Thursday, July 12, 2012

Transformations #42: Resonate

The first time I went to Mass after deciding to become Catholic, I took my Bible with me.  I went with a Catholic family whose daughter attended school with me, and they were amused that I brought it along.

I was ready to read along.  But for the first reading, the reader proclaimed, "A reading from the book of Isaiah."  I panicked.  Isaiah what?  There should be a chapter and verse proclaimed along with that, no?  How else could I follow along?

Fortunately I knew the passage and knew which chapter to flip to, so everything was OK.

I've since learned that this is just the way it's done in the Catholic Church.  Participants in the Mass are expected to listen instead of read, and that is why the exact reference is dispensed with.

If you're a Protestant reading this, you may be of the opinion that Catholics in general don't know the Bible well (and you'd be generally right).  And you may think that this is a reason why (maybe, maybe not).  I definitely observed a state of cluelessness about the scriptures among the faithful when I crossed the Tiber.  There was a hunger for them there, but there was a real lack of pastoral effort to feed that hunger.  Catholics especially don't seem to know how to take a passage of Scripture, meditate & pray through it, and come out with something concrete to improve their own lives.

For years I was frustrated at my fellow Catholics for this missing component (I've since learned that there is a Catholic name for the type of study I was used to - Lectio Divina).  But it never occurred to me that I could help to solve this deficit.

Until just a few weeks ago, that is - hence the Transformation moment.  The Lord laid it on my heart (there's a good Protestant expression!) to start a Bible study.  He assured me it would work with my busy schedule.  So I put the wheels in motion, spread the word around, and tonight we had our first one.  A group of seven of us sat with coffee around our living room, opened with prayers, and began to devour the Word together.

We'll be reading through the book of Judges, one chapter at a time, meeting twice a month.  I call this the Resonate Bible Study, as the goal is to search the passage for something that resonates with you.

The book of Judges is a pretty difficult read if one is new to the Bible.  The first chapter is filled with very foreign sounding names of people and places, and as we went around the circle it was almost humourous to hear everybody stumble over Canaanites, Simeonites, Adoni-Bezek, Kiriath Arba, Talmai, Hormah, Zebulun, Nahalol... you get the picture.  But we got through it.

The challenge to each person was to find something concrete in the scripture we read and to turn it into a prayer request.  It seemed like a tall order, as the passage was very dry on first glance.  But "all scripture is inspired by God and is useful" - very quickly an enriching discussion took place, and we closed off the evening with spontaneous group prayer for every person's specific prayer request.  It was a little over two hours.

For me, what resonated took a bit of cross referencing.  The chapter is an account of how the Twelve Tribes spread throughout Canaan, conquering cities as they went.  Judah, the tribe descended from the eldest son of Jacob and therefore the one with the most political clout, "took possession of the hill country, but they were unable to drive the people from the plains, because they had iron chariots" (Judges 1:19b)  My Bible cross-referenced that with Joshua 17:16-18, where the tribe of Joseph - the descendants of the second youngest of Israel's sons, with fewer numbers and the least political clout - was given permission to take more territory from the Canaanites in the plain (the cities referenced imply it was a different region of Canaan than Judah later received).  They balked at this, for the Canaanites had iron chariots and seemed too powerful for them to conquer.  "But Joshua said to the house of Joseph... 'You are numerous and very powerful.... Though the Canaanites have iron chariots and though they are strong, you can drive them out.'"

The relatively small and weak tribe of Joseph took on the challenge of the iron chariots and won.  The strong and influential tribe of Judah, chief among the tribes, could not defeat the iron chariots.  For me, the prayer request was to be weak like Joseph so the Lord can fight my battles.  If I try to defeat my own "iron chariots" under my own power, I am doomed to fail.

All in all, it was an excellent Bible study and everybody who came got something out of it.  I am glad I organized this and am eagerly looking forward to the next one.