By Sonja Corbitt
In all of history, there has never been a book like the Scriptures. God, absolute Being, yearns there for your consideration. “The word of God is living and active” (Heb 4:12), so you don’t read the Bible like any other book. You savor it carefully, knowing He’s present. You approach the Intelligence that imagined and spoke the cosmos into being, expecting His voice. You wait for the sure moment of penetrating truth. You anticipate of what He will say and do next.
In the Bible, you discover that a Heavenly Father pursues you unto death with holy feet, grips you with the gentlest hands, searches you with sacred eyes, flies you to heaven in cloudy visions of His face, and makes your soul a thunderclap under the whispering sighs of His love.
How do you learn to experience God in the Scriptures like this? Mary models how through the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. Her example is an invitation to LOVE the Word with her.
Mary Our Model
In an address in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis once compared our ability to hear the voice of God speaking directly to our individual relationships and circumstances with that of Our Lady, calling Mary the “mother of listening.”
In his address, Pope Francis follows Mary through her personal practice of attentive listening, outlining how practically and beautifully she illustrates the traditional steps of lectio divina, or sacred reading. She LOVEs the Word of God so that it comes alive within her and is born into the world, and she invites us to imitate her in doing the same.
First, Mary listens to the word of God. “What gave rise to Mary’s act of going to visit her relative Elizabeth? A word of God’s angel. Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son . . . (Luke 1:36).
“Mary knew how to listen to God. But be careful: it was not merely ‘hearing’ a superficial word, but it was ‘listening,’ that consists of attention, acceptance, and availability to God.
“It was not in the distracted way with which we sometimes face the Lord or others: we hear their words, but we do not really listen. Mary is attentive to God. She listens to God” (emphasis added, Address at St. Peter’s Square May 31, 2013).
Blessed Catherine Emmerich says when Mary receives the word of God at the annunciation, she is alone in silence, praying for the promised Messiah. Mary is attentive and available, and she accepts God’s answer to her prayers through her “yes” of cooperation: she receives the Person of His Word.
Is “listening” simply reading the scriptures? If I read passage after passage, book after book of the Bible, have I really prayed if I have not discerned God as a Person there, and adjusted my life to what I have heard? Mary goes further than simply hearing or reading the word in a cerebral way that does not penetrate or move her. She gives it life by obeying, or observing its meaning.
Pope Francis continues, “Mary also listens to the events, that is, she interprets the events of her life, she is attentive to reality itself and does not stop on the surface but goes to the depths to grasp its meaning. Her kinswoman Elizabeth, who is already elderly, is expecting a child: this is the event. But Mary is attentive to the meaning. She can understand it: ‘with God nothing will be impossible’ (Luke 1:37).
“This is also true in our life: listening to God who speaks to us, and listening also to daily reality, paying attention to people, to events, because the Lord is at the door of our life and knocks in many ways, he puts signs on our path; he gives us the ability to see them. Mary is the mother of listening, of attentive listening to God, and of equally attentive listening to the events of life” (emphasis added).
Mary listens every day in deliberate silence – the “language” of God. She observes the circumstances and relationships in her life through the word of God she hears. She ponders its meaning in His presence and rises to obey it. Mary’s simple, daily routine is ripe with observance, pregnant with life and meaning.
Perhaps Mary taught Jesus this practice since He followed the same template for listening to God by observing the events and circumstances of His life. He sought secluded spaces to consider how and where and in whom the Father was working, and He joined Him there:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of his own accord, but only what he sees the Father doing; for whatever he does, that the Son does likewise. For the Father loves the Son, and shows him all that he himself is doing” (John 5:19-20).
As St. Gregory says, we “learn the heart of God from the word of God.” Am I available to God’s word every morning, or distracted through activity, noise, and lack of discipline? Do I read it and hear it with a heart that searches for Him in my relationships and circumstances, or am I just reacting to them on impulse, or pushing through my reading to check it off my list?
Mary, “kept all these things and pondered them in her heart” (Luke 2:19). To ponder means to bring together. Mary gathered the signs and events, all the things God was doing around her. She put them together and meditated on them, seeking connections and meaning. What the angel said, what she heard from Zachariah and Elizabeth, what the shepherds related, she collected in her mind, and drawing the events together, perceived the sweeping truth: Truly, “with God, nothing will be impossible.”
Where will the word I that read this morning connect with my circumstances, relationships, habits, and desires today? How will it fit into long-term events? How is God addressing my self-medicating habits and toxic relationships? Do I obey that word when I observe its perspective on my life?
How do I gather the word I receive throughout the days and weeks for pondering? I verbalize.
When our mother of listening receives a whisper of a word from God in her morning prayer she hugs the secret close.
Going over and over the reality in her mind, she touches it timidly and unwraps it with equally unspeakable thrill each time. Looking at its significance from every possible angle, replaying the angel’s words repeatedly, jumping up and down and twirling around in her soul until she’s dizzy with the implications, she “ponders it in her heart.”
And it is incarnated.
That this unspeakable thing has happened draws a stream of praise, and poetry, and stupendous irony fizzing out of her, spreading out in a pool of song that runs up the sides of the hills of history like a wave.
On her way to obey what she has heard and interpreted, Mary prays back to God her understanding of His word. Her excitement, her awe, her humility, her bliss at being included in such a glorious way in His sweeping, saving plan for all of history is preserved forever in the Church’s Scripture and liturgy.
“He who sings prays twice,” St. Augustine said. The word of God that Mary has listened to and observed erupts from her in The Magnificat. This is Mary’s Song. Hers is the song of the whole Church.
As Mary entrusts her heart to God in LOVE, He entrusts His Word to her, and she gives birth to that Word in the world, entrusting Him to me and you: “May it be done to me according to your word.” How will I know what God wants to do in me and with me and through me — if I am not in his word on a daily basis?
At the wedding in Cana, too, Mary brings the Word of God to bear on the practical events and problems of her day and evening. She observes the difficulty of a young married couple at whose wedding feast the wine runs out; she thinks about it.
She knows the Word intimately; to Him, she verbalizes the problem; she entrusts it fully to Him. Mary listens; she observes; she verbalizes; she entrusts; and a miracle occurs.
LOVE the Word®
Where is God at work in the relationships and circumstances in our lives? C.S. Lewis said, “Pain is God’s megaphone to a deaf world.” Where is my pain? Could He be at work there? How will I know if I am not learning to LOVE the Word myself?
In what matter or relationship does He want my cooperation? What do the daily readings say about that today? How do we read and love the word so that it transforms us and changes the world? We imitate Mary.
Listen, Observe, Verbalize, and Entrust. As we go to Him in the Scriptures on a daily basis, we can use this helpful acronym to discern His activity and will and listen, there, to His voice. We observe our relationships and circumstances and how they connect to the word we receive each day in the Mass readings.
We verbalize back to God our thoughts and fears and feelings about all of it, what response we think He desires, what we believe He wants us to do. And we fully entrust all that concerns us and our circumstances to Him.
“The word of God is living and powerful…” (Heb 4:12). When we LOVE the Scriptures the way Mary, “mother of listening,” teaches us to, they come alive in our reality. We bring the power of God’s word to bear on our relationships and circumstances, and as it begins to root and thrive in us, we experience Mary’s “Magnificat” – the thrill of offering the living word to the world. Here’s a guide.
Bible Reading Method
L | Listen Pope Francis called Mary the “mother of listening” because she is available and attentive to God. I listen by opening my heart to receive the word of God: Come Holy Spirit. The word that I hear and read today is a gift from Him in answer to my prayers. I read the passage slowly. I savor each word as I write it down, possibly emphasizing each word in turn.
O | Observe Remembering that I am in the presence of the Holy Spirit, I observe the events of my life with Him. Where does this passage speak to the circumstances, relationships, habits, concerns, and problems of the past day? To what word, phrase, or idea is my attention drawn? How is the Holy Spirit guiding and encouraging me today through this passage?
V | Verbalize As I linger with the Holy Spirit over all that has surfaced in my heart and mind through His word, I verbalize what I think He is saying to me. I talk to Him freely about my thoughts and feelings. I write it all down as best as I understand it and ask Him to confirm or deny what I believe He is saying. I will watch to see how He answers by surveying the events of this day and week.
E | Entrust Once I have decided on some action with His help and in His presence, I am often overwhelmed by the tenderness, patience, mercy, forgiveness, and generosity of God. I resist words now. As I remain silent and simply rest in Him, I entrust Him with every outcome.
About the author:
Sonja is the Bible Study Evangelista and the best-selling author of How to Pray Like Mary, and Exalted, Mary’s Song Verse by Verse. Her LOVE the Word® initiative, CatholicTV show Evangelista Bible Study, weekly study series, and other Bible study media create space for busy Christians to hear and experience God as they love and lift all He has given them (John 17). What’s an “evangelista”? Find out at biblestudyevangelista.com.