Consumed by the Word

Reading the Bible is always an endeavor that yields fruit. Much of the time Holy Scripture reveals itself to be utterly fascinating. Sometimes, though, it simply takes one’s breath away. There is a familiarity there that warmly welcomes but also a solemn strangeness—a transcendent otherness—that cautions against an overly casual approach. I have said in the past that reading the Bible is a bit like putting on one’s favorite pair of jeans and being able to reach into the pocket always to find a fist full of twenties. But I think that such a simile is a bit too familiar. While it is true that Scripture is a fountain of perpetual novelty, it is not comfortable. In point of fact, it is quite dangerous.

The Word of God is living and powerful; sharper than a two-edged sword. To navigate Holy Writ is to walk along the razor’s edge; it is to swim in the mighty current of Divine Mystery. Peering into the Blessed Page is tantamount to gazing upon the bush ablaze with the Sacred Presence; from thence the Voice calls out and says, “Put off thy shoes from off of thy feet. For the place whereon thou standest is holy ground.” At first we wonder why the bush is not consumed; then, when we have come to our senses, we wonder why we are not consumed. So yes, it is appropriate to say that we can best read the Bible with our socks off—but it’s certainly not because we are more comfortable.

Reading Scripture is never a private affair. It is deep communion. The Word comes to us in the form of written symbols; sacramental letters conveying the very Voice of God. The bristling of its pages is like the sound of many waters. To hear it intoned is to hear the thundering echoes from the throne of eternity. Reading the Bible is fundamentally an act of prayer. Our eyes are transformed into ears and we draw near to hear the other side of the conversation. With each successive syllable the Spirit calls to us and says, “Be Still, and know that I am God.” And in our silence before the Word the movements of God are heard. His Breath broods over the rustling pages and we hear the going in the tops of the mulberry trees. The Finger of Omnipotence reaches downs and stirs the Waters of the Word so that we may bathe in its healing stream. Look there and find the Dove resting upon the Sacred Script; see the Son reposing on the strength of His own promises. Come now into the Holiest of All and hear our Lord’s secret prayer to His Father, “Sanctify them through Thy Truth; Thy Word is Truth.”

When you take up the Scriptures know that you have come to handle holy things. You have passed beyond the veil. You have been made privy to everything in the mind of God that mortal man can know. See to it that you do not refuse Him who speaks. For if the people did not escape when they refused Him who warned them on earth, how much less will we escape if we reject Him who warns us from heaven? 

Moses witnessed the Word inscripturated through a blinding haze of fire and smoke; the mountain trembled at the Voice and the men who didn’t perished. So that is no harmless collection of wise sayings in your lap. No man can take fire into his bosom and go away unburned. We pray, instead, that we too might be like that tree yonder in Midian—ardens sed viren. Or, if we must be consumed, let us be like that blessed bush; burning bright with the Word from On High. May our testimony be like that trio of courageous Hebrews who, when cast into the fires, came forth without even the smell of smoke upon them because they were already ablaze for God.

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