Monday, August 31, 2015
Review: The Better Part
The Better Part is over 1000 pages, and includes over 300 meditations on the Gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. It is not a book to be read like a novel, but an outstanding reference book. It is not a “daily meditation” or “daily devotions,” or any other 2-minute read after which you might say: “well, that one was nice” and then forget what you read. As its subtitle says, The Better Part is “a Christ-centered resource for personal prayer.” And what a resource it is!
Personally, at various times I’ve included daily Gospel reading in my prayer life --- I’m in the process right now of daily reading one chapter of the New Testament and one Psalm; it’s been a while since I just read through the New Testament. In the past, I’ve seriously meditated (with my mind) and contemplated (with my heart) passages of the Gospels, often following a particular method of study called Lectio Divina, or “Divine Reading.” While the Holy Spirit has certainly given me much direction and some wonderful insights as a result of these past efforts (there are some blog posts here), but more often than not those days provided me no great feelings of God’s presence in my prayers. In a way, it was like a work to continue, day after day, waiting/willing and persisting in the desire to perceive God’s instruction – many days were dry. While certainly my relationship with God has grown stronger over the years as a result of studying the Gospels (and if nothing else, I do relish time with God, together in the chapel --- even if to just sit quietly in each others’ presence), still, a lack of insight/interest from ANY reading material would be a temptation to stop doing it. And in the past, I sometimes had dropped or skipped planned Bible Study time. I haven’t found that to be so with The Better Part; I look forward to reading this book.
Personal Bible study and prayer requires both commitment and patience --- you want results; you want new learning/insights/wisdom; you want to hear the voice of God. But, as I said, more often than not you hear quiet. But this book is different; more often than not you do perceive SOMETHING, some touch of God. And you do find yourself stopping, thinking, and praying.
The format of the book (and as how you are to use it) is as follows: before each Gospel passage you should pray an opening prayer (some are suggested), then a quote from some saint opens each meditation, followed by the Gospel passage, and then there are four separate meditations (of increasing depth), and then it is suggested you close your meditation time with a closing prayer (again, some are suggested). The first meditation after reading the Gospel is from Christ The Lord’s perspective: What big thing is God saying here? The second is from Christ The Teacher: What general lesson is being taught here to the Jews --- and to us? The third is from Christ The Friend: What particular lesson is he saying to His apostles, and to us? (Here, often there are some direct words to us, as if Jesus were speaking.) And finally there is a meditation from Christ In My Life: Here the subject of the words changes to be ourselves, and we find ourselves speaking directly to God about the Gospel message and its impact on us: “I thank You, Lord …..”
Myself, I have found so many new and deep insights from these meditations that I began a new journal, noting some key thoughts. I think these will help me see and measure my spiritual progress, and help me focus on areas needing improvement, and perhaps topics for discussion with my spiritual director. I gave him a copy of this book. You may find you wish to read a deep meditation weekly; some friends and I plan to use this book as a resource for weekly Bible Study, and I’ve put copies in local Adoration chapels, or if you have the time and desire, you may find this to be wonderful daily time with the Lord.
If you are seriously seeking to deepen your relationship with Jesus, this book will be a great aid. Indexes are organized so you can identify the daily gospels, if you wish to follow and meditate on them, or you can use another index to pursue reading all Gospels relating to a particular topic (humility, death, Mary, etc.).
If you are used to 2-minute spiritual “ditties,” this book may be a shock for you. God IS talking to you, this book is a great aid to helping you listen. You may be surprised at what you hear.