A Catholic Woman’s Guide to Praying with Scripture
I always laugh when I hear someone preface a statement with the words, “There are two types of people in the world…” because, well, it’s funny. I think we could all agree that, with the beautiful diversity and variety present in the human race, there are waaaayyyy more than two kinds of people in the world. And yet, the distinctions that statements beginning with this phrase highlight are often on point.
There are two types of people in the world: those who have abounding enthusiasm for setting New Year’s resolutions, and those who want nothing to do goals that begin on January first. Try it; ask a friend for their thoughts on New Year’s commitments, and I bet you’ll get a polarized answer. Love ‘em or hate ‘em!
Myself, I’m in the “love” camp. I spend much of the month of December reflecting on the past calendar year and mentally, emotionally, and spiritually preparing myself for the upcoming one. I ask myself questions about what worked well, what didn’t, how I hope to grow in the upcoming year, and where I could use some help. From my reflection, I typically create 4-8 goals that orient my upcoming year.
Without fail, one of the goals is almost always related to my spiritual life, and this year’s is to pray with Scripture more. I truly believe — and the church teaches — that God reveals Godself continually through the stories and sentiments of the Bible, and I’d like to open myself to that revelation through regular prayer with God’s word.
Here are three ways that I am planning to pray with Scripture this year:
Spend the week reflecting on the upcoming Sunday’s Mass readings.
There are so many ways to approach reading Scripture, whether by reading the Bible cover to cover (guides like these are helpful if this is your desired path), choosing one or multiple books (say, the Gospels or the Epistles or the prophets) to focus on for a year, or just keeping your Bible on your nightstand and randomly choosing a chapter to dive into each night. Myself, I’m planning to dig deep into the upcoming Sunday’s Mass passages each week by reading them multiple times over the course of the six days leading up to Sunday.
I’m taking this approach for a few reasons. First, it’s simple. I’m the kind of person who often gets stymied from completing tasks when there are too many decisions to make (e.g. it took me a year in our house to hang curtains because the internal debates over length/color/rod style/material overwhelmed me), and so the fact that the church lectionary pre-determines what I’ll be reading works well for me.
Secondly, the Mass readings provide me with variety; every week, I’ll encounter a piece of wisdom literature, a letter, a part of the story of Jesus, and more. Finally, I like that the lectionary readings will connect me to liturgical season that we’re in as well as to the universal church, even in my personal practice.
For me, reflecting on the weekly passages will involve reading them a couple of times over the course of the week (they can be found here), as well as journaling about them. When I journal with Scripture, I just jot down verses that stand out to me, thoughts that arise as I read, and applications of the Scripture to my current situation.
Memorize a few chunks of Scripture
I love having words that inspire, uplift and encourage memorized, because memorization ensures that the words are available to me during all of my conscious moments (and maybe the unconscious ones, too, though I have yet to wake up from a dream reciting a Shakespearean sonnet or Psalm!). My childhood education involved memorizing prayers and poems — from the Hail Mary to Robert Frost’s poem Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening — and I’ll be forever grateful to my parents and teachers for encouraging such practice.
In a nutshell, memorization means that I can turn to words that nurture my soul any time I am worried, unsure, lonely, scared, or bored. Let’s face it: wouldn’t it be better for me to prayerfully repeat the phrase “Perfect love casts out fear” when I wait for a phone call from the doctor, rather than letting my mind race in a thousand different anxious directions?
I have some Scripture committed to memory — mostly through having hymns and scripturally based worship music lodged in the recesses of my mind — but I’d like to learn more. This year, I’m going to choose one psalm to learn in its entirety, and I’m also going to choose a few verses that speak to current concerns that I’m facing. For instance, I have a really hard time accepting the passage of time (why can’t babies stay babies forever?! You don’t have to answer that…) and so I think I’ll memorize Ecclesiastes 3. I’d also like to choose a few verses related to virtues that I’d like to cultivate in my life. I plan to use these Scripture Memory Cards to help me in my efforts.
Devote special time to being in the Word
Thanks to pandemic life (working from home for the win) and also just the stage of life that we are in (i.e. we are a very young family, with two children two-and-under), my husband and I spend a lot of time together. On days when we are both working from home, we eat all of our meals together; our primary entertainment on weekends are family activities like going to the park or on long walks; our social circles overlap so even friend-time is often together-time for us. Even with all of this time in one another's presence, we still like to schedule date nights, because intentional, celebratory, set-apart time to be each other’s number one-focus is different than all the other times.
The same thing goes for time with God. Having a quick read of the week’s readings before bed is great. Praying Bible verses as I wait in the school pick up line is an excellent use of those minutes. But there is no substitute for quality time, and so part of my goal to pray with Scripture will include sitting down with my Bible, lighting a candle, and just being with God, with no other agenda.
There is no wrong way to pray with Scripture, and this list of ideas is far from exhaustive. Over the course of the year, I might try new or different things. But this is where I’m starting, and I’m excited to see where the practices take me.