Praying the Bible – The Bible Is (Still) Alive

Praying the Bible
Introlectio divinareading – meditating – praying – contemplating

For the last couple weeks, I’ve written some ecclesial and theological provocations. For the next couple weeks I’m going to focus on spirituality — namely, prayer — as well as blogging about other things.

I’ve got a couple books out that focus specifically on praying the Bible: the first one is about the ancient art of lectio divina; the second about using prayers from the Bible in our daily lives. I’m going to be posting some material from those books here. This, I hope, will generate discussion in the comment section and throughout the blogosphere in a way that the books themselves cannot. Today, a preface to the practice of lectio divina:

A friend of mine calls the Bible “the nonfiction storybook of God’s interaction with humankind.” Some of us may get hung up on the word storybook, thinking it implies a lack of truth or historicity. But the Bible is a collection of stories, some from the ancient past of Israel and some from the more recent past of Jesus and his early followers. The stories are very much true and very much alive.

The aliveness of the Bible and the stories within it are what sets
Christian Scripture apart from any other book you can buy. One way to understand that way of reading the Bible is
like dissecting an animal in science class.
I can remember getting my
formaldehyde-soaked baby pig in tenth-grade biology class. Mainly I
remember the smell! My lab partners and I named him Porky. Porky was
dead, of course. The only way to dissect something is to kill it first.

This is what we often do to the Bible when we get hung up on a word or
a phrase or a verse. We deaden the liveliness of the book God has given
us when we spend more time reading the notes in our study Bibles than
we spend reading the actual text. When we try to freeze the Bible in a
certain time period, it becomes like an ancient relic soaked in
embalming fluid.

That way of reading the Bible–deadening and then dissecting it–stands
in contradiction to the way Christians have always understood our
sacred book. John Robinson (A.D. 1575-1625) was the pastor of the
Pilgrims before they left on the Mayflower for the New World. His
famous saying summarizes a different way of approaching Scripture:
“There is yet more light and truth to break forth from God’s Holy
  In other words, God has new things to say to us through the
Bible today. Scripture is not static. It’s not like a history textbook
that simply records events from long ago. Instead it’s living and
active and has the ability to constantly transform the lives of people.

You might think “the Bible is living” is a weird idea. You might have a
Bible near you right now. Look at it. It sits there, inanimate, made of
dead trees and maybe bound with the hide of a dead cow. That doesn’t
seem living in any way. The Bible lives in another sense: because it’s
God-breathed, it has the ability to breathe God’s Spirit into us. God’s
Spirit hovered over the face of the turbulent waters in Genesis and
brought order out of chaos. God’s Spirit gave Jesus the power to heal
people who were suffering. And God’s Spirit blew into the upper room
where the Disciples were gathered and blew them out into the streets
where they proclaimed the good news and started healing people
themselves. This same Spirit indwells the Bible today, gives the Bible
power, and guides us in our interpretation of God’s Word.

Think of it this way: The belief of Christ-followers is that, though
the Bible is done being written, it’s not done writing. The Bible
writes its truths on our hearts, speaking its words constantly into new
situations, new times, and new cultures. God’s Spirit is alive and well
and enables us to read the Bible in faith. No other book can make that

If you want to read more, I invite you to check out Divine Intervention: Encountering God through the Ancient Practice of Lectio Divina.

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  • Dave H.

    I confess, this is hard for me!
    I understand this kind of “aliveness” in many other things: a powerful film i can return to again and again, experiencing it differently in each stage of life that i encounter it, a great novel that speaks to me in different ways when I re-read it, a family vacation spot I return to every year since toddlerhood, and each time I go it connects me to a new take on the meaning my family story.
    But why is it so hard for me to find these living encounters with scripture? It seems that most times I crack into the book ‘m incapable of being surprised.
    I’ve been messing around with different translations this year as a way to find a new connection. The practice of lectio divinia is something I have been hearing a lot about lately, and I’ve been thinking maybe I can use that art as a path back to an experience of living engagement with the Bible.
    I’m looking forward to reading others’ comments here about their experience.

  • Chad

    Great post, Tony.
    The book that introduced me to lectio divina is “Praying the Bible” by Mariano Magrassi. Wonderful little book.
    Your post reminds me of one of my favorite poems. A few months ago I wrote something about it that I’ll just paste here:
    Here is a poem by Billy Collins titled “Introduction to Poetry.”
    I ask them to take a poem
    and hold it up to the light
    like a color slide
    or press an ear against its hive.
    I say drop a mouse into a poem
    and watch him probe his way out,
    or walk inside the poem’s room
    and feel the walls for a light switch.
    I want them to waterski
    across the surface of a poem
    waving at the author’s name on the shore.
    But all they want to do
    is tie the poem to a chair with rope
    and torture a confession out of it.
    They begin beating it with a hose
    to find out what it really means.
    This poem resonates with me as a pastor, as one who invites people into the world of Scripture each Sunday. I invite you to read the poem again, only this time insert the word “text” where you see the word “poem.”

  • Albert the Abstainer

    I can see how this method (read/meditate/prayer/contemplate) can bring the reader into a state of apprehension which would might otherwise elude a more academic read of the Bible (and other inspired texts, works of art, and indeed life itself.) That many tend to engage the Bible to confirm and reinforce belief is not that surprising. What will be surprising to those who have only read the Bible from such a perspective, who then use lectio divina in a fully engaged way, is that a depth is opened which previously was closed.
    My personal suggestion is to start with books and verses which have profound poetic imagery, and those books which have not had strenuous beliefs forged around them. (i.e. Avoid Genesis to begin with if you are a strong believer in a historical Genesis, since your strong beliefs will override attempts to use lectio divina.) The Psalms are a beautiful place to begin. As you become more used to the method, try more challenging books. Job is a great book to move to once you are familiar with and comfortable with using lectio divina.
    And don’t be afraid to use lectio divina on other books and in your daily life. Remember, existence itself is the first and most immediate holy book. Read it this way and you will like experience dimensions of meaning which were previously hidden in the noise floor.

  • Albert the Abstainer

    Ouch, how did that horrible word “like” find its way into my last paragraph.
    “And don’t be afraid to use lectio divina on other books and in your daily life. Remember, existence itself is the first and most immediate holy book. Read it this way and you will likely experience dimensions of meaning which were previously hidden in the noise floor.

  • First, I confess that I’m new to (and therefore, very cautious toward) the “emergent church”. But, I seek to be more open and to learn from the entire Body of Christ. Therefore, I confess that I approached your blog and your article today with a preconceived idea of what you were going to say. I was very wrong. Forgive me.
    Secondly, I serve in a denomination that is charismatic/evangelical/liturgical/sacramental in its worship and calling. I believe that the “ancient paths” provide a safe, tested, and proven way of following Christ. Therefore, once again, I expected “emergent Christians” to be trying to “re-invent the wheel”, i.e., to re-invent the Church. While there may be some that do this, I was pleasantly surprised to find you reaching back into church history and ancient practices in order to strengthen the modern soul. Once again, I was wrong in my preconceived idea and I was wrong. Please forgive me.
    Finally, I enjoyed your article very much. I have subscribed to your blog and look forward to reading more. God bless you!

  • Harry Tomlin

    Everyone not suffering from the mental illness caused by religious brainwashing knows that prayer is just talking to your self. There is no good evidence that any prayer has ever been heard or answered. Those not brainwashed can see the Bible’s many impossibilities, misperceptions and blatant lies. I studied and researched the Bible for several years and wrote a book titled, The Gospel Truth: A Reality Check. You can check it out by going to the website:

  • First Class post Brother keep up this great work

  • wait, what? you’re a Christian?! how could this be?! 😉

  • Theresa Seeber

    Tony, you walk in a gifting you may not even be aware of. It is evident in this post. You continue to inspire and amaze me, and I thank you for what you contribute to my walk with Jesus.
    Lord, thank you for the work you are doing in Tony’s life, and in the lives of many through him. Amen.

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