Hearing the voice of God in a world that seems silent

Hearing the voice of God in a world that seems silent Fr Wilfrid Stinissen
The Word is Very Near You

by Fr Wilfrid Stinissen OCD (Ignatius Press £12.50/€12.00)

W e all want a personal relationship with God. But that seems very difficult when, more often than not, he doesn’t speak to us in prayer. He may prompt or console, but verbal communication or physical contact – two essential components to any relationship – appear to be lacking.

That needn’t be the case, however, as Carmelite Fr Wilfrid Stinissen shows in his short introduction to reading the Bible, The Word is Very Near You. The title summarises the theme of the book – the Word, Christ, is very near to you, waiting for the type of verbal communication which we so often desire.


This book is an excellent way to get into the Bible. And ‘getting into it’ is the operative phrase. Fr Stinissen, without pouring scorn, suggests that objective readings of the Bible, either as narrative, as historical account, as social or as moral guide, only scratch the surface. We should not read the scriptures as though we are journalists, observers who are not engaged in stories.

The way we should read the Bible is as a personal meeting with God in his Word. This personal reading of the Gospel is called lectio divina, divine reading. This will be familiar to many of you already. It is the practice of reading and meditating on texts from the Bible, typically the Gospels. Most often, it is a three-stage process: reading (lectio); meditation (meditatio); and prayer (oratio).

Repetition is the key, re-reading a text multiple times, as it requires us to delve into the words to come up with pearls that catch our eye. We pause with them for as long as the lustre lasts and then dive in again. Fr Stinissen recommends speaking to yourself quietly whatever words strike you most. Then pray over them until you have exhausted their meaning. Take a new word or phrase and begin again.


But that is just the technique. The desired result is that, by reading the Vible with our interior eye – that is, our heart – we communicate with God cor ad cor, heart to heart. It is not an intellectual process, though it involves our minds; it is not a physical one, though it involves our bodies; it is, ultimately, a spiritual one. It is union with God in Faith, ‘the crystalline fount’ as St John of the Cross calls it. By faith, in its clarity, we best appreciate God; and it is a fount of spiritual blessings from which we can draw.

The book is less than 140 pages long, and the print is big at that. There are six chapters and each of these are broken down into another six or seven sections, the longest no more than six pages. Its style is pastoral and Fr Stinissen admits from the start that he is not a biblical scholar.

He was born in Belgium, where he joined the Carmelite Order in 1944. In 1967 he was sent to Sweden to co-found a small contemplative community, and the spirit of contemplation infuses the book, drawing liberally from the writing of mystics and saints to illustrate his points.

All this is to say, it is a book for the layman, humble, but by no means shallow. I certainly found myself better off by the end..