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Let It Soak

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Are you sick of scraping? Do your hands hurt from scrubbing off stuck-on crud from your pots and pans? Are sponges letting you down?

​I'm here to let you know about an almost-free solution to your problem! Actually, you already know about it, so I'm here to use it for an analogy!

The solution is to soak your pans in water. Lots and lots of water. Leave them alone and let them soak! If you dump that water too early, you might as well not have soaked at all. If you don't cover all the crud with water, you won't reap the benefits, and it's back to scraping for you.

(You will hear some people decry soaking as unhealthful. They point out that it breeds harmful microbes and so results in dirtier dishes. Oh the irony, they smugly remark. These are the same heroes who made themselves scarce just as dinner finished and the dishwashing began.)

The Soaked Soul

In his letter to the Colossians, St. Paul advises us to soak ourselves, and he's talking about the full-pot-of-water-leave-it-overnight kind of soaking: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly...."

His advice draws on years spent soaking in the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings. He had heard the scriptures proclaimed in the Temple and in synagogue, had meditated on them in solitude, had received interpretations of them from his teachers, and had debated them with fellow students.

But what precisely did he mean for the Colossians (and us) to do? How exactly should we follow his advice?

Paul specifies: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, as you admonish one another, singing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God." (Col. 3:16)

Be not astonished that he did not say, ”as you sit silently by yourself, making flashcards, and filling out the blanks in your study guides with the fear of the test in your hearts.” Paul is a believer in sing-alongs, which are both easier and more fun than the vigorous scrubbings of modern education.

He tells us to soak ourselves in the word of Christ through SONG. Paul was as intolerant of not-as-I-do-ism as a 10th-grader, so if he's doling out this advice, we can conclude that Paul himself SANG, all the time: alone, with friends, at worship, and when breaking out of the slammer (see Acts 16:25-26 for that last one).

Ah, how sublime, to picture the fiery Paul singing!

Picture him teaching a song to the children of a newly baptized family. Hand motions are not out of the historical question.

Picture him at Mass, chanting Psalm 23. Picture him singing a song of praise while staking a tent pole.

Paul pictured you, fellow believer, singing songs to and about the Lord. He didn’t suggest that singing is extra or best left to the talented.

He didn't picture song punctuating prayer; song is the main form of prayer itself. When the Spirit breathes prayer through us, there is melody and harmony and rhythm.

Note that manuscripts of the scriptures, as copied by the rabbis just after the destruction of Jerusalem, are full of cantillation marks which indicate how the text should be chanted. (I love the show “The Chosen,” but I wish when the group recited the scriptures together they would chant them instead.) Singing in groups is already magic; when the song itself is true, singing in a group is downright supernatural.

Trust the Process

Step 1, get more music in your life. Maybe...

...Stream praise and worship songs, even the cheesy ones. Dig up old cassettes and CDs that fed you in some earlier chapter of your life, and find a way to play them.

...Sing those hymns that don't quite belong in the liturgy but you like anyway because you grew up with them.

...Pick psalm settings that you already *mostly* know and turn them into settings that you can sing without looking at the words.

...Take in a short but very helpful piece from Tim O'Malley: Why Chant is Good for Children.

...En hance your understanding of music and its power by reading the USCCB's useful and beautiful Catholic Hymnody at the Service of the Church.

...Find inspiration in The Magician's Nephew when Aslan sings everything into existence; CS Lewis was right on in this (as usual).

Who knows what will happen to your mood, to your theology, to your witness? Follow Paul's directions. Soak.

No Take-Aways

Step 2, don't' set a timer.

You could probably speak the lyrics much faster than you could sing them. Songs take more time and are more repetitive, which makes them splendidly inefficient if your goal is to get it over with but wonderfully ideal if you aim instead at contemplation. In this way, song is a model for the way we engage Scripture.

Sung or spoken or silently read, the Word is not your means to the end of mere cognitive understanding; it is the Way, it is a path to wisdom and paradise. It is not something you can ever be done with once you 'get it.'

Like the Gnostics or alchemists of other eras, we might slip into an acquisitive mode that prizes knowledge over wisdom. We might desire to leave behind the stories and the poetry once we have landed in a doctrinal take-away.

Letting the Word of Christ dwell in you richly is a life-long group project which involves repetition and routine.

This is why the Divine Liturgy (aka Mass) is the natural habitat of the Bible. And it is why the Catholic Church's Lectionary features readings in a 3 year cycle for Sundays and a 2 year cycle for weekdays, in imitation of the cycle of readings from Jewish worship at the time of Christ.

If you go to Mass every day for three years - which is not crazy, lots of people come close - then you will hear proclaimed:

  • 13.5 percent of the Old Testament (not counting the Psalms)

  • 54.9 percent of the non-Gospel New Testament

  • 89.8 percent of the Gospels

(Thanks to Felix Just, SJ, and Catholic Answers for these stats.)

Yes, you need to hear these readings over and over, in the different phases of your life and from other people's lips. No, you shouldn't always be the one deciding what scriptures you read. Yes, you should read in communion with the apostles and their successors, since God entrusted revelation to the Church and not to individuals one-at-a-time. No, that doesn't mean you're all done if you go to Mass - remember that you need classes and quiet time with the Word as well. If you haven’t made time for Lectio Divina, dive in!

Let yourself soak! Lots of songs, and lots and lots of Scripture, for your whole life!

Sing out the sacred truth of your very existence, redemption and sanctification all the time, until your neighbors and children and co-workers have accidentally learned them too.

Do not forget why you are alive.

Filled with gratitude, let the word of Christ dwell in you richly.

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