Spiritual Reading

All of us are used to reading, whether it is a book or a magazine or just a note or letter from mom and dad or grandma and grandpa. And when we read, oftentimes we find something that is very interesting and piques our inner being. We often reread what we just read so that we can remember it and digest it.

I’m reminded of a story about a man’s dog who found an animal bone in his back yard from a critter that had died. The owner watched the dog as he gnawed on that bone for several minutes. Then the owner decided to go see what his dog was chewing on and as he approached his dog very carefully, the dog growled with that deep growl from within. It was not a loud growl but one of those of content. The dog was really enjoying that bone.

The dog’s growling reminded me of the lion in a verse of Scripture found in Isaiah 31:4, “…as the lion or the young lion growls over his prey…” The word “growls” caught my attention. What that dog did with that bone was making that low throaty rumble of pleasure, as the dog gnawed on that bone and savored his find.

The word in Hebrew is the word “hagah”, which means to meditate. This is a word that our Hebrew ancestors used frequently for reading the kind of writing that deals with our souls. I don’t think the word “meditate” is really the word I would want to use here. Meditate is more like what I might do in my quiet time when I’m reading God’s Word while on my knees. What the lion in Isaiah and the dog were doing is they chewed and swallowed, using tongue and stomach and intestines. The lion was meditating on his prey and the dog was meditating on that bone. There is a certain kind of writing that invites this kind of reading, soft low growls as we taste and savor, and take in the sweet and spicy mouth-watering and soul energizing morsel words as the psalmist says: “O taste and seed that the LORD is good…” (Psalm 34:8). Isaiah uses that word again a few pages later in Isaiah 38:14 for the cooing of the dove. A careful reader of this text caught the spirit of the word when he said that hagah means that a person is lost in his religion, which is exactly what the dog was into his bone. In other words, it is like allowing a lozenge to slowly dissolve in your mouth until it is gone.

I say all that to say this: I want that kind of reading when I open the Word and read quietly and try to digest what our Father is saying to me. All serious and good writing anticipates precisely this kind of reading. These kinds of words are intended to get inside us, to deal with our souls. This kind of writing anticipates and counts on a certain kind of reading–a dog-with-a-bone kind of reading.

Spiritual writing requires spiritual reading, that honors words as holy, words as a basic means of forming an intricate web of relationships between God and the human, between all things visible and invisible.

There is only one way of reading that is conforming with the Holy Scriptures, writing that trusts in the power of words to penetrate our lives and create truth and beauty and goodness, writing that requires a reader who doesn’t always focus on the words written as much as he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood. This is the kind of reading named by our ancestors as lectio divina, often translated “spiritual reading”, reading that enters our souls, as food enters our stomachs, spread through our blood, and becomes holiness and love and wisdom.

If only we would all learn to read God’s Word with such anticipation, allowing it to soak our minds and hearts.

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