Prayer is more than words, but it’s got to start with words if it’s to go beyond them and into the Great Silence, which is the language of God. So, as you seek the Ineffable, consider well the words you gather yourself. You’ve chosen the psalms as a guide to prayer. They’ve involved you in the particular style of language used by those who’ve found trustworthy paths into the Mystery. So now, having spoken—or better, sung a psalm—gather yourself around a little fire made of the words of God’s prophets, sages, and apostles and dwell there for a awhile.

Your time with them needn’t be long. Just a few minutes, attentive before this fire you’re building for yourself is enough to warm you up to God. But take care that you don’t overdo it. You need kindling, not the branch of a tree. These words are incendiary, and just a few will kindle a blaze. But that doesn’t mean more is better—drop too much Scripture onto this traveler’s fire, and you’ll do more harm than good. Your religious ego might tell you that you ought to read a whole chapter and study it thoroughly, while the irreligious part of you hollers that you don’t have the time for any of it; you’ve got a project to get to or kids to take to school. Truth is, you do have time for what your heart needs most—just a twig is enough to keep this fire of your faith burning.

My practice is to read very slowly through, say, the Sermon on the Mount, or the Song of Songs . . . one or two verses a day. My aim is just to gather around Scripture, awakening my heart to God, feeding the flame of devotion.

So, take a little text, and let it first rest in your mind. Then draw the words down into your heart and let them dwell there. Allow a single word or phrase or image to focus your attention. You may be intrigued by it, confused, or even repulsed. The point is not to do anything about your response, but rather simply to experience it. You’re not to think about this encounter as much as you are to look at it and sit with it, dwelling with these written words that come from someone else’s living encounter with the One you seek. You’re reading is intentionally different from how you read other words; read for intimacy not for information, for love not for knowledge.

This is sacred reading. Just light a little fire and wait for God, you never know when a nearby bush, or something else, may go up in flames (Exodus 3.1-6).

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AuthorChris Neufeld-Erdman