This is Part Two in the series “Behind the Scenes,” where I give you a look at how I contemplate—and then write about—scripture.
I’d love to know how low my blood pressure goes when I’m neck-deep in reading a piece of scripture for the umpteenth time, because I’m pretty sure alarms would be sounding if I were hooked up to a hospital monitor! Much like Ruth Haley Barton in the quote I shared with you yesterday, the longer I sit in quiet contemplation of just a few verses, the more the swirling sediment of my soul begins to settle and—instead of trying to control and lead my own thoughts—I feel myself releasing control. It’s in that thin space where focused attention and attendant silence meet, allowing me to follow where the Holy Spirit leads.
For you visual artists out there, it can sort of feel like that moment when you’re drawing or painting and the world fades away. It’s that sweet spot where you aren’t naming or analyzing; you’re just seeing colors, shapes, negative spaces. As Betty Edwards writes in Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain, you’re accessing that sacred gift of the intuitive mind and relegating the rational mind to the role of faithful servant.
Need help focusing? I totally get it. For instance, I’m a fast reader. But despite what you may have heard to the contrary, reading isn’t always about speed. To make myself slow down, I read aloud and I read things more than once. Ask my husband… he’s heard the entire Gospel of Mark read aloud three times! (You could also question my cats about the experience, but I doubt they’ll give you much insight… I’ve pegged them both as Enneagram 4s.)
The greatest benefit to reading out loud is that it slooowwws your brain down. No skipping words, no glancing ahead, no reading just to get the gist of what’s being said. To be honest, I taught reading aloud/re-reading as a comprehension strategy to my high school English students for years, but I had never thought to apply it to reading scripture until one of my seminary professors suggested it. Definitely a “duh!” moment for me.
So… as we pull back curtain number one, we find three things: slow yourself down, read aloud, and use that extra time to re-read. That’s always where I begin and like I said before, there’s no substitute for putting in the time.
Your assignment—should you choose to accept it—is to read Acts 3:1-10, three times, out loud. This is the pericope I’ve randomly chosen to use as I pull back the other curtains on contemplating scripture. Give it a try! Read it to your partner, your cat, your dog, your plant in the kitchen that looks like it wants to die because you keep forgetting to water it. (The CO2 will do it good!) You and your plant have absolutely nothing to lose.
Oh! One last thing for all you over-achievers out there… no note-taking! Keep that pencil and/or highlighter out of your hand! This curtain call is all about reading. Just plain… ‘ole… reading.
On which Bible version to use: I will be using the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) for all of my scriptural references, so it will probably be helpful if you use the same translation for this exercise. Wondering about all the different translations and paraphrases? Cokesbury has a handy chart with definitions here, and I wrote about my choice of the NRSV for Bible study here. Want to participate, but don’t own a Bible? Bible Gateway to the rescue! (Honestly, what did we even do before the Interwebs???)