has anyone else out there ever tried anything similar?