Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Learning How To Read

I'm going through my new book Idol Thoughts weekly on the blog, chapter by chapter. Chapter Three is entitled "How To Read This Book" (I've gotten a lot of ribbing about waiting until the third chapter to give that particular instruction).

Basically it is a chapter about how to do lectio divina, the prayerful meditative reading of Sacred Scripture. That is 'the Book' I want people to read, more than I want you to read me. But I do go into how Idol Thoughts is structured. The following eight chapters each take on of the eight 'thoughts' that lead us away from God and from happiness. Each chapter explores that thought, what it looks like, what it does to us.

And then, along with some basic spiritual practices that combat the thought (e.g. fasting for gluttony, almsgiving for avarice), I present three or four Scriptures that pertain to that thought and write a short meditation on each. I end each chapter by giving a longer list of Scriptures for further prayer and meditation of the reader. The general idea is that this book is a practical 'how-to' manual on the use of lectio divina to combat the thoughts and purify the mind of their influence. I encourage readers, if they are particularly convicted by one or another of the thoughts, to really take those provided Scriptures to heart and use them as a focussed program of prayer and reflection.

This whole business of lectio divina is so vital today, though. So many people don't know God. Even believing Christians seem to struggle with feeling this. While God is infinite mystery beyond mysteries, He has come close to us, though, and His Word is given so that we can at least begin to know HIm in this life.

A big problem today is that we don't know how to read. I'm not talking about actual or functional illiteracy, although that is a thing. I'm talking about our tendency to read in ways that the Internet has taught us--not reading, but skimming. Not really able to take in a text that has some depth of meaning, but flitting about from text to text gathering the superficial meaning we can gather without much effort or concentration.

We have descended from the heights of lectio divina down past even a normal lectio humana to the level of lectio animalia - a reading simply for immediate stimulation and satiation of appetite for intellectual input. No real engagement, no real deep analysis, no real encounter with the other through the miraculous medium of the written word.

Well, this doesn't work one little bit for the Bible. God's Word is not a consumer product that we can use and discard. God's Word is not a listicle, a blog post, a tweet, a status update to scroll past. And when we treat it that way, we do ourselves deep harm, as we have the illusion that we have 'read the Bible' without ever really reading it at all. Many of the Internet Atheists who like to pretend that they know all about the Bible and how dumb it is have approached it only in that way--scouring it only for ammo to use in their futile war against God and religion.

Lectio divina, then, first asks of us one thing, and that is to slow down. We have to read the Bible slowly these days, since we are so used to frenetically reading everything else. We have to take just one or two verses, read them slowly, repeatedly, not trying to 'figure them out' first, but just letting the words breathe, letting them live, letting them speak to us. This may take a long time, since our minds are so revved for this constant superficial level of reading.

Only after quite a time of this ponderous, slow reading should we move into analysis, into thinking about it, into 'meditation proper'. And even then, the meditation should always lead us back to the text, back to the living encounter with the One who is in the text, mysteriously, into prayer. Nothing is sadder than a Christian who gets more enamoured of their 'brilliant' thoughts and daydreams about Scripture than they are of the Sacred Text itself.

Reading, pondering, meditating--all of this is to lead us into a genuine contemplation of the written text we are with, a simple, reverent, awed beholding of the Truth who is Jesus within it. And this contemplation naturally leads to prayer, to conversation, to the simple worship of our hearts and minds in grateful praise. And this prayer and worship must then shape our lives, our choices, our decision, or it remains fruitless.

So that is how to 'read this book' - not Idol Thoughts (although, ahem, I do recommend you read it!) but The Book. And our reading of The Book is the vital need of our time, of any time really. We need to be re-Worded by the Word, so that our words and deeds are a living Gospel for the world.

So I give lots and lots of helpful examples of how to do that throughout my book, and I hope it helps you as it already seems to be helping many people.

1 comment:

  1. It has helped me tremendously already! Lots of those deadly sins that I thought weren't giving me much trouble...well, maybe they are...


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