Monday, March 24, 2014

Reading, but not to Get to the End

I just started reading Joan Chittister's Rule of St Benedict.

I bought it some time ago, but hadn't started reading it, for some reason of another.  I am interested in Benedictine Spirituality, as much as I know about it:  the practice of Listening, Radical Hospitality.  I wanted to know more.

But I picked up the Rule this weekend because I had just finished a good mystery novel, and I was restless.  I haven't been able to pick up the next mystery in the series yet (I am promising myself that I will get books at the Library instead of purchasing them), and I was restless to start something new.  Before the good mystery novel, I had raced through a work of young adult fiction, loving every minute of it.

I got started late last night, and picked the book up again today, eager to get going.  The Rule is really simple, Sr. Joan wrote.  It should not take very long to read it, I thought.

After a little while, I found myself intrigued the fact that every few paragraphs there was a series of dates:  January 1, May 2, September 1.  That was the first set.

What could that be about?  A few paragraphs later was a second set of dates:  January 2, May 3, September 2.  I soldiered on.

At some point it dawned on me:  this book is meant to be read in short segments, three times every year.  It is not meant to be read quickly, to amass information, to get to the end.  It is meant to be savored, meditated on.

I am not sure I even know how to read in this way.

I have been taught and trained to read to get to the end -- and sometimes, as quickly as possible.  The good mystery is my favorite genre, and of course, a good mystery is a page-turner, a book that keeps you up until all hours of the night, because you have to finish it.  This is a compliment.

I have also been taught that volume is important:  how many books I plow through in a year is a measure of my competence.  For the past few years I have been involved in a reading challenge where we make a commitment to read a certain number of books every year.  Making it through the right number of books is the main thing, although I suppose it is important to pick books you really want to read.

But I can't do that with the Rule of St. Benedict.  It is not a book to be plowed through.  It is to be savored, re-read, meditated on.

I am not sure I know how to read in this way.

There is virtue in reading to get to the end.  There is nothing wrong with a good mystery, one that keeps you up until all hours of the night, racing along until finally you either figure out the mystery or the mystery is revealed.

But there is another kind of reading, just as there is another kind of mystery, one that is never quite figured out, and only revealed in the flashes of stars, in the clouds on the mountain, in a Word spoken over and over, chewed on until its unique character reveals itself, but briefly.

Tomorrow I am going to slow down and start reading The Rule of St. Benedict, but not to get to the end.  Just like life, it will come to an end in its own time.  In the meantime, I will savor it, and try to learn as much as possible from each page, each paragraph, each sentence, each word.

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