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From Bible Study to Prayer and Contemplation

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Click here for an illustration of the place of the group bible study in the life of the community of faith.The BEC is not a bible study group. It is rather the weekly gathering of groups of the faithful to prepare themselves for the Sunday liturgy so as to be more ready to live the Word of God in their daily lives. In these gatherings, they begin to mirror the Church, Bride of the Word of God, who is constantly turned to Her Spouse in faith, hope and love1. But given the urban setting of our efforts to build a basic ecclesial community, a bible study group can be a good beginning.

It should only be a beginning though. For unless the Bible study becomes, for each of the members of the group, an encounter of faith with the Word of God, then it remains a rich source of Christian cultural updating, but it won’t turn the group of Bible students into “Church.” Bible study should become “lectio divina”.

Lectio divina” is the classic name for a reading of the sacred page done in faith. It is “praying” the Scriptures. Historically, the “lectio” derives from the Jewish practise of the “hagah”, the acoustic reading of the Scriptures done so as to fix the events narrated and proclaimed in the sacred page more deeply in one’s memory. It is an acoustic reading because the Word of God has to be proclaimed so as to be heard.

In the development of the “lectio”, Guy the Carthusian’s “The Stairway to Heaven” (Scala claustrale) has become a classical source for the systematic explanation of how the “lectio” is done. The Carthusian writes of a dream he had about a stairway that leads to heaven. There are four steps in that stairway: reading (lectio), prayer (oratio), meditation (meditatio) and contemplation (contemplatio). Guy was making distinctions in a process that involved the actual reading of a page and its accompanying motions: prayer and meditation. Contemplation is the goal of the activity, a “gaze” at the divine mystery2.
In prayer (oratio), the reader “knocks” so to speak, so that the wealth of the text be disclosed to him. In meditatio (meditatio), the reader begins to understand the text, allowing it resonate in the heart, “masticating” it, so to speak, so that it would release the “sweetness” within. In contemplation, the reader savours that sweetness and allows the substance of the reading to nourish him.

In our group bible studies, contemplation is left out, while on the other hand, the explanation of the text and subsequent group discussion takes the place of meditation. So that bible study can really become a “reading in faith”, it should also provide the venue for prayer and contemplation.

While it is true that our bible studies are already becoming occassions for making our Christian commitment more public, it remains incomplete without prayer and contemplation. “When I read the Scriptures, God speaks to me,” St. Ambrose reminds us. “And when I pray, I speak to God.” Bible study then is not so much for moral improvement as for encountering Him who bids us “Be holy as I am holy.”

How do we give to prayer and contemplation its proper place in our bible studies?

Right now, our bible study groups follow the following steps:

  1. We pray for guidance
  2. We read the text
  3. Someone explains the text
  4. Members of the group discuss
  5. Members of the group formulate concrete resolutions for the week to come.

#2 corresponds to “lectio” while #3-#4 corresponds to “meditatio”. What St. Ambrose refers to as “speaking to God” can still be carried out after the group bible study as part of each member’s way of appropriating what has been learned with the group. A personal moment going through the notes one has taken during the study session can help not only to refresh the memory but also can become an occassion for praise, petition or adoration. A visit to the Blessed Sacrament during the week can also provide the venue for a prayer that rises out from the sacred page and perhaps even for contemplating the mystery disclosed in the inspired text.

Descriptions of BECs do not include testimonies of a deepened prayer life. That does not mean that prayer has no part in the life of the basic ecclesial community. A bible session with a cell group that integrates prayer can take as long as two to two and a half hours. In rural areas, people are used to this. In urban areas, it can be difficult, especially when the cell group meets after a long trip from work or school. In this setting, prayer and contemplation can become one’s breathing space in between busy hours. Even housewives and housemaids can gracefully fill up their schedule with a private moment perusing their bible notes and using these as a launchpad for prayer and contemplation. This way they can return to their bible group study with a little bit more than the memory of the past week’s lecture or discussion.


1   To understand the place of the group bible study within our life within the community of faith, click on this illustration.

2   The Jesuits describe contemplation as an act whereby the reader of the sacred page imaginations him/herself as taking part in the movement of the sacred story. Guy the Carthusian intended something else by his use of “contemplation.”

Originally posted 2008-05-02 18:42:52. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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