Spiritual Reading with Bede
About a month ago I "found" myself at one of my favorite spots: Half-Priced Books. I happen to be looking through their generally very good religion section and found a little gem. The book is called The Abbreviated Psalter of the Venerable Bede translated and edited by Gerald M. Brown (for 4 bucks!!).
Bede, probably most famous for his Ecclesiastical History of the English People, lived and breathed the Psalms as the "stuff" of prayer. He was born around A.D. 672/3 and died in A.D. 735. As a monk he was a follower of the Opus Dei (Latin for the "work of God") which was a rigorous approach to spiritual formation. Following this path Bede would devote eight hours a day "munching" the Psalter, meditating on the Psalter, and praying the Psalter. Bede became a living book of Psalms.
Other disciples sought his guidance in praying through the Psalter and the Abbreviated Psalter (AP) was the result. The AP is sort of a cliff notes version of the Psalms. Bede has gone through all 150 Psalms and boiled them down to one prayer thought. Literally some of the Psalms are a single line, while others contain a significant portion of the text. For Bede this was a tool simply to get the mental juices flowing because you were already supposed to know the text. But as a prayer guide it helps bring the reader shoulder to shoulder not only with the ancient Israelite but with Christians in medieval England.
I have enjoyed this book on several levels. First, I like to see what the Bible looked like to folks in different ages. If you want to know what the Latin Psalter looked like in the eighth century this is a good place to read. Second, the AP is a good way to get at the heart of the Psalter for personal reading and devotion. It is good to munch on at that level. Third, it is a fine guide for focused prayer by helping my prayer from degenerating into a wish list.
There is another level that I have alluded to that I have enjoyed this book, that is lectio divina (divine reading or spiritual reading). Bede expected his monks to read at this level. Lectio divina has four levels (we discuss these in chapter 5 of our book Kingdom Come).
First, you take a small section (verse or small paragraph) and you read it over and over. You read it silently and then verbally. You "savor" the text or "taste to see that the Lord is good."
Second is meditation. Here we ask direct questions of the text, "how is God calling me in this text? what should my response be to the voice of the Lord?" What word or idea sticks out that seems to be calling for attention? Meditation is not about what the text meant per se but about encountering God in the present through the text.
Third is prayer. Whatever thoughts well up inside of you as a result of your meditation we turn them back to God in prayer.
The fourth step is contemplation. Here we simply try to quiet our soul and be silent before God. We might call it "resting" in his Presence.
Bede's AP is a delightful book in itself. It is also a blessing in aiding not just monks but modern disciples to slow down and enjoy God through spiritual reading (and praying) with him in the Psalms. Psalm 28 in the AP reads "Adore the Lord in holy majesty." That may not be such a bad thing for disciples to spend time doing. It is his invitation to simply adore the Father. When was the last time we spent any significant amount of time doing that? To ask the question is to answer it for many . . . and that is the value of Bede. He can help us. I am thankful for the treasure this saint has left for us today.