Remember that prayer closet I made last spring? Like many other things, it hadn't been a consistent part of my day, but that changed over Advent. Something about the newness of the church year that invites me in, as if beginning an adventure (pun not intended). Every year I am more eager to take the familiar journey through the life of Christ and see where God leads me this time.
Before I was introduced to all things liturgical - so basically the first 35 years of my life - I found a similar kind of grounding when I read the Bible. Revisiting the same passages I had read many times before, they would always spoke something new to me, even the times (more than I care to admit) when I just flipped it open and turned to a random Scripture. Randomness, though, turned to staleness over the years. There was no rhyme or reason to my reading of the Word, except in community settings (church, small group) where we might be going through a particular book of the Bible or a topical study. So when the intense child bearing season hit, I abandoned my lifelong practice - which had become more of an obligation - of reading the Bible every day. I felt both free and fearful. I believed that my desire for the Word would return to me but I also felt some guilt and fear. I began to experience a sort of quiet spiritual renewal as I learned more about the seasons of the church year. I was drawn to the beauty and mystery of the symbolism and patterns.
When we came to our church four years ago this spring - the only evangelical liturgical church in our area - it was like finding the final piece of the puzzle I didn't know I had been solving. Since that time, I have used a lot of church year resources to guide my time alone with God, but I have yet to follow a consistent Bible reading plan. Last Advent, I planned to start the Daily Office from the Book of Common Prayer (Anglican but used by PCA churches like ours), which would go on for the next two years. I didn't do it, and though I could have picked it up at any point, I was resistant. I came up with other creative reading schemes which I never implemented. I had amassed a number of books (which I will list in this post) that offer various plans for daily Scripture reading connected with the liturgical year, but despite that tie-in, they all felt disjointed to me.
A funny thing happened to me when we began homeschooling five years ago (this month). I became completely obsessed with chronological order. You see where this is going. Well, it's not exactly novel to begin in Genesis in January with the goal of finishing Revelation at the end of the year, but I didn't want to read the Bible straight through - I wanted to read it in order of history. So a year ago at this time, I printed out a plan for doing that and I got started, but I found myself slogging through Genesis and Job, scratching my head at things I had read all my life, but which now suddenly didn't make sense to me. That kind of "I need to go to seminary" angst was just too much for me to handle while having a marriage, raising kids, homeschooling, managing our finances, etc. So I dropped my Bible reading...again. I decided to give up my chronological OCD and just start year two of the Daily Office beginning in Advent.
When November rolled around, I started having doubts - as much as I love the liturgical year, the idea of reading in three or four different parts of the Bible simultaneously, not chronologically, and not even whole books at a time (well, sort of, but with sections skipped) just felt too choppy to me. On the other hand, reading the whole Bible in one year didn't appeal to me either. I also didn't want to totally drop the liturgical connection.
During Advent, I decided to just do the readings that correlated with the season, and (as usual) wait until January to start something more comprehensive. In the process, I realized I really liked meditating on the Sunday passages from the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) throughout the week. If I could do that and also read through the Bible chronologically, that would be the best of both worlds...so that's what I decided to do. I would be consistent but not a legalist. I would vary my spiritual diet by making it a buffet, but with the same menu for me to pick and choose from each day. Yes, I have finally arrived at the point of this post (kind of like how long it took me to get here in life!).
So when I enter my prayer closet every day (the goal but not the rule) at the start of my kids' room/rest time, with my cup of tea, I can either get studious and pick up where I left off in my chronological Bible reading (with commentaries to help) or opt for a more reflective time and meditate on one of the brief passages from the RCL...or even do a little of each.
Here's what's on the books section of the menu (only the first two are new purchases - I've collected the other Bibles over the years), starting with the "study" aspect:
The Daily Bible
It's designed to be read in one year, but I am reading it at my own pace (just ignoring the dates). I chose this particular chronological Bible because it's the highest rated and I liked that it merges all four gospels into one narrative. The editor, however, is staunchly anti-Calvinist, so when I read his devotional commentary (which I'm mostly skipping), I keep that in mind.
Archaeological Study Bible
"Articles (520) covering five main categories: Archaeological Sites, Cultural and Historical Notes, Ancient Peoples and Lands, the Reliability of the Bible, and Ancient Texts and Artifacts" This resource provides historical and cultural context (the world scene), as well as some apologetics, which especially helps with some of the stickier parts of the Old Testament. Homeschooling and a "larger story" (is there a theological term for this besides "gospel centered"?) theology have turned me into a history nut.
(Finally finishing this post 2.5 weeks after I started it, so I'm not taking the time to put in the other links)
Essential Evangelical Parallel Bible (ESV, NKJV, NLT, The Message)
This one is especially good for meditation on a verse or passage. While one word or phrasing may not jump out at me in one translation, it may in another. It helps to create an overall impression of the chapter by reading it repeatedly in the different versions. And it's useful for clarity/understanding. I wish it had the NASB or NIV instead of The Message.
ESV Collection (went a little crazy when that translation first came out!)
ESV Study Bible - the best of the three
Reformation Study Bible - hit or miss
Literary Study Bible - ironically, this is my least favorite
Other Bibles (not listing them all because that would be embarrassing)
Orthodox Study Bible - love the metaphorical interpretations, patterns, symbolism in the commentary
KJV Devotional Bible - for when I want to hear it in the King's English and maybe get a profound quote
Mosaic Bible (NLT) - this comes more into play in the next section, but basically it takes about passages from all three years of the RCL, creating a theme for each week, with artwork, prayers and devotions (that part is the front of the Bible, while the Bible itself is in the back - it's nice because they put page numbers next to the scriptures to look up).
...Now for the more "meditative" resources...
Revised Common Lectionary (RCL)
Every week there is a passage from the Old Testament, a Psalm, and two scriptures in the New Testament. I don't usually get to all them each week, and since I'm in the Old Testament in my (chronological) Bible reading, I generally choose the psalm and NT readings. To meditate on it, I may use Lectio Divina (doesn't come naturally to me but I keep trying) or use one or more of the following books (all but Living the Lectionary have a daily Bible reading plan and other resources, but I mostly just use the RCL related material):
Mosaic Bible (see description above)
The Bible Through The Seasons by Nicholas Connolly
Living the Lectionary - Year A by Geoff Wood
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Upper Room)
More Liturgical Resources
Bread and The Wine: Readings for Lent and Easter (Orbis Press)
Watch for the Light: Readings for Advent and Christmas (Orbis Press)
Eternal Seasons: A Liturgical Journey with Henri M. Nouwen
Living the Christian Year by Bobby Gross
The Liturgical Year by Joan Chittser
...then there is the "theme" for the year, which I will share about in a separate post, and that has its own books, but I'll just give you a taste of it: God as shepherd and as Lamb of God.
Other reflective type books I'm reading this year so far
Soul Feast by Marjorie Thompson
The Celtic Way of Prayer by Esther De Waal
Soul searching type books I'm also reading
Inside Out by Larry Crabb - read this back in my early 20s, and it was profound, so I'm revisiting it
Storyline - doing this workbook style "narrative of my life" with my church community group
There you have it - my spiritual menu for 2014, subject to seasonal change (sorry, I couldn't resist). I can tell you I got off to a good start and then hit the 20 minute...er, two week lull. So I - gasp - haven't been in my prayer closet in a week in a half! The good news is that there is no pressure. God is not in a rush, so why should I be? He is always with me whether I'm in my prayer closet or not. I am growing whether I read any or all of the above good stuff every day or not for a few weeks. But I do notice the difference when I take that time out. I crave it. I get kind of cranky without it. Over time, that does cause problems. So there's no deadline on any of the above, but there are many good reasons to race to my father's arms and sit awhile in His presence, feasting on His goodness.
(Note: I really did eat the food in the picture, and it was all very good. My mom and I went to lunch at Park 121 in Sonoma. If you're ever in Wine Country, you should try it. )