instruere...inlustrare...delectare Disputations

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

Reading Scripture

Steven Riddle asks a question many of us might be asking:
I know that St. Blogs is filled with inveterate readers and so I thought I'd pose this question that niggles at me from time to time. If I am such an inveterate reader, why do I not read scripture with the avidity with which I approach Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor, and others?

The Gospels are far shorter than the novels we read. They are, in fact, easily read in one sitting, were we so inclined. So why is it that we seem to be so little inclined? Why is it that I do not read the Gospels through at least once a month. (One a week for four weeks.)
Based on my own failed attempts to put the Bible on my to-be-read list, I think an important part of the answer is that reading the Bible is not like reading any other book. The Bible is not "like any great work of literature," at least not from the perspective of a Christian who wants to read it to become a better disciple of Christ.

In fact, reading the Bible to become a better disciple of Christ is significantly unlike anything else we might do. It's a unique combination of prayer and study, of reading and contemplation, of asking and listening.

So I don't think it will work, generally speaking, to read the Bible instead of some other book. You (by which I mean I) wind up judging the experience as though it were a reading experience, and very little of the Bible makes for a good reading experience.

And since it's not a good reading experience, all the weaknesses Steven mentions are able to stop us from doing something we don't much enjoy anyway:
We read them and they accuse us of our faults and failings. They point out how we fail to be what God calls us to be. I know that in real life I avoid mirrors at all costs. I do not like to look at myself--I don't much care for what I see. (One of the chief advantages of being me is that I am on the inside looking out.) How much more then will I dislike looking in the mirror of the soul. How much less likely I am to like what I see there.
The trick, I think, is not to say, "As a reader, I ought to be reading Scripture," but, "As a Christian, I ought to be spending time with Scripture." We don't read the Bible instead of reading some other book. We do Sacrae Scripturae lectio instead of reading a book -- or watching TV, or sleeping until 7 a.m., or blogging.