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Receiving the Living Word

Dear Reader: The bracketed italics are here to help you enter into, rather than just read, what this article is talking about.

“Draw that plant over there.” That was the assignment, given years ago in a bi-weekly lab time where we applied what we’d been learning about drawing in class. The other college students and I got situated and started. It was to be a big drawing of a big plant. There wasn’t time enough to finish it in one lab session. It could take several sessions. No problem. No one would move the plant, the professor promised. And each of us would return twice weekly to the very same spot, get situated the same way, and continue drawing the plant.

By the second time I returned and began drawing again, I wondered what was wrong with me or with the techniques I’d been taught. I was not getting the leaves in my drawing positioned in relation to each other the way they were in the plant. I was certain that during the last session or two a certain leaf was positioned the way it was in my drawing; today it isn’t. The professor must have been chuckling, as it took me a while to realize I was drawing a living plant. As promised, no one had moved the plant, but the professor couldn’t promise the plant wouldn’t move. Living things move.

Living things are alive, and not just in motion as quantum physics assures us everything down to the minutest subatomic particle is, whether animate or inanimate.* What happens when we realize that the word of God is alive? “For the word of God is living and powerful…” (Hebrews 4:12). Jesus said, “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life.” (John 6:63) How do we relate to living words? How do we receive God’s word as spirit and life?

A friend recently said that emails may be fine, but they are a Protestant means of communication— all word and no real presence. Although emails are not real presence, scripture is real presence. That real presence may be ignored, or denied, or abused; but the word of God, in scripture and in Jesus Christ, is real presence. Sadly, there are a lot of words about the word that treat it like a silk plant instead of a living one. But that doesn’t change the fact that the word of God is living.

Meditation is a way to stop treating God’s word as a silk plant (if you’re doing that) and to receive it as the spirit and life it is. Meditation is a way to receive scripture as the real presence it is. [Pause to consider what difference it makes whether something, like a plant, is alive. In what ways do you treat living plants differently than you treat silk plants?]

One of the many differences between a living plant and a silk plant is how the living plant moves. It moves at its own pace, as does a peregrine falcon! If we’re not paying attention we can miss the movement of both— one because it moves so slowly (a virtually imperceptible distance per hour), the other because it can move so fast (up to 200 miles per hour). Living things ask us to pay attention, and to be willing to receive and respond according to their pace. [Pause to consider times when the living word of God has moved quickly or slowly for you. When has light shined brightly and instantly? When has it dawned ever so slowly? Consider how alert attention enables you to respond to the living word at the appropriate pace.]

Paying attention involves silence. Articles and books have been written about silence and some websites are devoted to it, but compared to speech, silence is uncharted territory. Maybe that’s because silence can’t be charted! But we can learn to enter into silence, and to let it be what it is meant to be. This takes learning and discipline just like speech takes learning and discipline. Dietrich Bonhoeffer said “Right speech comes out of silence and right silence comes out of speech.” (Life Together, p. 78) The word and meditation draw us into the complementary and essential interplay between silence and speech. If silence is both path and destination, we get lost. If speech is both path and destination, we also get lost. And, of course, it doesn’t work to try to somehow safeguard silence by thinking about the meaning of some chosen words. Speech gone internal doesn’t count as silence. [Read or repeat the following verse two or three times:

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

Be acceptable in Your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my Redeemer. (Psalm 19:14)

Then be silent. As you’re trying to be silent, you may find yourself thinking about what these words mean, or how they affect you, or how they do or don’t apply to you or someone else right now. If you find yourself doing this, just let your internal words about the word flow on by and, instead, keep listening to God, who may have something to say to you through these words that you won’t hear if you keep trying to figure them out and apply them. After you’ve come closer to simply being silent in God’s presence, stay there for a couple of minutes at least.

Then repeat the words of Psalm 19:14 two or three more times. For a couple of minutes let your thoughts do, again, what they will with the words.

Then return to being silent for a couple of minutes. God may want to be with you through or beyond these words in a way you haven’t thought of yet.

Offer whatever happens during this time to God. Just give it to God, without trying to tell God how you feel about it, or what you might want done about it.]

Rejoice! It’s not a silk plant we’re dealing with. It’s the living word, real presence, which calls us into interaction, into attentive and well-paced receptivity, and into the essential mingling of speech and silence. While all living creation gives us great cause for wonder, respect, and love, the living word gives us even greater cause for wonder, respect, and love.

Wanting to know and love God more and more and help others do the same drew Diane Forsyth into degrees in theology, religion, and spiritual life development, and into employment as college Bible teacher, pastor and hospital chaplain. The same desire has prompted the Charistis ministry ( that meets a need within and beyond the Seventh-day Adventist church for depth in personal and corporate communion with God. The title of her most recent book is Opening into Worship.

*“From the minutest atom to the greatest world, all things, animate and inanimate, in their unshadowed beauty and perfect joy, declare that God is love.” (The Great Controversy, p. 678.) Reading this about the grand culmination puts me in touch with ultimate joy and wonder; reading it in connection with writing this article has also prompted me to consider how love for and worship of God might increase by considering the great controversy and the insights offered by quantum physics each in the light of the other.

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