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Like a Ruminant

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Last Sunday, as I preached on the Parable of the Sower, I mentioned that at a time when Christians didn’t have the luxury of owning a copy of the Scriptures, they went to Sunday Mass, the only place where they came into contact with the Scriptures, and this, through the preaching of the bishop, the successor of the apostles. We have records of how our brothers and sisters in ancient times were instructed to make the Scriptures their own: each time they heard the proclamation of the Word in the first part of the Mass, they are to make an effort to remember the words. …

Nam et ipsa ruminatione, in qua significat Deus munda animalia, hoc voluit insinuare, quia omnis homo quod audit sic debet in cor mittere, ut non piger sit postea inde cogitare: ut quando audit, sit similis manducanti; cum autem audita in memoriam revocat, et cogitatione dulcissima recolit, fiat similis ruminanti.  (Enarrationes, 46, 1)

For by  “rumination” itself, by which God signifies clean animals, this is meant: that whatever one hears, one ought to put into the heart so that one would not be at  a loss of something to think about afterwards.  When he listens, he should be like one chewing.  When he recalls to memory what has been heard and in thinking brings together (recolit) the sweet things which he has heard, he becomes similar to a ruminant.  (Enarrations 46, 1)


 Once we have found a word or a passage in the Scriptures which speaks to us in a personal way, we must take it in and “ruminate” on it. The image of the ruminant animal quietly chewing its cud was used in antiquity as a symbol of the Christian pondering the Word of God. Christians have always seen an icon of lectio divina in the Blessed Virgin Mary “pondering in her heart” what she saw and heard of Christ (Luke 2:19). For us today these images are a reminder that we must take in the word—that is, memorize it—and while gently repeating it to ourselves, allow it to interact with our thoughts, our hopes, our memories, our desires. This is the second step or stage in lectio divina—meditatio. Through meditatio we allow God’s word to become his word for us, a word that touches us and affects us at our deepest levels.

(Dysinger, Accepting the Embrace of God: The Ancient Art of the Lectio Divina)


 Last Sunday, as I preached on the Parable of the Sower, I mentioned that at a time when Christians didn’t have the luxury of owning a copy of the Scriptures, they went to Sunday Mass, the only place where they came into contact with the Scriptures, and this,  through the preaching of the bishop, the successor of the apostles.  We have records of how our brothers and sisters in ancient times were instructed to make the Scriptures their own:  each time they heard the proclamation of the Word in the first part of the Mass, they are to make an effort to remember the words.  The preaching of the bishop who also repeated parts of the Scripture that has been read during his speech, helped the Christian understand and remember the words that they have heard.  The quotation from Augustine I refer to above is one of these early instructions.  The second one, from an article of a Benedictine monk — an inheritor of a tradition that reaches back to the time after Augustine —  is the same instruction repeated for a generation that can already easily access the sacred scriptures.



Augustine gave his instructions to parishioners who were mostly uneducated.  The Benedictine tradition is for monks who are learned in the letters (from a young age, they were instructed to read Latin from the Scriptures themselves).  But the instruction that is given has only one purpose:  that the hearer of the Word of God should learn to store it in his heart so that it can become the norm of the life-decisions he makes each day.  In other words, what is heard must pass to the heart so that it can become a part of one’s lifestyle.

 The first type of soil that Jesus mentions in the parable are those who “having heard, do not make an effort to understand it.”  They remain under the power of the devil who just takes the little that they have rendering them incapable of bearing fruit for the kingdom.

In answering the question of the disciples about his parabolic teaching, Jesus applies to himself a statement that was originally intended to describe Isaiah’s mission:

`You shall indeed hear but never understand, and you shall indeed see but never perceive. For this people’s heart has grown dull, and their ears are heavy of hearing, and their eyes they have closed, otherwise they would perceive with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and turn to me to heal them.’ (Matthew 13:14-15)

The words of Jesus reveal the attitude of people to the Word of God.  Parables were meant to be remembered and reflected upon so as to be understood.  Those who hear but don’t make an effort to understand are like the first type of soil :  they remain under the power of the devil, by their “intellectual sloth” they put themselves far from the possibility of conversion, the first requirement for entrance into the kingdom of God.


 Augustine’s comparing the Christian to ruminants has another reference:  the levitical classification of ruminants as “clean animals”.  By making this connection with the code of holiness, Augustine is actually telling his parishioners that the rumination of the words of Scriptures heard at Mass should become a characteristic of the Christian’s lifestyle.  In Dysinger’s article quoted above, the act of rumination is related to Mary’s “pondering all these in her heart”.  This Marian attitude towards the Word of God is a characteristic of the faith that listens so as to obey. 


Ruminants normally have four or three stomachs that help them digest their food.  A cow would chew on the grass it feeds on, swallows it putting it in one of its stomachs and later regurgitates the cud so as to chew on it once more.  The Christian who ruminates on the Word of God, remembers it, repeating the words as students often do with data that are to be remembered for an exam, making it his own.  A practical method based on this idea is described as follows  (from Scripture Meditation Techniques)

Read and Repeat your selected scriptures out loud. Faith comes by “hearing”: therefore, you must hear the word, not just read it silently. The idea is that you involve more parts of your body: eyes, brain, voice, AND ears, so you involve more of your whole self in the process, and therefore the scripture sinks deeper into your soul. So, read it—“confess it”—repeat it so that you can hear yourself. (Low volume is OK.)
Rom 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God. (KJV)

Memorize it:
Ps 119:11 I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. (NIV)

Meditate: Once you have it memorized, ponder the Word of God often:
Ps 119:148 My eyes stay open through the watches of the night, that I may meditate on your promises. (NIV)

Confess : audibly speak the Word of God (say it and talk about it) throughout the day (see Note below):
Deut 6:6-7 These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. (NIV)

In summary, Read, Repeat, Memorize, and Confess the word of God.

Note. Another possibility is to keep the whole process within the context of the Jewish hagah. “Hagah” is the Hebrew word for “meditation” and denotes an “auditory” reading of the Scriptures. By pronouncing the words that are read, one is also proclaiming what is read.


What is a ruminant? The following video might help…

Originally posted 2008-07-14 03:24:30. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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