I’d like to share a quote from a passionately written book by Eugene Peterson. I pray that it will help us put good use to our reading–especially our reading of Holy Scripture. As a graduate student, this quote served as a good reminder to be present, open, receptive, and above all, gracious in my readings of any text, article, book, or publication. This posture of charity and humility opens us up to identifying with a text and allowing it to seep into our bones. But most importantly, this quote serves as a prophetic exhortation to allow the words of Scripture to speak for themselves and to open myself fully to not only reading them, but being read by them as well.
Reading is an immense gift, but only if the words are assimilated, taken into the soul–eaten, chewed, gnawed, received in unhurried delight. Words of men and women long dead, or separated by miles and/or years, come off the page and enter our lives freshly and precisely, conveying truth and beauty and goodness, words that God’s Spirit has used and uses to breathe life into our souls. Our access to reality deepens into past centuries, spreads across continents. But this reading also carries with it subtle dangers. Passionate words of men and women spoken in ecstasy can end up flattened on the page and dissected with an impersonal eye. Wild words wrung out of excruciating suffering can be skinned and stuffed, mounted and labeled as museum specimens. The danger in all reading is that words be twisted into propaganda or reduced to information, mere tools and data. We silence the living voice and reduce words to what we can use for convenience and profit.
One psalmist mocked his contemporaries for reducing the living God who spoke and listened to them into a gold or silver thing-god that they could use:
‘Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them’ (Ps. 115:8)
It’s an apt warning for us still as we deal daily with the incredible explosion of information technology and propagandizing techniques. These words need rescuing.
-Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: a conversation in the art of spiritual reading, 11.
“Lift up your hearts,
We lift them to the Lord”- The Book of Common Prayer