I’ve been in a bit of a reading frenzy this past month. It seems to be a pretty normal rhythm in my life. Every year, right about the time the forsythia blooms, I find that I’m ravenous for books. I start clicking on dozens of “Top 10” lists from the New York Times to People magazine to find that perfect morsel of literary food. Last week, my dad gave me a copy of Eugene Peterson’s Eat This Book, to peruse on my plane ride home. Once I had the seatbelt fastened, I opened the book and continued to read from LA to Raleigh…it’s that good of a book. The book reminded me of a simple summer fruit and cheese platter; healthy little bites that invite you to nibble, pause and repeat as the concepts kind of sink into you. And, in fact, this is exactly what Peterson wants readers of the Bible to start doing. He writes, “Writing found in Scriptures must penetrate our lives. We must be able to bend back and let it spread through our blood. Like food enters our stomachs.”
Peterson takes a direct approach in the book providing the reader with three broad sections: how God reveals himself through Scripture, how to read the Bible using Lectio Divina (divine reading) and the history of how separate books came to be known collectively as the Bible. For the past year I’ve been practicing Lectio Divina so his unfolding of this spiritual practice was most interesting to me. Rather than drone on about how one is to perform each of the four steps (lectio, oratio, comtemplatio, meditatio) Peterson brings the steps to life. In fact, it was the chapter title—Caveat Lector (Let the Reader Beware!) that hooked me. Bad Bible reading is dangerous, he states. We have to be intentional about using the Bible appropriately and this includes listening to the words of the Bible and not simply reading them for personal insight. Often, he highlights the universal church, the holy community coming together through a passage of Scripture and finding truth in it through the working of the Holy Spirit. Peterson affirms that the Bible is a meta-narrative, a grand and sweeping story of God and He is best understood when we read the Bible as a whole, not in chopped up pieces, by chapter and verse “which only encourages us to see it as piecemeal.”
Many people think of Lectio Divina and other practices of Ignatian spirituality as the realm of monks and ascetics. Peterson insists that the contemplative life is the Christian life. “Lectio Divina is not a technique for reading the Bible. It’s a habit of living the text in Christ’s name.” The practice of contemplation isn’t for outward appearance at all. It is simply a process for letting biblical revelation come into oneself and, in response, to live it unpretentiously. Today’s digital culture could learn from the practices of silence and solitude, but not in order to learn how to be still. They are, in fact, to help us discover God’s presence here and now.
Much like a satisfying meal, Eat This Book reads easily and I found myself wanting a little bite of dessert. Sprinkled through the pages are literary quotes and one by Bonaventure seems to fit my need for a little sweet: “To know much and taste nothing—of what use is that?”