As I spend a few days away from the normal, daily demands while on vacation, I am struck by my inability to rest well. To slow down. Busyness and fastness and a frenetic pace threaten to infect all areas of my life (or probably already have).
One of the places I noted this first, surprisingly, was in my reading. Rather than sitting down to read for the pleasure of it, I found myself reading to complete something. I needed to finish the book in my lap, so that I could get to the next one on the pile. Well, actually that wasn’t so clear to me at first. That would be to take too much credit. That reality was dawning on me slowly, kind of around the edges, when Eugene Peterson reached out from the book in my lap and slapped me in the face:
Spiritual reading, designated lectio divina by our ancestors, has fallen on bad times. It has always been a prized arrow in the quiver of those determined to cultivate a God-aware life, but has suffered a severe blunting in our century. This particular arrow has lost its point more through ignorance than indifference or malice, ignorance of the sense that ‘spiritual’ carries. For the modifier ‘spiritual’ in spiritual reading does not refer to the content of what is read but to the way in which a book is read. Spiritual reading does not mean reading on spiritual or religious subjects, but reading any book that comes to hand in a spiritual way, which is to say, listening to the Spirit, alert to intimations of God.
Reading today is largely a consumer activity – people devour books, magazines, pamphlets, and newspapers for information that will fuel their ambition or careers or competence. The faster the better, the more the better. It is either analytical, figuring things out; or it is frivolous, killing time. Spiritual reading is mostly a lover’s activity – a dalliance with words, reading as much between the lines as in the lines themselves. It is leisurely, as ready to reread an old book as to open a new one. It is playful, anticipating the pleasures of friendship. It is prayerful, convinced that all honest words can involve us in some way, if we read with our hearts as well as our heads, in an eternal conversation that got its start in the Word that ‘became flesh.’ (Take and Read, Spiritual Reading: An Annotated List, Eugene H. Peterson)
Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to read?
As a lover, having a dalliance with words. As one who is leisurely, playful, and prayerful with the words they are turning over in their minds. This takes time friends. Intention. Space. Patience.
But God trumpeted something else to me as I underlined Peterson’s words in the volume I held in my hands, as I turned them over and over in my mind, as I sat in the comfortable library chair in our living room with the sun streaming in through the windows.
Doesn’t that sound like a wonderful way to live?
To live God-aware. Thoughts of him ever-present in all I do and say.
To be the anti-consumer: rather than devouring time and tasks and to-do lists, the faster the better, the more the better….to slow down. To fight busyness. To appreciate moments, and all the people God has graciously placed in those moments. To drink in the joy found in having a catch with my boys, lying in the grass, looking up at the trees as the sun dances through the branches, and presses through the leaves, making our maple a natural lamp.
To live as a lover. To express care and compassion and affection to those around me. To love them as God loves them. To love them as I love myself.
To be leisurely. This one scares me. I hear leisure, and I think “lazy” and “wasteful.” But that is not what this word means. It means to be unhurried, to be relaxed. To stop living in the space between things, always feeling rushed to get to the next thing. Instead, to live fully in the moment God has me in – relaxed, rested, unhurried, and trusting in Him.
To be playful. To take God seriously, but not myself. For laughter to be common. Simple joy present.
To be prayerful. To pray without ceasing. Extended, deep, on-my-knees-crying-out-to-God praying, and constant-but-brief-almost-muttered-under-my-breath-all-through-out-the-day praying. An almost never-ending state of communion with my Heavenly Father.
Some of these are in my life, in part; little parts.
But I want more of them. For the glory of my Christ, and for my joy. And, in case you hadn’t guessed it, the reason I’ve written this here is that I’d like such reading and living for you too.