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Divine Reading, Part I

May 10, 2010

It’s one of the deep secrets of my personal devotional life, and I’m sure there are Christians out there who would denounce me and my faith if they knew.  But in the spirit of finding the holy and hidden heart of things, the abundant grace in my life, it’s time for a full confession.

I get bored with the Bible.

I first realized this when I once finished a particularly satisfying chapter in a Donald Miller book, and in my contemplative post-reading reverie, happened to look guiltily over at my Bible nearby.  Why is it, I suddenly wondered, that I don’t feel the same sense of wonder and enlightenment when I read the Bible as when I read Donald Miller?

That feeling has continued to haunt me in recent years, especially as I discover more and more works of brilliant, transformative Christian writing from authors like Henri Nouwen and Frederick Buechner, Richard Foster, A.W. Tozer, Rob Bell, Lauren Winner, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Dallas Willard, Robert Webber, and even ancient mystics like Julian of Norwich and Thomas à Kempis.  These authors and their works have been foundational in my understanding of faith, God, myself, the Church, ministry, and the world.  They quote scripture, and analyze scripture, and illumine the truth of scripture, but … they’re not scripture.  And yet, given the choice between Nouwen and Nehemiah, I’d choose Nouwen every time.

Is this a bad thing?  Is it indicative of some deeper malady in my spiritual life?

Although I have read the Bible and studied it, at times been in awe of it and wrestled with it and written about it, and even received what I believe are very personal exhortations and directions from within its chapters, I haven’t often consumed it with the kind of reverential wonder which which I have recently, for example, been devouring the chapters of Richard J. Foster’s Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home.  When reading the Bible, my heart is seldom touched in the same way … and I certainly reach for my highlighter less often.

What’s more, there are parts of the Bible that make me angry.  Really, really angry.  I wonder why accounts of Dinah’s brothers destroying an entire city out of spite, or Lot offering his daughters up to be raped can be God-breathed and divinely ordained without including any condemnation of their brutality and injustice.  I wonder why so many of Paul’s treatises are divisive and even logically conflicting without definitive explanation, without satisfying cultural context.

I’ve also secretly asked:  why doesn’t the poetry read more like Auden or Milosz, poets I love and deeply connect with?  Why aren’t the historical accounts as comprehensive and straightforward as, say, Josephus?

So, I’ve got some Bible baggage, so to speak.  For the entirety of my life in the church, I’ve been told that daily Bible reading is one of the foundations of the Christian life.  But, in the context of church discipleship, I’ve never really been instructed in how to best read the Bible.  Sure, I learned early on the “observation, interpretation, application” model, but I find it lends itself only to a superficial understanding.  I can also study on an exegetical level, utilizing translation cues, cultural and historical knowledge, and theological arguments, and while that is much more intellectually fulfilling, it’s certainly not taught in churches (to great detriment of contemporary evangelicalism) and still doesn’t satisfy or enlighten the way that reading Nouwen often does.

All that to say, my times in the Word have been disappointing and unfulfilling more often than I would like, and all this Bible baggage came to the surface this past week as I’ve been reading Foster’s chapter on Meditative Prayer.

But this isn’t the end of the story.  There’s more.  In … part II.

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