Christians feed on Scripture. Holy Scripture nurtures the Holy Community as food nurtures the human body. Christians do not simply learn or study or use Scripture; we assimilate it, take it into our lives in such a way that it gets metabolized into acts of love, cups of cold water, missions into all the world, healing and evangelism and justice in Jesus’ name, hands raised in adoration of the Father… As we read this book, we come to realize that it is not primarily informational, telling us things about God and ourselves, but formational, shaping us into our true being.
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book
Taken together, These four reading strategies help us to engage scripture with our whole selves: mind, body, and spirit
Over the history of the church, Christians have developed many different approaches to reading the Bible. Each method brings out a different aspect of the text and engages a different part of human experience, including our minds, imaginations, emotions, and spiritualities. The four methods explored below are a representative sample of these diverse reading strategies. They are reading for context, reading for detail, imaginative reading practice, and lectio divina. We encourage you to use all four methods to engage the Gospel of Mark. They are best used in conjunction with each other, working together to facilitate holistic engagement with Scripture.
Below, you will find a short explanation of each method and links to outside resources.
Fast-paced Reading for context
Some of us have been taught that the Bible is to be read only one way: meticulously, almost like a code book. In fact, Scripture is as much about the wide sweep of the stories as it is about the finer details of the particular passages. Reading at a “normal” pace — like one would read of novel — allows us to take a step back and see the big picture. This contextualizes individual passages for more focused study. Here are a few tips for such faster-paced reading:
Try reading Mark in one sitting. In most Bibles, the entire book is less than 25 pages. Depending on your pace of reading, it should take you less than an hour to read it in its entirety. Our reading plan suggests reading or a large part of Mark every few weeks.
The Bible is an ancient text, and we often find things in it that trip us up, being offensive or simply difficult to understand. When reading quickly, don’t let these stop you. If you hit something you don’t understand, highlight note it down and keep going.
Watch for themes or ideas that recur in the text. For instance, in Mark, you might notice that Jesus’s “authority,” “the Kingdom of God,” and “the good news”/”the gospel” frequently come up.
Slow-Paced Reading for Detail
Although fast-paced reading is helpful, it is also important to sometimes slow down and savor the details of the text. Slow-paced reading for detail (or “close reading”) simply means reading carefully, for understanding. For most us, our education, our workdays full of emails, and our constant exposure to media has conditioned us to “skim.” It is rarely that we truly slow down and listen to a text. This reading practice asks us to take a break from our hurried lives and give the Scripture our full attention. Here are a few pointers:
Start by observing the features of the text. Try not to come to conclusions yet; simply notice what you see in the text: key words, repetition, linking words (like “but” or “therefore”), etc. Write down questions you have about the text.
Then, move to interpretation of the text. What is Mark trying to communicate through the story it is telling about Jesus? Does the context of the verses that precede or follow your passage help answer any of your questions? What does this passage teach us about God, as revealed in Christ?
Finally - given what you’ve learned about the passage - seek to apply it to your own life and world. What is God speaking to you through the text? (Encouragement, comfort, rebuke, instruction, warning, sympathy, etc.) What concrete response(s) does the text ask of you? (Praise, repentance, thanksgiving, confession, life change, etc.)
Translations: The Gospel of Mark was originally written in Ancient Greek. Today, we are lucky enough to have a wealth of reliable English translations. Comparing multiple translations of a given text often reveals details and ambiguities that aid interpretation. Translation comparison resources are available on most Bible reading apps and websites, such as Bible Gateway.
External resources and commentaries. See our Resources for Mark page for two great books on the Gospel of Mark. Particularly for confusing or difficult passages, it can be helpful to consult what scholars and experts have to say about the story.
Ignatian Imaginative contemplative reading
Developed by Ignatius of Loyola, a sixteenth-century spiritual writer and founder of the Jesuit order of Catholic monks, Ignatian imaginative reading seeks to connect all of our senses to the text. In this reading practice, you place yourself in the story by imagining oneself in the shoes of one of the characters in a particular incident (e.g., someone who was healed, the disciples witnessing a miracle, a member of the crowd for one of Jesus’s teachings). You close your time of meditation by considering what Jesus would have to say to you personally, if he were right there in the room with you. The goal of Ignatian imaginative reading is to allow God to speak to you directly, even as you respect the details of the story in their minutest detail.
Praying the Scriptures (Lectio Divina)
Lectio divina means “divine reading” or “divine lesson.” The practice of praying the words of Scripture back to God has extremely ancient roots in the history of the church. In short, lectio calls for four movements:
Slow, repetitive reading of a short excerpt of text, usually one verse,
Meditating on particular words or phrases in the text that stand out in your mind,
Praying the Scripture: literally praying the words of the verse back to God, and
Contemplating what you experienced through the text. Rest in the awareness of God’s presence that has come about through the scripture. This is often experienced as a diminishing of self and a focusing on God.
Practiced in isolation, praying the Scriptures can feel artificial and can lead to reading our thoughts into the text, rather than hearing from it. However, when paired with careful interpretation and the other methods listed here, lectio divina can be a powerful tool to engaging God’s very voice speaking to us through the Scriptures.
Pray as You Go provides daily Scripture reflections - easily accessible through their app - which are essentially mini lectio exercises. Although it follows the Scriptures in the church’s regular cycle of Scripture readings (the “lectionary”), rather than Mark specifically, the reflections provide a very accessible introduction to lectio divina.
Discovering Lectio Divina by Evan Wilhoit and James Howard provided a succinct, systematic introduction to lectio divina.
The Art of Praying the Scriptures by John Paul Jackson (with John E. Thomas) consists essentially of a month-long set of devotionals on lectio divina, including sample passages.