Scripture as a living force

Daily Reading for October 20

The word healing comes from a word meaning “entire” or “complete,” and signifies a restoration to wholeness. For that reason it is a more “holistic” word than therapy. While many people are helped by psychotherapy, I suspect that there are also many like me who have benefited from occasional counseling but have received more help from spiritual practices such as prayer and lectio divina, or holy reading. Perhaps the most radical aspect of the psychology of the desert monastics is the extent to which they believed that Scripture itself had the power to heal. In The Word in the Desert, his study of how thoroughly the early monks integrated Scripture into their lives, Douglas Burton-Christie notes that they regarded these “sacred texts [as] inherently powerful, a source of holiness, with a capacity to transform their lives.”

Appreciating this monastic perspective on the Bible means abandoning the modern tendency to regard it as primarily an object of intellectual study, or as a handy adjunct to our ideology, be it conservative or liberal. The desert father who expounds on the inherent value of meditating on Scripture by observing, “Even if we do not understand the meaning of the words we are saying, when the demons hear them, they take fright and go away,” insults our intelligence. What is left to us, if we relinquish our intellectual comprehension? Isn’t it necessary to retain more control than that? Maybe not, if we want to experience the Word of God as these monks did, as “a living force within them.”

From Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead Books, 2008).

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