Sunday, January 27, 2013

Eat this Book

In the fall, I took a class on the book of Revelation. I don't think that I wrote about that here. I don't think I wrote much at all here in the fall, did I? And that's a big part of why I did not. I was reading my head off and my heart out. By that, I mean that it really did involve a lot of academic, mind-stretching reading, but the reading and learning reached into my heart and did some amazing things. I was also writing quite a lot, a long paper and a couple of exams.

I don't know why this thing will not let me align my text on the left, as I am telling it to do. But it won't.

Which takes my mind to the various forms that writing has taken over time, and to the title of the post, which comes from, or actually is, the title of a book by Eugene Peterson that I read a few years ago as part of another study adventure.

And Eugene Peterson took the words from the book of Revelation (with allusions to the writings and experiences of Isaiah the prophet), when John is told by the angel to "eat this book" that he has been another angel. The word used for "book" is also translated "scroll," but Peterson uses the "book" translation in his work, obviously.

Peterson writes, "Eating a book takes it all in, assimilating it into the tissues of our lives. Readers become what they read. . . . The angel does not instruct St. John to pass on information about God: he commands him to assimilate the word of God so that when he does speak it will express itself artlessly in his syntax just as the food we eat, when we are healthy, is unconsciously assimilated into our nerves and muscles and put to work in speech and action. . . Words--spoken and listened to, written and read--are intended to do something in us, give health and wholeness, vitality and holiness, wisdom and hope. Yes, eat this book."

During the taking of that class, not long after the death of my beloved "Accompanist," I had an experience that I won't recount here, except to say that at a time when I really needed health and wholeness, wisdom and hope, they came to me in the form of seven precise words, words I had assimilated into my being-- words from the book of  Isaiah, as it happens. And they changed my experience of her death, and my grief, and they even influenced the paper I was writing for the class on Revelation.
Those seven words changed me. Changed me for good.

Earlier in January, the week I was home with the flu, I read Ann Voskamp's One Thousand Gifts, which led me to find her blog, which led me to find her scripture memorization project.

Which has led me to accept her encouragement to recommence something that was once a regular part of my life--committing the Word to memory. Growing up as I did, going to church and attending a church-related school, memorizing scripture was something we did all the time. Usually a memory verse or two for church. Often a large chunk and even a whole chapter for school. In sixth grade, Meg Ireland at church on Wednesday nights had us memorizing more than I had before. And then in high school, singing in the chorus, I committed psalms and other passages to memory via music that stay with me to this day.

(As an aside, but closely related to my topic, I was pleased at Thanksgiving time, while driving to my parents' house and listening to an interview about John Donne, to poke around inside my mind and find that I could still recite all of Donne's sonnet "At the Round Earth's Imagined Corners," thanks to having learned it in chorus all those years ago!)

Recently I was listening to an interview with Melvyn Bragg, who grew up in a similar environment to mine, though his was rural England rather than rural Arkansas. He said that scripture "was like the lining of my mind." It was everywhere, and it was a huge part of what formed him. In the interview, he went on mainly to talk about how scripture, specifically the Authorized Version ("King James Version," as most Americans say)  formed and influenced the entire British nation and beyond. Note: the link above is not to the same interview I listened to, but it covers some of the same material.

Somewhere along the way, somewhere in my college years, I stopped committing scripture to memory. But after college, when I was living in Croatia, living through the war going on around us, and harder yet the wars that went on deep inside me, I was so thankful for scriptures that came to mind when I needed them. They helped get me through those years, those battles, that war.

And yet I never did resume the discipline.

Until now.

I am at a time in my life of realizing that I want to have more say about what forms "the lining of my mind." I want to memorize music again, and I want to memorize scripture again. Maybe I'll eventually memorize important poetry again. I want my mind to be a place of health and wholeness, vitality and holiness, wisdom and hope. And it doesn't get that way by chance. In times of grief, or indecision, or sadness, or even joy, I want to have resources available for expressing what I need to express, for learning what I need to learn, hearing what I need hear, seeing what I need to see.

I want to "eat this book."

(The photos above are from the Bible I've had since my dad gave it to me when I was five years old. I'm glad no one ever told me not to underline in my Bible. I love going through it and seeing what I underlined at various times in my life. Psalm 103 happens also to be one of those passages I learned in chorus, too, and I still hear those words to that melody and in that rhythm.....)

1 comment:

Lawrence Underwood said...

Sheila, this is such a good post and point so well to the importance of what we feed upon mentally. It brings up in my mind so much of what I have been thinking lately. I don't think I have ever heard the phrase, 'the lining of the mind' before; it perfectly describes the impact of what we import mentally. Thank you.