A little over a year ago, the weekly newspaper from the small town in Wyoming (Glenrock) where we lived for 19 years contained the obituary of a friend and colleague Mick Lehner (Lane-er). (See Obituary article below in "Of Related Interest" section.)
A few years younger than I, Mick return to his hometown, Glenrock, and taught high school history, took over as head football coach a few years after I resigned that post, and was good for having a story on any topic quick at hand. He was also quite active in the American Baptist church we both attended. The latter came after we had known each other a few years.
In 1978, we noticed he tripped often on the school's stairs, would seem to teeter a bit when walking. What he thought was a pinched nerve was soon diagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis, which progressed and controlled much of his last 34 years. Mick was a battler and continued his teaching and coaching career for years. The MS didn't stop Mick from coaching a State Championship football team and, in 1991 he was inducted into the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame.
But, this Reflection isn't about Mick's battle with MS, his coaching on the sideline first in a golf cart then on a motorized scooter, or his always-positive attitude (a favorite quote was Martin Luther King's: "The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy"Quote can be found in Strength to Love, a collection of King's sermons and speeches published in 1963, the same year he was named Time's Man of the Year.), or the love of our small town for a favorite son as a fighter and inspiration and friend to all.
What I remember most were how the words in the bible became the WORD for Mick. With his wife Ann, Mick was a part of one of the Bethel Bible Series courses I taught at our church. Bethel is a two-year, intensive course with a year in each of the testaments. (See more about Bethel in the FAQs section about Religious Studies and Key Events.)
Mick worked hard in the course, and the early Old Testament readings were right up his alley. As a history teacher, he was quick to see relationships between the events in Israel's history and what he knew was happening in other parts of the ancient world. His insight was a blessing to all of us as we studied.
As we moved along in the scriptures, however, I noticed a change in Mick. He still ate up the history, but in addition to just reading, I sensed, through his sharing thoughts and insight, that the scriptures were also speaking to him. Mick seemed to be hearing not only the God of history, but also the God of Life.
I've thought a lot about what I saw in Mick's living with the bible. It was as if the "words" on the pages were coming alive in him and becoming The Word. And it probably wasn't the specific message I was teaching or what others were getting; the words of scripture were becoming The Word for Mick. And The Word was not necessarily the written words. God was speaking to Mick and writing the Word on his heart.
It was obvious that The Word made a difference in Mick's life. He was still the same guy, coaching with passion, quick the the old stories and jokes, and still frustrated that MS limited what he could do. But his limitations were not his focus and, MS did not define him. Our faith community, which had been a tangential connection for him became central to his life; he often spoke of his faith. He had read more than mere words.
It doesn't always happen when we read scripture: that sense that we are hearing God's Word. Perhaps that's as it should be. There is a time to read scripture to try to dissect the words, to compare various selections on a topic, to use commentaries to find the historical and cultural context. Study and an academic attitude are important in bible reading. (And probably there are passages where it's best to just try to read the words and not expect any special message from them.)
But there are times when we need to read in more of a meditative posture, a time to ask God to speak to us through our reading. I find myself in this attitude when I read the psalms. Most are very poetic and it's obvious there is not a literal message to find (and maybe even dangerous to try to take some of the words literally). But, in such reading I find myself thinking deeper thoughts stimulated by the words that give me the sense of God speaking. ... Speaking to me.
I realized this meditative attitude last summer, sitting on the cool patio reading not scripture but the latest book by one of my favorite authors Khaled Hosseini ("Kite Runner" & "A Thousand Splendid Suns"). This one was his latest novel, "And the Mountains Echoed"And The Mountains Echoed, Khaled Hosseini, 2013, Riverhead Books., and I was somewhat bogged down trying to remember what character was what, and where I was in the constantly-changing storyline.
But, I was immersed in Hosseini's almost poetic prose and at times felt my eyes tearing from thoughts not about the author's words, but the thoughts they were stimulating in me. I paused often to just let the thoughts flow and grow. (Perhaps you have sensed this same feeling.) Then it hit me: "Ah, this is how we should sometimes read scripture! Not read for meaning, not read for understanding. But, read to allow the words to stimulate your thoughts to higher and deeper things. Perhaps those are The Word God is writing for you."
If interested in an intentional way of reading/praying the scriptures in this type of atmosphere, see the information on the "Lectio Divina" in the "Of Related Interest" section at the end of this Reflection.
There is one aspect to Mick's "Hearing The Word" story I haven't mentioned, and it points to an important caveat. It's not unimportant that the bible's words became The Word for Mick in the context of taking the Bethel course and in the company of a group of church people. That context is important because it is easy for scripture reading (and other types of reading) to stimulate what seem profound thoughts when they might just be wishful thinking or our own creativity.
But, in the context of the body of Christ (the church) we can discuss our new-found insights, get the reaction of our peers, and see how our thinking fits with church tradition. In this communal environment we can get a better sense of whether God was really speaking, and we have the opportunity to hone what we do think is the message. While God's message may be personal, it is rarely a good idea to keep it personal.
In an earlier paragraph, I said that this Reflection was not about Mick Lehner's battling MS, not his keeping a positive attitude, not the love of the community and his players for him. But, as I write I think it is about these things. It's about what The Word does to a person who wants to hear and invites God to make The Word a part of their being.
Of Related Interest
While, as talked about in the Reflection, the words of scripture can cause us to think deeply and perhaps hear the Word of God, sometimes it is important to be intentional about this. This meditative way of reading/praying can become a part of our regular routine. Over the years, many have used the "Lectio Divina" as a way in meditation. (Much of the material below taken from the online Wikipedia. A Google-like search for Lectio Divina can show much information.)
In Christianity, Lectio Divina (Latin for "Divine Reading") is a traditional Benedictine practice of scriptural reading, meditation and prayer intended to promote communion with God and to increase the knowledge of God's Word. It does not treat Scripture as texts to be studied, but as the Living Word.
Traditionally Lectio Divina has 4 separate steps: read, meditate, pray, and contemplate. First a passage of Scripture is read, then its meaning is reflected upon. This is followed by prayer and contemplation on the Word of God.
The focus of Lectio Divina is not a theological analysis of biblical passages but viewing them with Christ as the key to their meaning. For example, given Jesus' statement in John 14:27: "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give unto you" in an analytical and traditional reading approach we would focus on the reason for the statement during the Last Supper, the biblical context, and such. But in Lectio Divina rather than "dissecting peace", the practitioner "enters peace" and shares in the peace of Christ. In Christian teachings, this form of meditative prayer leads to an increased knowledge of Christ.
Below is a link to one step-by-step method of using the Lectio Divina. You may find it valuable.
The Lectio Divia