Digesting Scripture? The Practice of Rumination
Deacon Chris Yoder (email)
Last Sunday’s collect is one of my favorites:
“Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that, by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.”
As I said in my sermon on Sunday, the prayer reminds me of a cow chewing its cud, when it asks for the grace to “hear [the holy Scriptures], read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them.” The prayer calls us to be like a cow chewing its cud when we read Scripture. To ruminate on the words of Scripture, to take them in and then call them back to mind, to chew them over and over.
God gives us the Bible for our benefit, the collect suggests, but it requires digestion in order to receive its nourishment. We’ve got to ruminate on it to incorporate its nutrients.
And what is the nourishment the Bible provides? Learning, says the collect. And not just “book learning,” but what we might call “heart learning.” Learning that teaches us patience and gives us comfort. Learning that strengthens and encourages us to “embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.” The Bible nourishes us by teaching us the love of God definitively found in Christ Jesus.
The Bible nourishes us by bearing witness to Jesus. Or, as the Articles of Religion put it, “both in the Old and New Testament everlasting life is offered to Mankind by Christ, who is the only Mediator between God and Man, being both God and Man” (Article VII). The whole Bible witnesses – sometimes quite obliquely – to the good news of salvation in Christ.
The need for rumination comes from the fact that the Bible’s witness to the Lord Jesus is not always direct or immediately evident.
Chew on the words of Scripture long enough, though, and you will discover their nourishment. And you’ll also taste their sweetness. “How sweet are your words to my taste!” says the psalmist, “they are sweeter than honey to my mouth” (Ps. 119:109).