Un-Mastering the Text

Old Scholar Reading in a Vaulted Room
Unknown, c.1631
(formerly attributed to Rembrandt)

We live in a culture of newspapers, textbooks, and speed reading.  As soon as we pick up a book – any book – we hold the text at arm’s length and seek to master it.

Robert Mulholland Jr, in his book Shaped By the Word, writes:

“The moment you opened this book, a powerful set of preconditioned dynamics of perception went into operation.  You are the ‘victim’ of a lifelong, educationally enhanced learning mode that established you as the controlling power (reader) who seeks to master a body of information (text) that can be used by you (technique, method, model) to advance your own purposes…”

Throughout school we are taught to be critical thinkers.  Thus, we approach books as tools to give us more knowledge and better techniques so that we can have more control over our lives and the things around us.  Further, looking at books and Scripture through a critical eye is “safe,” for if I master the text, then I regulate the situation when I encounter this text.  I can keep it far enough away that it doesn’t challenge me more than I want it to.

That’s where the novel comes in.  It’s easy to master textbooks and facts.  But a good novel can cause us to let down our defenses (because it’s just a story, right?), and then bam, the truth hits us “like a blow to the skull.”  We see ourselves in a character, or we begin to feel emotions we didn’t realize were there, or the words of a character spoken to another hit home.

Fiction can teach us more about ourselves and the world we live in than we can gain simply by reading non-fiction.

But we feel that we must master our environment, and unfortunately that has spilled over to our reading of Scripture as well.  We want to analyze and master it rather than sitting under God’s gaze and letting the text master us.  If we can analyze it, we can control it and use it on our terms.  But we need to let the text master us.  That’s why the discipline of Lectio Divina is needed (I will post about this later).  It allows us to soak in Scripture and be vulnerable to it.

I’m not implying that we never study or analyze Scripture, but let us also approach Scripture on our knees rather than only from our desk. Let us allow God’s loving and challenging words to pierce our glittering image of ourselves and find a home in our thirsty heart.


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