Reading for Love
I arrived at Regent College two years ago, bright-eyed and openhanded, ready to be challenged in my ability to love God and others. After all, Jesus said that love is the greatest of commands and I, like the disciple Peter, felt called to care for Christ’s sheep. I had no idea what I was getting myself into, but sported a silent confidence in my own aptitude for compassion and grace.
Today, I will freely admit that I still have much need of heart improvement, that counting on my mere human strength in order to love can only get me so far, and that more often than not, a godly, biblical love looks very different than the world’s cheap and selfish imitation.
Having begun to understand this through a long series of events and conversations during my studies in Vancouver, I’ve been mulling over a question that’s driving my IPIAT project: If Christian love is so significant but vastly differs from the average person’s definition of it, how can I foster the true love that only comes from the Holy Spirit in my life?
It is with this question that I have turned to one of my greatest loves in life—words. Before this graduate degree in theology, I earned a BA in writing and worked for a couple years at Tyndale House Publishers where I learned to play with language professionally. I’ve been known to camp out in rooms full of books, considering dead authors friends and fictional stories as real as any others.
With all the reading I’ve done, Daniel Coleman’s concept that books connect us to others in a deeply spiritual way makes total sense to me. In fact, I would go as far as to say that reading well is an act of love. It is a kind of sacrificial listening, a putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, being willing to let go of your own ideas and opinions for long enough to allow the writer to take you somewhere they want you to go.
Thus, learning to read better is, in a way, learning to love better.
As a Christian, this takes on even more significance when I think about how Christ is the Word and that we’ve been given a living book as a way of connecting with him. Through reading Scripture well, we can learn to love God and others better, not just because the Bible specifically talks about these things, but because the act of sitting still, of setting aside time out of the chaotic lives we lead, and opening ourselves up to the Word is in itself a posture of love.
This love takes effort. I have plenty of days when the last thing I feel like doing is picking up the Bible. If taking classes like Language Perspectives and Exegesis has taught me one thing, it’s that interpreting Scripture correctly takes humility, attention to detail, and a lot of hard work.
Getting to know the book and its author is also risky. This is true of anything one might read, but is especially the case when you believe that book to be the inerrant Word of God. What happens when what I find in Scripture isn’t the truth I want to hear? What if what I read challenges me to make difficult changes in my life?
Looking for a distraction from the challenges Scripture presents, I easily find a myriad of excuses to leave my Bible on its shelf, ranging from the ever popular “it doesn’t seem relevant right now” to the only slightly more shallow “my computer is shinier.” Whatever the excuse, the postmodern world is quick to back me up. It spins madly on and encourages me to as well, telling me that deep reading is a chore and there are many flashier ways to get a story fix.
Yet I continue coming back to this idea of love. Loving well in a scriptural sense takes work, risk, and time. It involves self-emptying for the sake of another, not asking for anything in return. Love like this goes against our sinful nature and against culture.
But this is the kind of love Christ thought was worth dying for—and living for. Worth being given the title of “greatest command” and described as the way people will know we are disciples of Jesus.
This relationship between reading and loving has compelled me to pick up my Bible more often, concentrating on singular verses instead of just plowing through pages. The ancient practice of lectio divina or “divine reading”—reading to meditate, pray, and contemplate—is definitely a challenge in our fast-paced world of screens and buttons, excess and access.
Exploring this for my IPIAT, I am in the middle of creating a coffee table devotional that will encourage others to slow down in their own reading of Scripture. The book, which will be available in both print and e-book versions, is my way of merging my passion for art and writing with my deep desire to love well and inspire others to also. The urge to stay as busy as possible continues to push me forward, but daily I try to create the quiet space needed for the discipline of Scripture reading. I know I have a long way to go, but my hope is that learning how to read better will in turn foster a greater love for God and others within me. Because I love words, but I love the Word even more.
Stay up-to-date on Amy’s project at daysliketheseones.wordpress.com