Praying the Scriptures

By Demetrius Dumm
Collegeville, Minn. : Liturgical (2003). 187 Pages.

Reviewed by Dr. James Rosscup
16.1 (Spring 2005) : 155-157

In six chapters this Catholic writer chooses to view prayer in the light of the OT Exodus. The first two chapters take up petitions for help and praises for deliverance in this venue, and also in light of the NT Exodus of Jesus in death and resurrection. He encourages readers to pray as in Ps 9:2, “I will declare all your wondrous deeds.”

Chapter 3 has insight in seeing prayer as not only words but a consistent lifestyle. Jesus is the model for prayer attitudes, and believers pray with Jesus, in His name, in the favor He has with the Father. Following up, the fourth chapter reasons that the ideal way to pray with Jesus is via the Eucharist, having mystical communion with Him in His passion, death, and resurrection. Yet Dumm admits to many other ways of praying outside this ritual, according to all individuals’ temperaments (cf. x). Prayer in chap. 5 is that of lectio divina as Catholics know it, i.e., praying details of the Bible, the main theme of the book. The final chapter focuses on praying in differing situations, in step with deep spiritual truths. Dumm’s main examples are from Mary, Abraham, Moses, the major prophets, Job, Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) which Roman Catholics accept as canonical, then writers of the Gospels, and Paul.

He sees the secret of life as the gift of faith to see the great reservoir of God’s goodness otherwise hidden from human eyes (31). One can do this rather than giving up to evil (32). In praying matters of Scripture, believers can, by faith, “go beyond the realm of mere words to a personal participation in those mighty saving deeds of God . . .” (32). Here Dumm is rather vague. But he feels that the Psalms furnish a vision of faith, yet he thinks most of the psalms were written long after David died (32). He also says that stories about David are embellished and put more accent on his religious and symbolical meaning (33). Many, as this reviewer, will disagree with Dumm and see the Davidic psalms as by David himself, in his own day.

Viewpoints get quite subjective. The author links listening in the Spirit with baptism (35) when people, as he sees it, become children of God (37). He thinks it would be good if believers would spend twenty minutes a day in silence, listening for God to speak (38). How this would be a help, or relate to Scripture meditation, or prayer, is nebulous.

Though the title promises much, the book eventually reveals that it has in mind people who go to Masses to hear the priest say “give thanks,” and respond, “It is right to give him thanks and praise” (40) for God’s great deeds of salvation. In this fashion, people pray Scripture as active participants in those saving events. Some of his analogies are meaningless. For example, on P s 143:6, “I thirst for you like a parched land,” a believer goes from the joy of deliverance from bondage to the desert of seeming abandonment. And “after the glory days of Galilee comes the darkness of Judea” (47). That connection is mystifying. However, one can identify with Dumm’s clarity on yearning for a God who at times seems far off, so unlike earlier happy days. So he can pray Scripture in Psalm 143 and feel in a condition similar to the psalm writer.

The author sees Jesus’ prayer experience as the ultimate expression of a prayerful life (54). Jesus prayed “Father, I thank you for hearing Me” (John 11:41), expectantly in gratitude looking for God’s power to raise Lazarus. To see his emphasis on Jesus (55) as a human with loud cries and tears (Heb 5:7-10) is helpful, as is seeing Jesus as always identified with believers as a faithful high priest helping them (Heb 2:17-18; 4:15-16). Other worthwhile examples include praying as Jesus prayed when often going into solitude (Luke 5:16) and crying “not My will but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42) (66).

Protestants can pray Scripture as Dumm says, but do not need the Roman Catholic ritual. His Catholic thinking gravitates to what he sees as the “real presence” of Jesus in the bread and the cup, as these are transformed by God’s power into the very body and blood of Christ (82). On the communion passage in 1 Corinthians 11, he adds words that Scripture does not add, for example in saying that believers’ own bodies need to be broken and their blood poured out. He uses Phil 2:3-8 as if a life of servant obedience like Christ’s involves believers’ pouring out their blood. Actually, in Jesus’s case He shed His blood, but in believers’ cases they ought to respond obediently in ways relevant to them (cf. 2:13) as they become like Christ.

On “pray without ceasing” (chap. 5) Dumm has many good words about constant preoccupation with the Lord. But he returns to detail about praying centered in the Eucharist and the remaining sacraments. Praying the rosary with fifty “hail Mary’s” follows in chap. 6 (147). The first half of the process is mostly on praise verses in Luke 1 giving honor to Mary, and the second half has petitions to Mary as “far and away the most effective intercessor before God for us sinners” (147). Where does Scripture ever say that Mary intercedes for believers? And what of the Holy Spirit’s intercessory work (Rom 8:26-27)?

In conclusion, the book has some helps for the mature discerner on meaningful prayer in various Scriptures, such as in the OT and in the life and teaching of Jesus. A good emphasis on faith and love is frequent. On the other hand, the book misleads in so often pouring the prayer process through a Catholic perspective and ritual. It will be worthwhile for evangelicals at times, but overall is not recommended. One can pray Scriptures even in profusion by simply voicing particular details in worship. Some examples are thanking God for works of creation (Genesis 1), for truths in the Tabernacle, for realities in Psalm 23, and for things in the life and work of Jesus, or truths given by Luke in Acts, or by Paul, James, Peter, John2 and Jude.