Monday, November 4, 2019

Reflections on reading scripture

Read the scriptures regularly.
Read good books, a little at a time

I've been hesitant to write about reading scripture. I felt like I didn't really have anything to say about it except that Fr. Hopko's advice to read scripture regularly is excellent and you should take it!

But when I looked at the next precept "read good books, a little at a time", I realized that I did have some reflections to share after all.

I have been reading and hearing scripture all my life, both as a child and an adult. From children's Bible stories to my own private reading, from church gospel and epistle readings to Sunday school lessons, I find that over the years the words have become familiar, comfortable.

I have followed different plans for reading, most often doing the daily lectionary readings throughout the year, other times using a read-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, sometimes choosing a specific book to read for various reasons. Most recently, aside from doing the daily readings with the kids, I have begun listening to Dr. Jeannie Constantinou's podcast on Ancient Faith Radio, called Search the Scriptures (it's excellent by the way).

Somewhere in the beginning of her series, Dr. Jeannie talked about how the Bible was put together and the work that it took to preserve and spread the gospel in the early centuries of Christianity, long before the invention of the printing press. As she was talking about all this it occurred to me that it might be interesting to try and copy out a book of the Bible myself. Obviously I don't have hours of time to dedicate to such a project, but as I thought about it I realized that I could commit to writing just a little bit every day.

So I began. 

And I'm not sure I'll ever stop. 

I haven't suddenly had all kinds of enlightenment or understanding revealed to me, and that was not my purpose in taking up this practice. But by taking time to pair the physical act of writing with my reading I have begun to pay better attention.

If I am honest I have to admit that all that comfortable familiarity with scripture that I mentioned above means that sometimes when I read or hear it I'm not actually listening. The familiar words flow in one ear and out the other and I forget what I read as soon as I close the book. Somehow the act of writing things down helps them to stay with me longer and I find myself pondering and reflecting more than I ever have before.

I purposely limit myself when I am copying out verses and I write out only 1-3 verses at a time. It would be easy to get carried away, and then burnt out, if I were to allow myself to do more than that. By only allowing myself to write a small amount I have found that I am better able to stay with this practice because it doesn't require too much from me on days when my time is short or there are other things that need my attention. 

These two maxims, regular reading of scripture and reading good books a little at a time, are powerful, life-giving tools that are easily incorporated into our everyday lives. My own practice is one way to live them out, but there are plenty of other ways to do so as well. I will perhaps write more on reading good books in a later post, but in the meantime I'd love to hear from you about how you make time to read scripture and to read good books. I always enjoy hearing from my readers, so please do share! 

Tuesday, September 10, 2019

Revealing Thoughts and Feelings

Awhile back I posted a list of 55 Precepts for Christian Living by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I have seen the list circulated quite a bit since then and I recently came across the suggestion of journaling through each item on the list. I thought that was a wonderful suggestion and, as I considered doing it, I decided that I'd like to share some of my thoughts here.

Precept number 14:
Reveal all your thoughts and feelings to a trusted person regularly.

This maxim has been a difficult one for me to come to terms with. I find that I live very much in my head, and my thoughts are a sanctuary in many ways from the whirlwind of input in which I find myself each day. For me the idea of revealing all my thoughts, even to a trusted person, is very scary. I doubt I'm the only one who feels this way. Which of us has not had thoughts that would cause him or her to burn with shame if anyone else found out about them? Which of us has not had thoughts that would be hurtful to others, or that would cause strife and conflict if they were brought to light?

And yet... the more I contemplate this suggestion, the more I realize that perhaps Fr. Tom is onto something.

I am not my thoughts.

My thoughts may be a part of me, but they do not make up my whole person.

I have the freedom to choose which thoughts and feelings I will dwell on and which thoughts and feelings I will dismiss.

It's easy to think that because I have this freedom that I can just learn to be discerning by myself. Why should I bring anyone else into it? That just leaves me open and vulnerable doesn't it?

But do I really know myself well enough to evaluate my thoughts and feelings properly? Real, deep self-knowledge is harder to come by than it might seem.

There are some thoughts and feelings which, when grasped and clung to, lead down paths that are dark and twisted. These kinds of thoughts make it difficult to stay on the narrow way. There are other thoughts and feelings that can be cultivated and nourished in such a way as to shine light on the path and make it easier to walk.

Perhaps an objective perspective from someone who is not my self is important after all.

I'll be the first to admit that I have not lived by this maxim. It's scary to open one's thoughts and feelings to another person, even if it is a person one trusts. The fear of shame is real and powerful.

I find myself wondering if this is something that I can work towards, little by little, revealing myself up as I am able, keeping in my sight the end goal of humble openness.

I don't know if I will ever reach this goal, but I am beginning to see the value of its pursuit; sometimes the very journey itself is where much of the value lies in the end.

Monday, March 26, 2018

On Falling and Getting Up

A monk was once asked what they did up there in the monastery all the time. He replied, "We fall and get up again, fall and get up again, fall and get up again. 

Falling and getting up - it's not an easy thing. The older I get the harder I seem to fall. Sometimes I fall many times in the same day and the more often it happens the more difficult getting up again seems to be.

I find myself wondering sometimes if maybe I can just learn the lesson already, take it to heart, then I might be able to avoid falling again. But somehow I think the "lesson" is a bit beside the point. It's not exactly like learning to ride a bike or play an instrument, where skill increases with practice and the playing or riding becomes easier and even more enjoyable as skill increases. Perhaps the point is more about learning to understand that I am not self-sufficient, able to conquer my passions alone. Perhaps the more I fall the more I will see how very much I need help. Perhaps every time I pick myself back up I have another opportunity to reorient myself toward the right telos, the right end. If I can keep refocusing on Christ, maybe in the end He will be all I can see.