To help the church grow in love and faithful witness to God, Pope Francis has…
Encountering God through Scripture
I don’t know if it was the worst week of my life, but early February 2016 was a perfect storm of misery. My best friend just had her first baby and nearly died in the process. I was with her, trying to help her deal with her newborn (and her trauma) when I got a message from another dear friend: They had gone to the hospital to have my godson.
I drove straight to the chapel to beg for his life, but by that evening all I could do was arrange to drive halfway across the country for his funeral.
But I had another mess to deal with: My car was dangerously undrivable.
It was the last straw. I drove a borrowed car to another church and threw myself down before the Lord for the ultimate pity party.
But as I wept and raged, I kept hearing this verse in my mind: “Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge. Even all the hairs on your head are counted, so do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows” (Mt 10:29-31).
Listening to God’s word
I had decided to memorize Scripture that year, and providence had given me that very passage just the week before. And so I’d set it to music and committed it to heart, quite unaware of how deeply I would need to hear the Lord’s tender voice speaking those words to me.
On the floor of that church, I saw myself before Jesus. I was a mess of a child, a street urchin far beneath the notice of even an ordinary carpenter, let alone the God-man. But as I wept over some tragedy, he knelt before me, wiped the tears from my eyes and spoke those words: “Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
Again and again, I let the Lord speak those words to me. And as I drew in a shuddering breath and collected myself for the drive back to my suffering friend, I let his words wrap around me and remind me: He was with me. I was not alone. My godson was not alone. His parents were not alone. We were loved.
It wasn’t the first time the Lord had spoken to me so distinctly through his word. And it wasn’t the last. No, I find myself floored a hundred times a year by the ever ancient, ever new word of God.
“Scripture is like a river,” St. Gregory the Great said, “broad and deep. Shallow enough here for the lamb to go wading, but deep enough there for the elephant to swim.” When I picked up my first Communion Bible the day after the Lord won my heart, I was hardly even a lamb. Only 13 years old, I’d considered myself an atheist just the week before. But the Holy Spirit had done some heavy lifting on my confirmation retreat and I found myself — quite unexpectedly — ready to live for Jesus.
Studying the Word
God wrote one book, I reasoned, so I’d better read that. I threw in the Catechism for good measure and set off running. Wandering, rather. Stumbling. Dragging my feet through begats and cubits. Grimacing at genocide. Shaking my head over what certainly looked like misogyny. Getting distracted for a few months before grabbing my beat-up Bible again and picking up where I’d left off.
It took me five years to read the Bible from Genesis to Revelation.
I understood almost nothing.
But I knew it was the word of God. And I’d had moments, glimpses of the glory that would come if only I sought the Lord, if only I let his Word change me. “Indeed, The word of God is living and effective,” Hebrews tells us, “sharper than any two-edged sword, penetrating even between soul and spirit, joints and marrow, able to discern reflections and thoughts of the heart” (Heb 4:12). I wanted to be pierced, wanted my heart broken open by the Lord. I’d seen my Protestant friends wax poetic over the beauty of Scripture.
So I started again. This time, with a schedule that would take me through the whole Bible in a year.
And at the end of that year, I started again. Then again. All the while, I was studying theology, hearing Scripture preached at Mass each day, praying the Rosary and meditating on the mysteries, attending Bible studies, praying the Liturgy of the Hours. I was encountering Scripture in different contexts, in different translations. I began memorizing it, meditating on it, preaching on it.
Before I knew it, the word of God was running through my veins, tugging at the edges of my mind, speaking hope and conviction and life-changing love into my weak and weary heart. And as I read the Bible in its entirety year after year, as I marked up my Bible with highlighting and underlines and notes full of information gleaned from modern commentators and Church Fathers and prayer — above all else, prayer — I began to know the God I had met all those years earlier.
I saw how he had worked through Judith, how he had given hope to Joseph, how he had answered Sarah and Tobit. I heard his proclamations of undying love in Isaiah and Hosea and Ezekiel and the Song of Songs. I read about him in the Gospels and held these things in my heart, learning (like Mary) to gaze at him, to wonder at his perfect infant body and his strong carpenter’s hands and his smile lines and his scars. I saw myself in the woman caught in adultery, the man born blind. I ignored him with Peter, followed him with Peter, corrected him with Peter, denied him with Peter, repented with Peter. I stood beside Paul and learned to rejoice in affliction, to be weak so that Christ might be strong.
When I was a lamb, opening my Bible for the very first time, I found truth. I found mystery. I found a love letter from the God who always seemed so distant. And though I’m far from what St. Gregory would consider an elephant in Scripture study, when I began my 20th time through the Bible this month, I pulled out my pencil yet again. Because when I encounter God in his word, he is always working, always calling me to conversion and surrounding me with love and delighting me with connections I never saw before.
Sometimes, it’s all I can do to trudge through the passages in which I’ve never been able to find meaning, but every once in a while he shows me just a glimmer of his radiance even in the descriptions of sacrifices or Temple adornments and I remember: This is no dead text but the living word of God, an invitation to stand in awe before the God of the universe and enter into intimacy with the Bridegroom Messiah.
On Jan. 24, the Church celebrates the Sunday of the Word of God, a new feast first celebrated last year. May I invite you to take some time to ask the Lord how he wants you to enter more deeply into Scripture? There is so much he wants to offer you through his word, whether you begin a reading schedule, or start memorizing passages, or open up a commentary, or join a Bible study, or bring your Bible to Mass. But let us never take for granted the tremendous gift the Bible is. Let us become men and women of the word whose love of Scripture makes us saints.
Meg Hunter-Kilmer is a Catholic author and speaker. Visit her website at piercedhands.com.