When I pray, I speak to God, and when I study Torah, God speaks to me. – Rabbi Louis Finkelstein
We as Christians talk about prayer often; it’s one of the basics of our faith journey. What we don’t always think about is the need to study. For us, it isn’t just Torah (the first five books of what we call the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures), but also the prophecies, poetry, writings (the Tanakh), gospels, epistles and all.
It is one thing to read the Bible straight through and think we’ve covered it. We read strange stories with people doing things we can’t understand and can’t figure out how such things got into the word of God. But through study, consultation with commentaries, pastors, theologians, and the like, we begin to understand that there is more here than just a simple reading will provide.
Through study, we gain an understanding of the world of the Bible as it was. We learn why people sometimes did unthinkable things and how God could condone it, much less authorize it. We learn that even though some of the stories might not be 100% factual (CNN hadn’t been invented yet), and many stories were not written down until centuries or even millennia after they were first told, there is a profound truth lying underneath them for us to discover, examine and take to heart.
The process of theological reflection allows us to work a process where we look at something in four different ways – through the lenses of culture, tradition, personal position, and actions that can be taken. Sometimes, we find a new light on something we’ve not understood before, or perhaps something we had not considered through prayer and meditation. Prayer can be incorporated into this process, as we invite God into our deliberations, whether personal or communal.
We shouldn’t give up learning just because we’ve completed high school or college or any kind of formal or informal schooling. If we stop learning, we stop growing. We pray to communicate with God, but we study to understand what God has to tell us through the words of the Bible and prayer.
As we read in Sirach, “How different the one who devotes himself to the study of the law of the Most High!” (38:34). Prayer lets us talk to God, but study allows us to be open to God’s messages to us.
Image: Prayer Book of Bonne of Luxembourg, Duchess of Normandy, illuminated manuscript, Jean le Noir (– 13800. Written before 1349. Current location, Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Cloisters Collection. Found at Wikimedia Commons.
Linda Ryan is a co-mentor for an Education for Ministry group, an avid reader, lover of Baroque and Renaissance music, and retired. She keeps the blog Jericho’s Daughter. She lives with her three cats near Phoenix, Arizona.