Reading to Slow Yourself Down Part 2: Reading as a Way of Listening

“He who runs from God in the morning will scarcely find Him the rest of the day.”

John Bunyan

“It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.”

C.S. Lewis

So this morning when I first woke up it was somewhere between 6:00am and 6:30am, and immediately my mind turned to making breakfast for our twin sons (who can’t always be trusted to make healthy choices) and getting the laundry out of the dryer (because I needed clean socks, of course). Then, thankfully, instead of leaping into whatever tasks lay before me, I did my morning prayers from the Daily Office, trying to slowly pay attention to the words rather than rush through them like another chore to check off my list.

The Daily Office this morning included Scripture (John 14), prayers (including the Lord’s Prayer), and the Apostles’ Creed. Reading these ancient Christian texts regularly immerses me in a narrative, a worldview, through which I can then approach life and see the world around me. Such liturgical practices orient me so that the other voices competing for my attention and allegiance (media, consumerism, politics, etc.) are gradually stripped of their influence. They also help quiet the internal voices of misguided desire, insecurity, anxiety, and expectations. It’s a way of allowing another, more foundational Voice to have greater power over me and in me. Like Lewis says above, it means “listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in.”

Such listening can’t happen in a vacuum. In other words, it’s not simply about sitting quiet and still and waiting for a voice–a sense, an impression, a feeling–to descend upon on our hearts and minds, bringing calm and focus. Though, truthfully, most of us could stand to spend much more time being still and quiet. As French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal once said, “All of humanity’s problems stem from man’s inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” No, what I mean is that reading Scripture, paying attention to liturgical texts such as the Apostles’ Creed, making use of traditional prayers like those in the Daily Office, is a form of listening. One that followers of Jesus, I think, are obligated–invited?–to use as spiritual resources in their apprenticeship to him. This is especially and primarily true of Scripture.

We are always being formed. We are always following a narrative. The question is: Which narrative? What is shaping our attitudes, the posture of our hearts? What is forming us? At the risk of pulling a Bible verse out of context, listen to what Paul says in Romans 8:29 should be happening to each believer in Christ: “For those he [God the Father] foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.” Conformed to the image of his Son. To conform means “to give the same shape, outline, or contour to, “to be similar or identical,” “to act in accordance or harmony.” In other words, we are called to become more and more Christlike. Not just in terms of what he did, but how he did it. Notice that Jesus was never in a hurry. He was never pressed for time. He was always acting and living out of his intimate communion with the Father. But here’s the thing: being conformed to Christ doesn’t–won’t–happen by osmosis or accident.

One of the ways it does happen is when we willingly take the time to listen to and to root ourselves in the story of Jesus, in redemption history, in the story of what God in Christ has done, is doing, and will do. It means allowing this narrative to take precedence. It means, honestly, fighting for it’s primary place in our lives. Because there is so much else that is attempting to fill that space. It’s often easier to make excuses and let spiritual disciplines fall to the wayside. There is, after all, too much else to do and think (worry? obsess?) about. Yet we need to pause, take a step, count to ten, to breathe.

Now, lest you think I’m coming at this from some ivory tower or idealistic-pastor-in-his-study point of view, let me assure you that my life is also busy (oh, how I hate that word). I am a full-time pastor. I’m married to a French and Music teacher who is very nearly full-time. We have a 16 year old daughter who does school online from home. We have twin sons who turn 12 next week. As I type this, there is church stuff to work on, laundry to do, rooms to clean, and a multitude of other tasks and responsibilities before me. I know perfectly well what it is like to feel overwhelmed by responsibilities. I know what it’s like to want to rush past prayer and Scripture because there’s too much else to do.

But I have also learned what I am like as a person when I do rush past prayer and Scripture. I am less attentive, less patient, less reflective, less prayerful, and less in the moment; and I am more easily tossed about by winds of anxiety, more prone to irritability, and, frankly, more likely not to love others well. I might even become more likely to use more, as our family calls them, “sweary words.” So, yeah, it means not exactly being conformed to the image of Jesus, the God-man who came, who died, and who was raised on my behalf so I could actually experience life as a new human being, freed from slavery to sin and my own selfish proclivity to think of myself first. So, I don’t know about you, but while it isn’t always easy or convenient to make time to “read” God into my life, to listen to him, I know that I wouldn’t have much of a life if I didn’t.

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