How to Read

A month or so after we moved into our new-but-not-new home, I rediscovered my first ever Bible.

My parents gave that Bible to me for Christmas when I was six or seven. I was not an early reader, but as soon as I got the basics, I was able to read well beyond my reading level, so I’m pretty sure by the time I was eight, I had read through both Genesis and Exodus on my own. Mostly I liked it, although there were some yawner sections of Exodus and Genesis 38 was completely baffling to me.

By the time I got to Leviticus, though, I couldn’t make heads or tails of it, and basically gave up, except when sometimes I could get a hold of some children’s devotional workbooks. Let’s not paint too idealistic (or whatever the appropriate adjective is–freakish, maybe?) a picture of my childhood devotion. It’s not like I spent most of my time wanting to read the Bible instead of my other books or whatever. I didn’t even always feel a sense of duty about it, although I do remember there being one in the mix. But quite frankly, I was at least probably more motivated to read the Bible than there were children’s/teen/adult devotionals that I could get my hands on and relate to. On some level I didn’t really care so much about the words of someone else about the Bible. I just wanted to read the Bible. But I didn’t know how.

At some point in adolescence I guess I finally expressed some of this to my dad, who suggested I keep a notebook in which I could write all the questions that came to mind as I was reading the Bible, and then, he said, “Every so often we can sit down and talk about them.”

I don’t remember ever “officially” doing the sit-down-and-talk-about-them thing with my dad (although he would probably tell you that Bible/theology tends to infuse our real life conversations), but I did start journaling my questions. Eventually, the questions became less list-y and more conversational and it turned out I was writing to God in that journal, asking Him my questions directly, and it’s been uncanny how often, over time at least, He answers back. So maybe my dad’s suggestion taught me not only how to read (the Bible, but I submit it’s a good way to read other things, too), but how to write (a journal), and how to pray.

Nowadays, I may use the lectionary or other reading plans (with no devotional add-ons) and sometimes read commentaries or books about Christian spirituality or theology or the Bible alongside the Bible. But it’s always the Bible. And a notebook, and a pen, with which to write my questions, or things I’m noticing, or how I’m feeling about a passage, or what I want to say to God about it. Sometimes I don’t write anything. But I try to be ready.

I know that what’s effective for one person isn’t always for everyone. I know that it’s important not to read the Bible in a vacuum, and I am a strong advocate of using solid resources to deepen one’s biblical knowledge–devotionals and commentaries can be helpful and if you can take college or seminary courses on the Bible, do it. (There’s a reason I went to seminary…thrice.)

But here’s something else of which I’m solidly convinced: if God spoke the cosmos into existence, if God caused people over millennia to write a book, if God showed up as a human being, then He is obviously invested in communicating with us. Which means, I think, that this method my dad pointed me toward–questions asked before God in humility and, when possible, batted around with another human being or a group of them–can be a really helpful way of reading the Bible. And of being transformed by it.

So I guess maybe that’s why there are Pilgrimage OSFGroups, now that I think of it. There’s writing, and prayer, and Bible reading and questions–and a group of other people to challenge and enlighten and through whom to hear from God in His Word, too. Even though what helped me connect with God through the Bible might not help everyone, I believe I’m not the only one who can find it very helpful and transformative indeed. The next OSFGroup (about which, more later) starts in about three weeks. Let me know if you want to try it.

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