A Process of Spiritual Ingestion
“Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.” (Thomas Cranmer, Book of Common Prayer)
Thomas Cranmer’s prayer is worth our attention not only for its beauty but also for his outline of what I call “spiritual ingestion.” That is, how the Word of God becomes part of us, nourishing, directing, and shaping our lives in Christ.
His five verbs trace the course of the Word from its entry to its full internalization in us.
“hear” – faith comes by hearing, so St. Paul tells us. To hear is to be addressed. Biblical faith is always a matter of God the Creator addressing his creatures, the Father addressing his earthly children. Martin Buber rightly termed this an “I-Thou” relation. Faith begins as we hear ourselves called and addressed by God as his creature, his child. Paul was right. Faith - living faith, faith which connects us with God - does indeed come by hearing.
“read” – our first response to God’s call is to explore it, find out what it is God is saying to us. We read the Word to broaden our awareness of just what God’s Word to us might be.
“mark” – we then make a special effort to identify those parts of what we read that cause us to pause, wonder, question, or in some other way claim our attention.
“learn” – those matters that so claim our attention become matters of intensive investigation. In learning as much as we can about these particular things, we draw close to what God is saying to us in the text or passage we are exploring.
“inwardly digest” – at this point, instead of looking at the matters in the text that have transfixed our attention, we discover that we are looking through them at the world and framing our response to what we see there under their influence. At this point, the Word of God has become the “eye-glasses” John Calvin claimed God intended scripture to be for us.
All this, of course, is finally the work of the triune God, as Cranmer notes in his prayer. God is the One who speaks (the Father), he is what he speaks (the Son), and he is the power of his speaking that engages us and evokes our response.
Now I can’t claim that Cranmer had all this in mind. But I can claim his prayer bears such a reading. It has striking affinities with the lectio divina form of prayer. And it leads us to experience what Paul tells us scripture is divinely authorized to do:
“Every scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for showing mistakes, for correcting, and for training character” (2 Tim.3:16).