On Reading the Scriptures, Revisited

St Melania the Younger, from the Menologion of Basil II (c. 1000)

In the life of St Melania the Younger (c. AD 383-439, commemorated Dec. 31), we read that in addition to her time spent in prayer and the Divine Services, the copying of Greek and Latin manuscripts (her “principal employment,” we are told, at which she excelled), caring for the poor and other charitable endeavors, and the systematic reading of patristic and spiritual works, the Saint also assigned some hours daily “to the reading of the Holy Scriptures, which she read through from beginning to end four times during the year.”1 Since the feast of St Melania occurs on the last day of our Civil Year, her admirable example can be to us both a reminder and an encouragement to take up anew the reading of the Holy Scriptures with every New Year.

Of course, I have previously had occasion to address the subject of daily Bible reading in two well-received posts, which I now commend to the attention of any interested readers:

In these posts, I have attempted to explain why it might be beneficial to begin a program of systematic Scriptural reading with the Gospel and the Psalter, which are the backbone of the Church’s liturgical use and experience of the Bible, and offered suggestions on how to move from that beginning to a full-fledged reading program that incorporates the entire Scriptural canon. To these things I should now like to add a few short suggestions, later to be followed by a rather more substantial update on the various posts entitled “On Englishing the Church’s Bible” and the like, which update is now happily necessary.

In the first place, I might bring up the bugaboo of attrition: the obvious reason behind the multitude of Bible reading plans that make the rounds at the beginning of every year, and also the central concern of my above-linked posts. Needless to say, even the best designed plan cannot be considered an infallible remedy to the twin maladies of impatience and burnout. It is often the case that those who start small can become impatient at the slow rate of their progress, just as those who attempt too much tend to collapse under the burden of a reading program for which they are not ready. Moreover, even those who manage to proceed apace might eventually succumb to despondency in view of that rather long term of completion of any Bible reading program—anywhere from one, to two, or even three years. In all of these cases, attrition is ultimately due to untempered overeagerness. Of course, we all know (perhaps even from bitter experience) that people tend to start new projects with a great deal of enthusiasm, the intensity of which might noticeably fluctuate until it effectively fizzles out. It seems, then, that it should be possible to harness that initial impetus and apply it to a much shorter and more focused goal, which would then give way to the slower plan, incrementally augmented, as described in my previous posts. With this in mind, I should like to recommend The Daily Walk Bible NLT: 31 Days with Jesus, available for free as a Kindle book from Amazon, and in other formats through the publisher. This resource, equipped with short thematic introductions and outlines, simply walks you through the four Gospels in canonical order over the course of 31 days. You don’t like the New Living Translation, you say? Don’t let that become an excuse: simply download the free resource and follow their plan using the translation of your choice. With distressing regularity, the search for the “perfect Bible” merely functions as a thinly veiled device to grant us permission to avoid reading Scripture altogether. And if the pace becomes too accelerated, say, by the third week or so, there is no reason to quit: at that point, one may simply reduce the length of the daily readings from the Gospels to three, two, or even the one daily chapter proposed in my first post.

A second suggestion concerns the reading of the Psalter, which I indicated earlier could be done at the rate of a single stasis (i.e., roughly three Psalms) per day. However, I am pleased to share an appealing alternative: the “Greek Psalms in a Year” initiative, spearheaded by one Russell Beatty, that gets off the ground today. Modeled after our friend Abram K-J’s celebrated “Greek Isaiah in a Year” program for 2012, it aims to complete the reading of the entire Greek Psalter at the rate of roughly 4-6 verses per day. Abram has posted the reading plan, as well as many other resources for reading the Psalms in Greek (including links to a couple of dedicated discussion forums). It occurs to me that even those who are innocent of Greek might benefit from this reading plan: if one stasis a day becomes overwhelming after a while, one might well slow down the pace by taking in these small portions instead of ceasing to read altogether. It is, again, better to continue to read consistently at least a little bit than to give up entirely.

Finally, I should like to share with one and all the excellent Bible reading plan devised by Dr Mary Healy, Associate Professor of Sacred Scripture at Sacred Heart Major Seminary in Detroit, and author of The Gospel of Mark in the superb Catholic Commentary on Sacred Scripture series from Baker Academic. It will be noted that this plan has remarkable similarities with the final plan I have proposed here and elsewhere, as it starts out with readings from the Gospels, the Psalms, and then the rest of the Bible. However, it does not repeat the Gospels and the Psalms, so that the rest of the New Testament is read after the former, and the rest of the poetical and wisdom books are read after the latter. The daily divisions are very well thought out and are sensitive to the composition and structure of the various books, as one would expect from a world-class biblical scholar of whose deep immersion in the contents of Scripture the bards will sing one day. I can’t think of any reasons not use Dr Healy’s program of lectio continua, provided that after the Gospels run out in June 13, one should read at least the appointed Gospel reading for the day as printed in most ecclesiastical calendars. This is hardly an onerous addition, since there are fewer readings in Dr Healy’s program than in the full-fledged program proposed in my second post. Yet this rather minimal addition helps to keep the reading of the Holy Gospel a daily activity central to the Christian life.

The day is not yet over. There is still time to pick up, right now, the Holy Scriptures. Give the Gospels a read over 31 days. Or read one chapter of the Gospels and a stasis of the Psalms, or else Psalm 1 in Greek. Or read according to a yet more developed plan—whether Dr Healy’s, or the one proposed here, or even from one of the handful of truly excellent daily reading Bibles one can still find out there. Whatever plan you choose as better suited to your temperament, take up and read, and be patient and faithful. The rewards, as the remarkable life of the great St Melania reminds us, are abundantly ours both in this world and in the world to come.

Endnote:

1. Mariano Cardinal Rampolla del Tindaro, The Life of St Melania, translated by E. Leahy and edited by Herbert Thurston, SJ (London: Burnes and Oates and New York: Benzinger Bros., 1908), page 105.

5 responses to “On Reading the Scriptures, Revisited

  1. Pingback: A Curmudgeon's Take On New Year's Resolutions - With Bible Verses and a Quote by Edwards | Scripture Zealot blog

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