Through the Bible in a Year – August 1

The scheme for July and August can be found here

2 Ki 10-12; Acts 15:36-16:40; Psalm 116-117

Gratitude for healing is the mark of Psalm 116, and gratitude marks out much of the language of the Psalms. In this sense they are somewhat alien to us. the Psalmist seeks at all times to see the hand of God in his life – at times that is a struggle – but even the struggle is expressed in prayer. the Psalmist understands that all of life is held in the hand of God and expresses himself accordingly. Thus when he recovers from illness he gives thanks to God for his deliverance.

For most is not all who read this blog, such a sense is something which is difficult for us to maintain, primarily because we have bought into the myth that we are in control of our own lives and destinies. A myth which our wealth, which historically is monumental, enables us comfortably to maintain.

Let us look around the room in which we are sat now. Look at our possessions. How many were gifts? How many have we accumulated ‘by the strength of our arm’, bought for ourselves out of our wealth? This is one simple expression of the way in which we are able to ‘build a life for ourselves’. And if we have built this life for ourselves, then why be thankful?

We may say, ‘I can be thankful that I have been given the strength to accumulate these things’, but is that the purpose of our lives? ‘Ones life does not consist in the abundance of our possessions’

The Psalmist on the whole lives much more on the edge. Even if the Psalmist is King David himself. Unlike Solomon who follows him, David is not renowned for his wealth and the David story which we read in 1 and 2 Samuel tells of a man living very much on the edge for much of his life – indeed his downfall occurs precisely at the point where he is settled and made a palace for himself. When he starts to live life on his own terms, taking that which is not his, seeking to possess.

Imagine what it would be like to live on the edge – not to know where your next meal was coming from. Imagine gratitude when it does come along.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 26th

The scheme for July and August can be found here

2 Ch 16-18; Acts 10; Psalm 107:23-end

The ‘conversion’ of Cornelius draws our attention for the very good reason that this message of salvation is received by the Gentiles as well as the Jews. This marks a key point inthe life of the infant church. but there is more, much more. this narrative calls into question so much of what we have been taught to think about ‘conversion’

As the conversion of Paul challenges our self centered religion – leaving Paul with the question ‘What wouldst thou have me to do, Lord?’ (as he recounts on the two occasions when he tells the tale to others) – so today’s reading reminds us that this whole business of becoming Christian is not what so many of us have been told.

Cornelius lives a repentant life – he is turned towards God, and others. He prays continually and his life exhibits the generosity of God. There are many who have bought modern conceptions of ‘becoming a Christian’ who do not exhibit these outward signs of repentance towards God, signs which are looked for in The judgement.

The ‘Conversion’ of Cornelius reminds us that to become a Christian is nothing less that the reception of God’s very Life, the baptism of the Holy Spirit which Jesus’ death and resurrection have made possible.

If we read the accounts of john the Baptist and his description of his ministry with regard to Jesus, we see this plainly. John comes preaching a baptism of repentace towards God. Cornelius is already repentant towards God, and thus is judged worthy of the Life of God – the promised baptism with the Holy Spirit.

Through the Bible in a Year – July 24

The scheme for July – August can be found here

2 Ch 10-12; Acts 8; Psalm 106:24-end

One of the grave errors of the contemporary church has been its abandonment of Psalmody as a regular part of the liturgy.

While we are reading through the scriptures I have included the Psalms on a regular cycle by which we pray through them in their entirety 3 times in the year.

Until recent times, such an approach to the Psalms was common place. In the Patristic era many people would pray through them on a daily basis – giving us pause for thought regarding our busy lives in which we say we have ‘no time to pray’. The monastic communities generally prayed [and pray] through them monthly. Of all our habits with regard to Scripture, it could be argued that this regular recitation of the Psalms is the most important.

For, to paraphrase Thomas Merton, alone in the Psalms ‘we have at once God’s word to human beings and the speech of human beings towards God’. Of no other part of Scripture can this be so truthfully said.

Put another way, praying the psalms places us before God in a way no other part of Scripture can do.

Perhaps this is why, in an age when the narcissistic spirit is rife, and humans place themselves without shame at the centre of the story, even that of faith, we so strenuously avoid the Psalms.

Through the Bible in a Year – May 2nd

The scheme for May – June can be found here

Jdg 7-8; Mark 8; Psalm 3-4

Our Psalms offer us very contrasting prayers although one speaks to the other.

Psalm 3 we are told is of David, when he is fleeing from his son Absalom. The story of David and his son we will come to in time in our journey through the Old Testament – but for now it is enough to know that Absalom has staged a coup and David with a small band of those who have remained loyal have fled.

For the cast majority of those who read posts such as these it is hard to comprehend the depths of David’s loss and terror. His son has risen against him, his kingdom torn from his hand, and now he flees for his life. None of us can really know anything like this – yet in the midst his entire confidence is in God. He is both transcendent and imminent – a shield around him – and also the one who sustains him. God is his life, yes even David’s life.

Having said that we cannot know the depth of David’s predicament – who amongst us has every fled from those that seek to kill them – there is still as much disquiet in our hearts as if this were the case. The human creature often knows fear and distress which seems not to have a comparable external referent. And in the midst of this, Psalm 4 gives us wise wise counsel. For in the midst of the turbulence it is all too easy to be reactive and lash out against the ‘enemy’ – to ‘take the law into our own hands’, which is in effect to ‘take the name of the Lord in vain’.

The Psalmist calls us to a better path – a life giving path – ‘When you are disturbed, do not sin. Ponder it on your bed, and be still’

When our life is lived in the light of the knowledge of God, our perspective radically alters. We need not sin. It is the turbulence of our heart that is the very source of sin. ‘Trust in the lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding’ That is the path of Peace – of Shalom. Of discovering Home (your life is hid with Christ in God)

Through the Bible in a Year – April 5

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Deut 3-4; Phil 1; Psalm 119:1-16

Today we embark upon readings through Psalm 119. Famous for being the longest of the Psalms, it is also an extended meditation upon the Word of God.

Sadly for most of us, part of the beauty of these words is lost. In Hebrew it is an acrostic, that is each section begins with the successive letters of the alphabet, from Aleph to Taw.

This of course is no mere poetic device, rather it is a meas by which those who ‘read’ the Psalms come to memorize and thus interiorise these prayers.

Whilst a good number of us no doubt have memorised one or two Psalms, we live in an age which is already impoverished by the ready availability of print, and soon to be further impoverished no doubt as reading also is surpassed for other even more individualistic and ephemeral ways of ‘learning’.

Until the invention of printing, most had only one way to learn the Psalms and that was by listening and recitation. Thus the Psalms would go deep down into the interior, where they would feed our prayer lives and thus our ‘everyday lives’. They were the Daily bread on which we fed.

Indeed postulants of monastic orders would usually have to have learnt all the Psalms in such a way before admittance.

Although these posts are written to encourage us to get to know the whole of Scripture – in our highly pressurised modern lives it is rather like trying to eat an elephant. If you are finding keeping up difficult, perhaps just a diet of a slower meditative reading of Psalm 119 for the next few days would suffice. After all in this one Psalm we meditate on all of Scripture in a unique way.

Through the Bible in a Year – March 31

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 29-30; Eph 1; Psalm 110-111

Psalm 110 is THE Royal Psalm – the one which Jesus himself quotes in effect to sign his own death warrant as he speaks with the Crowds in Mark 12.

This wonderful Psalm we read today in association with Ephesians 1. Where Paul is enraptured in his exaltation of Christ. All his grammar falls to pieces in vs 3-14 as he is caught up in praise of Christ in perhaps the single longest sentance of all of Scripture. I wonder, how long is it since we were so enraptured in our worship of Christ?

Those of us, including myself, who revel in the mind, who love nothing more than to ponder ‘truths’, need perhaps more than most to ‘Learn Christ’ – to Know deep within ourselves that the person who may have little or no grasp of any doctrine, may worship Christ in truth far more than we ever will.

Oh for that liberated heart

Through the Bible in a Year – March 21

The Scheme for March – April can be found here

Num 10-11; 2 Cor 5-6; Psalm 103

Once more a brief pause to consider a Psalm

This time, 103, one of those often committed to memory and it would be a good practise so to do.

Christian faith, as we have noted, is all too easily turned in on itself – we have ‘a faith’ which secures us. The beginning and end of our faith is our salvation, either in the here, or the hereafter. Whereas the Biblical witness is that the End, the Purpose of faith is the Glory of God.

Thus meditation on Psalm 103, with its total focus on the attributes of God is a useful medicine for the incurvatus soul. It will not let us turn in on ourselves, rather it opens us to God. And so the Psalmist both begins and ends the Psalm with true words of faith – Bless the Lord O my soul, and all that is within me Bless His holy name.

For surely the end of our faith is to Bless God