Keep praying and reading anyway

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The great saints and ancient prophets frequently experienced the alternation of up and down, joy and sorrow … If the great saints are exposed to such variations, we who are poor and weak should not be discouraged if our spiritual life fails to be uniformly ecstatic. The Holy Spirit gives and takes according to his own divine purpose. I have never met anyone so religious and devout that he has not felt occasionally some withdrawing of grace. (Thomas à Kempis, The Imitation of Christ)

I talked with two of my parishioners last week about Bible reading and the Daily Office.

Both confessed that they had recently struggled because it “doesn’t seem like I’m getting anything out of it.” One added, “I should feel something each time I read the Bible, right?”

I think this is one of the hardest issues facing people who want to observe a discipline like the Daily Office.

We have been led to believe in the ecstatic experience. Our Sunday worship is often geared to a fever pitch, and in our urgency to promote Bible reading, we are breathless about the benefits.

Truth is, though, the benefits of daily Bible reading and a practice like the Daily Office are cumulative benefits. It takes time to let the prayers of the Church and the words of Scripture soak into your mind and heart.

It takes time to understand the shape of the Biblical story, the grand sweep of salvation history and the details of Jesus’ life and ministry.

Some days, you just won’t feel like praying. You’ll be too busy, too tired, too distracted. Keep praying anyway.

Some days, the Bible passage you read will leave you thinking, “Is that all there is?” Keep reading anyway.

Other days, you will find yourself lingering over a canticle or collect, touched by its beauty and by God’s grace. Pause and savor your connection to God and to Christians around the world, then keep praying.

Other days, you’ll find yourself caught up in the drama of the prophets or the story of the apostles, swept up in their passion for the kingdom of God. Enjoy it, and keep reading.

Our spiritual lives may not be “uniformly ecstatic,” but we can rest assured that God’s purposes will be at work in us as we spend time praying with the Church and reading Scripture with the Holy Spirit.

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