Posted March 07, 2012:
My Journey into God’s Word

by Bonnie Staib.

In the tender compassion of our God, the Lord has come to us (a Lauds Antiphon).

In the tender compassion of our God, the Lord has come to me in his Word. My history with the Word of God is a story of grace upon grace.

I grew up in a Catholic home in which our faith was important, but quietly so. We prayed grace together at meals, and we went to Sunday Mass together.

There was a cross in my parents’ room, and one of my most treasured memories is of their kneeling together at their bedside saying their prayers before going to bed.

There was no Bible in my home, but in Catholic homes in the ‘40s, ‘50s and ‘60s, that was pretty common.

My exposure to Scripture then, as a child, was hearing the Gospel read at Mass. In grade school and high school I often went to daily Mass, so I was exposed to Scripture, though in a limited way.

As I began my university years—at a Catholic liberal arts college—we were required to take a theology course. I chose an introduction to the New Testament, figuring it was about time I owned a Bible and used it.

But in truth, one of the reasons I chose it was that I figured I was familiar enough with the New Testament that I could avoid studying and still get a high grade.

Whenever I think of this class, I am reminded of my very minimalist approach. The professor asked us each to memorize a psalm. I chose the shortest one, 117, which has only four lines.

 Praise the Lord, all nations!

 Extol him, all peoples!

 For great is his steadfast love toward us;

 And the faithfulness of the Lord endures forever.

In January 1967, while still in college, I visited Madonna House for ten days. That spring, I was questioning God’s existence. I came to the conclusion that he did exist, and I returned to Combermere to decide whether or not to give him any room in my life. I went for the summer.

But when autumn came, I felt I needed more time, and I did not return to college.

In January, I became an applicant, that is, I entered into formation to become a member of Madonna House.

I figured that now I really needed to start using that Bible I had bought. I asked my spiritual director, who was a Scripture scholar, to help me, but I didn’t read the book he recommended. And I still didn’t crack open my Bible.

Then, without checking it out with him, I made a promise to God for my time as an applicant: I would not do any light reading—in fact, I would only read what I was required to as an applicant—until I had read Scripture for fifteen minutes each day.

Applicancy at that time was eight months long, and I kept my promise. But it did not lead me to read the Bible. I just didn’t do any light reading at all during that time!

Still I was hearing the Gospel at Mass, and Madonna House is a way of life based on the Gospel, so I was not entirely without the Word of God. But I certainly wasn’t getting what God intended for me to get.

And I was thirsty; I just didn’t know how thirsty. But by depending only on my own efforts to do so, I was not drinking.

Shortly after I made my first promises becoming a member of the community, Madonna House had its first charismatic prayer meeting.

After we were introduced to this form of prayer, I chose to be prayed over and asked for the Holy Spirit and the gifts I needed to serve him. My prayer was answered. I was filled with the Holy Spirit, and I knew it.

One obvious result was a new thirst for the Word of God—and I actually started to read it.

So one important part of my journey into the Word of God has been recognizing that it is gift. I desired it, but my own efforts were not enough. It is pure gift, one from my Lord who is so full of tender mercy that it is his joy to give me this gift.

My early efforts showed him my interest. My prayer to the Holy Spirit opened a door. Every day, I can continue to foster this gift or choose to ignore it.

My journey into the Word of God has led me to much prayer, thousands of poustinias, worn-out Bibles, study (even New Testament Greek), travel to biblical lands, and the joy of sharing the Word with others.

I am no longer the minimalist I was in college, but often a very short line of Scripture feeds me deeply and I just sit with it.

When I can, I love to prepare the Sunday Gospel by reading it slowly from the Biblical Greek, its original language. For me the best part of this is that when I do this, the Lord writes the Gospel in my heart in a way that I can recall it during the following week.

I want to share with you one special way in which the Lord has led me, through his Word, to know his tender compassion, his mercy for me.

Many years ago, I went through a few years of deep inner pain. Though I did not doubt that Madonna House was my vocation, I felt I was a failure at living it.

I yearned for this pain to end. I even came close to suicide, though I didn’t realize this until later.

At one point during that time, I heard a lecture on "God’s Psychology" in which a doctor spoke of his own learning to pray the Scriptures out loud, especially in song, and how this proclaiming the Word of God transformed him and many of the patients he worked with.

I was desperate, so I decided to try it. I sang and sang, out loud, Scripture-based songs—short, easily memorized songs.

And if I couldn’t sing, I’d pray lines of the psalms or from other parts of the Bible.(In you, O Lord, I take refuge. You are my rock and my fortress … I can do all things in Christ who strengthens me (Phil 4:13). The Lord is my shepherd. There is nothing I shall want (Ps 23:1).

As I cooked, as I walked, as I drove, whatever I did, I sang or proclaimed scripture truths, not experiencing their truth, just wishing they were true.

I did this despite the fact that I felt that God had abandoned me, despite the fact that in no way did it feel that God was my rock, my refuge, my shepherd, my strength.

But I wanted that, and I simply gave the Lord my mouth. He had to take it from there.

All during this time, many people I encountered thought I was happy. But in truth, how desperate I was, how far from feeling any trust and confidence in God.

This went on for what seemed like ages. I was transferred from the mission house I was in—which was not the cause of my despair, only the location of it. As I traveled to my new assignment by long bus and train rides, and once I got there, I continued to sing and proclaim the Word of God out loud.

Something was changing inside me. I discovered that what I proclaimed was true, and true for me! I discovered mercy in a depth beyond imagining. God had changed my heart and filled it with his tender mercies. He had taken me out of darkness and led me into his light.

He continues to do so. Singing and proclaiming the Word of God, drinking from the well of salvation, has carried me through many dispossessions, through the death of loved ones, and the death of dreams, even those dreamt in God.

It has led me to God himself. He who is indeed my rock, my God in whom I trust.

That terrible despair that I had yearned would end, has become an experience for which I am so grateful: for through it, I encountered his mercy and love in great depth. It has changed my life.

Here are a few hints about approaching scripture:

Don’t start on page 1.

Do start by reading passages that have some meaning for you. The Gospels and the Psalms are good places to begin.

Don’t aim for lots. Better to read one little bit—even just one line or paragraph—and let it speak to you.

Find a translation you are comfortable with, but avoid super-paraphrased Scriptures such as The Living Word. (The Good News Bible, however, uses simpler language but is quite faithful to the original languages.)

Try reading it out loud.

Ask the guidance of others more experienced for suggestions on how to study the Bible. There are some great resources out there.

Reading the Scripture for the next day’s Mass prepares our hearts and helps us hear it better at Mass.

Remember, this is God’s word to you personally. Read it as such.

Years ago I read that we are called to approach Scripture in three key ways: with our heads, our hearts, and our feet. How true this is!

I myself often study the Word of God, and am thereby enriched. I am called to pray the Word of God and make it my own. And sometimes, the only way I discover the truth of the Word is to do it in my very being.

Praise the Lord, all nations!

Extol him, all peoples!

For great is his steadfast love toward us;

And the faithfulness of the lord endures forever.

—Psalm 117

Bonnie is circulation manager for Restoration.


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