What is A Contemplative Bible Study? Pt. 2: Mountains, Metaphor, and Meditation
Last week I retreated with a group of fellow believers at a Franciscan Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado. This retreat is the final in a series of retreats facilitated by the Apprentice Institute and James Bryan Smith†. Though it was our final retreat together, it was my first visit to Colorado – ever.
Having heard much about Colorado’s beautiful landscape, I was anticipating some wonderful views filled with moments of majesty and awe.
And, though what I saw mocks my meager reach for words to describe it, I can tell you that I was not disappointed!
The scenery of this glorious countryside, particularly the mountain range (in this case, Pikes Peak), was breathtaking. I couldn’t get enough of the range that seemed to literally wrap itself around the horizon and encircle us in beauty. What I found astounding was how the mountain continued to grow in beauty with every gaze. It was as if every time I looked, I noticed something different and unique that I hadn’t noticed the time before.
The time of day also impacted what I saw and how I saw what I saw! The range took on different qualities and characteristics pending it’s orientation to the sun. As the sun set behind the range, beams reflected off the rock, shimmering ribbons of glorious light across the horizon. As the sun rose in the foreground, the light seemed to awaken the range to a new day with new wonders to display.
Three realities became abundantly clear:
- Initially I realized that the more I looked upon and focused on the mountain range, the more beautiful it became. I discovered something new and brilliant each time my eyes were drawn to the sprawling slopes of the far-reaching range.
- Secondly, I noticed that the only way to enjoy the beauty of the mountain range was to slow down. The moments when I was running late left little time for me to enjoy the beauty all around and about me. The enjoyment of the beauty so bountifully displayed about me required a pause – really a full stop – from me. Enjoyment, the deep rich kind of enjoyment our souls were born to crave, simply cannot be rushed!
- Thirdly, and, in my mind most importantly, the position of the sun impacted the perception of my eyes. It’s impossible to overstate this or its implications. As I noted earlier, the mount range changed in relationship to its orientation toward the sun. When the sun was setting the mountain reflected a different glory from the moments when the sun was rising. When the sun was hidden, there were shadows cast on the range that brought a new but more somber beauty to bear on the terrain all about and around me.
Indeed, the placement of the sun changed everything about how I saw or perceived the world around me.
Mountains, Metaphors, and Meditation
My experience of beholding the beauty of the mountain range serves, I believe, as a metaphor or picture of what happens as we meditate on and/or approach Scripture study within a contemplative framework.
For example, as we spend time reflecting on a particular section of Scripture (the mountain range), we discover new beauty within and find that, with the discovery of beauty, our life is reoriented both toward the Son and by the Son. As such, the position of the Son – the way in which our life is oriented toward the Messiah – invariably changes the ways our eyes perceive and relate to the world around us.
A Contemplative What?
By way of reminder, when I say a contemplative approach to Bible study, I mean an approach that recognizes the importance of traditional study methods (e.g., reading the passage within its context, word studies, language studies, historical studies, interpretive analysis, etc.), yet incorporates those methods within a contemplative reading framework.
This framework is one in which the reader approaches the text in full surrender, seeking the Spirit’s mediating presence to reveal the inconsistencies and disorders that lie within the heart of the one reading, so that those disorders might be rearranged by the truth of the text through the presence of the Spirit.
Years ago, in one of my first seminary courses on biblical interpretation, my professor said these words:
“Before we interpret the text, the text must first interpret us.”
Wow. This statement has had staying power through years. It’s one I hear often, almost relentlessly, as I open the Scriptures to prepare my heart to preach the Word.
Meditation provides room for this reorientation in the life of the person handling the text.
It’s also the opposite of what happens when we merely approach the text and read it in a haphazard manner (which is, by the way, the primary manner in which we are now being trained to read) or passively sit and listen to someone interpret the text who has never allowed the text to interpret him or herself.
It’s an approach to the text in which ‘being’ in Christ’s presence is the goal and ‘doing’ ministry for Christ in the world is the outcome or overflow.
It’s an approach I believe the Apostle Paul is encouraging when he instructs us in Colossians 3:16 to “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.”
Do you remember when you last felt the Word of Christ dwelling richly in you?
Ponder this question in the days and weeks to come.
Next week we’ll consider this verse and how it speaks directly to the power of meditating on God’s Word and the hope such a person brings to his or her world!
Disrupting to Renew!