Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Reading into life: Go easy

I mentioned in a previous post that I was working my way through Teresa Blythe's 50 Ways to Pray. One of the methods Blythe guides readers through is called Luther's Four-Stranded Garland, a form of lectio divina, or prayerful reading. I gave it a go with Ecclesiastes 12:11-14 from The Message:

"The words of the wise prod us to live well. They're like nails hammered home, holding life together. They are given by God, the one shepherd. But regarding anything beyond this, dear friend, go easy. There's no end to the publishing of books, and constant study wears you out so you're no good for anything else. The last and final word is this: Fear God. Do what he tells you. And that's it. Eventually God will bring everything that we do out into the open and judge it according to its hidden intent, whether it's good or evil." (italics mine)

Because my bedside reading often takes the form of the Leaning Tower of Piza, I felt God was talking directly to me in these verses. Blythe explained that Luther's Four-Stranded Garland involves an initial time of silence, then a slow, deliberate reading of the verses, hunting for a word, phrase or image that sparks something in the reader.  I usually have a hard time selecting just one "word, phrase, or image" because I'm most often intrigued by the juxtaposition of contrasting ideas, with which the Bible is replete. So my "phrase" was actually three phrases: Go easy.... Fear God. Do what he tells you. 

Now, onto Luther's garland, (which seems just about the most random mnemonic device ever):

For the first strand, Blythe tells readers to consider what lesson God is teaching them in the passage. That was the easy part. I love books and have a huge To Read list. And, as the verses state, there's no end to the steady stream of books being published. But if I'm just reading to get through a book or to be able to post on the blog, and I'm not giving myself the time and presence of mind to really hear God in the words of the wise, I'll wear myself out. Besides, the wise writer of Ecclesiastes gives me the Cliff Notes to all the wisdom I could ever read: "Fear God. Do what he tells you." I need to go easy by fearing God and hearing God. And doing what he tells me. It's a given God is telling me something, and that something requires action.

The second strand, Blythe writes, is to focus on giving thanksgiving to God. I'm so grateful for the access I have to so many wise writers (and a few daft ones). Living in this age and this country where books are plentiful is something I'm truly thankful for. And I'm thankful that the source of all true wisdom is the one good Shepherd. I can find God's gentle, leading voice in the books of the Bible as well as literature, poetry, biographies and other non-fiction. He's the source of every wise word. 

The third strand is confession. Blythe recommends admitting sins and shortcomings. For me, I often get sucked into what I'm reading or pursuing in a way that causes me to neglect my three children and the dishes in the sink-- a pile that rivals the tower of books on my nightstand! To make matters worse, I often bask in my personal inspiration and enlightenment without following through. Without fearing God. Without hearing. Without doing. It might seem I'm taking the easy way out, but actually this is the hard way to live because I was made to fear, hear and do. What Brene Brown calls the "cognitive dissonance" of falling short of one's calling makes going through life hard. Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner who too often takes the difficult road of not fearing, hearing and doing!

The final strand, writes Blythe, is to find guidance in the passage. As you might have surmised, God showed me that I don't focus on fearing him and hearing him and doing what he tells me. But, oh, how I want to. This is what a Christian was made to do. I want to discern his heart in all that I read or hear-- wise words or simple nudges. After my time of prayer, I spent some time listening. Sure enough, He had some things to say! To make sure I was really listening, I made a short list of things I felt God was reminding me to do. I'm not proud to tell you that some were things that he asked me to do days or even weeks ago. Near my list, I wrote "Consider each task sacred." I paused for what was probably 30 seconds of contemplative silence ... I'm still working on this feature of lectio divina. Then I got going on "going easy." And let me just gush for a moment: obeying God makes my heart easy! His burden really is light in that it makes me feel light and buoyant when I do what he tells me to do. 


  1. Lectio Divina . . . I incorporated this way of praying in my life about 4 years ago, I am a huge reader of Richard J, Foster and Dallas Willard along with many others great writers that talk alot about spiritual formation & lectio divina. I have to say that yes my faith is centered around Jesus, but my walk has grown so much deeper since I learned about spiritual formation & lectio divina. Wow, great selections

  2. I think we have similar taste in books :)