Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Hospital Scripture Study (part one)

I've had a reputation in the wards I've live in as someone who knows the scriptures well. And while it is a tragedy, in some ways, that I will be remembered for this instead of for being really really ridiculously good-looking, I kind of like being the guy people text when they have a scripture question.

Because of my relative expertise, I am often asked during lessons on scripture study to divulge my study secrets. Unfortunately, unusual discipline about daily scripture reading is not one of them. I try to be pretty consistent for my kids, but my personal study habits have varied widely at different times in my life. Sometimes I do OK at reading a little each night (I've rarely even attempted to read in the mornings). Sometimes, I go an embarrassingly long time without reading scriptures on my own at all.

The most I can ever remember reading the scriptures is the month or so when I struggled with insomnia. I read the scriptures every night, focusing on books like Isaiah that have a reputation for being difficult. If I fell asleep reading, I counted it as a win. If I stayed awake for hours, increased scriptural literacy was an acceptable consolation prize.

I'm not convinced, though, that my familiarity with the scriptures comes from the occasional late nights we've spent together. What has mattered most, I believe, is the time I spend thinking and talking about the scriptures when I am not reading them.

For most of my life, I've spent time after I closed the book--or on days when I didn't even open the book--thinking about what a particular character went through or trying to imagine what they might have felt like in a given situation. I've spent a lot of time thinking through different teachings and wondering how they fit together. I even spend time thinking about the whole structure of a given book of scripture, trying to figure out how the parts contribute to the whole.

That's how I've gotten to know the scriptures so well. It's not just a matter of a physical habit. It's learning to let them linger.

I've spent a fair amount of time in hospitals lately, and it hasn't been conducive to sitting and reading hard texts. I've still thought about the scriptures a lot, though. One night, unable to sleep, I ran through what I remembered of the Lord's prayer dozens of times. Even though the simple language of the King James translation is hard to beat, I decided to come up with different wording for the ideas in my mind as a mental exercise in pondering their meaning. The next Sunday, having been discharged from the hospital, I wrote down my "translation" as well as I could remember it.

Here's the text from Matthew and from my hospital version. Matthew first:

The Lord's Prayer

Our Father
which art in heaven
hallowed be thy name
Thy kingdom come;
thy will be done
in earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
for thine is the kingdom,
and the power,
and the glory,
for ever.

And then here's my exercise:

Jesus' Prayer

Let the holiness of your name
reach down into the dust beneath our feet.
Let your kingdom rise among us,
your will fill us to the brim.
Give us the day's bread to eat, Father,
and cancel yesterday's debts
as fully as we forgive each others'
unfulfilled promises.
Guard us from our weakness, Father--
save us from our darkest selves.
Because the kingdom is yours,
power is yours,
glory is yours
in the moment and eternity,

Looking back at both, I'm reminded that I like the version from Matthew much better. But I'm glad I took the time to come up with my own, that I thought hard enough about the scriptures to rephrase them.

I've read the scriptures before. Memorized some passages even. Having once put that time in, I didn't need to open them to continue the lifelong project of writing them on my heart.

Different techniques will work for different people. As a writer, mentally rewriting worked for me. Something else would certainly work better for someone else. But the time we let the scriptures pass through our minds when the books are closed does matter, and I hope we can all find ways to keep their words and stories active within us.

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