Reading Between the Lines

As part of the Advent Retreat in Daily Living I’m giving at the University of St. Thomas and at St. Hubert, retreatants have been praying with different figures who are “models of Advent.” This has included praying with various passages in the early part of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew.

One of the participants observed during our session this week that he had never before reflected on the feelings that might have been experienced by Mary or Joseph, for example, at being told that Mary would bear a child. He observed that he had simply read those descriptive passages as though the people involved were story characters without any real emotion, that these events just happened in the cut and dried (and fairly truncated way) they are described.

His comments demonstrate precisely why praying with these scripture passages is so valuable to us. I compared his version of the scripture reading to someone writing, for example, “X spent three years going to the University of St. Thomas School of Law, where he was on the law journal and worked for Professor Y, before graduating and working for Z law firm.” One would read that and think, well, nothing much happened during those three years…X just went to law school and everything was just fine. The description would do absolutely nothing to tell us what went on for X during that period, which could have included anything: a serious illness, a crisis in confidence, a broken relationship, a death of a close family member (all of which I have seen students of mind experience in my years as a law professor). It would tell us nothing of the pain, joy, sadness, happiness or growth experienced by the person during those years.

Praying with scripture helps us read between the lines, so to speak, to let God reveal to us that which is not written in the scriptural accounts. What goes on in the mind of a young woman when told she will bear God? What is it like for the prospective groom to discover his fiance is pregnant – and not by him? What hardships did the Maji face when they decided to listen to the prophesies and try to find the infant king? There is something for us to understand from these passages that is not revealed in the words of the text, and only time with God in prayer can reveal that for us.