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  • Writer's pictureRalph Felzer



I almost hesitate to open with this little story I heard recently because I suspect many of you will just roll your eyes and say, "There goes Ralph again!"  But because I have the greatest respect for your ability to humor me, I think I'll just charge ahead.  I read just this afternoon that people are actually reading and writing more poetry now than ever before!  Poetry, can you believe it?  The speculation is that most people think that everybody can write poetry–and everybody does!  Kids write poetry about how much they love soccer or pizza.  Or they write about the death of their goldfish.  Teens write about their latest crush.  Older folk write about being young once and now being old, or losing a father.  Anybody can write poetry, we think, because everybody can write something short about something they love or miss or hope for.  I think there's a lot to be said for this.  And if it gets people writing, and keeps them writing, I'm all for it.

So why am I writing about poetry?  I'll move on in a sec, but there are three things I taught my students about reading poetry that will help us immensely when we read the Bible.  In order to get the most out of poetry (and much of the Scriptures), we need to do three things:

1) Read it slowly

2) Read it several times 

3) Read it out loud (okay, so we don't have to do this with Scripture, but what the heck?)

This actually fits really well with what I wrote last week, because if you remember, I talked about fasting from things besides food, like technology and habits that keep us distracted in day to day life.  Part of the allure of technology is not just all the information we have at our fingertips, it's the speed with which we can access that vast trove of information.  

And speed is not your friend.  Sure, it's nice to be able to look up whether or not the actor you're watching on that old show is still alive or not, or to find out how long it's been since the Tigers won the World Series, or where in the world Slovenia is, but there's no real need to get that info right now.  

It's not just that we want speed, we increasingly need speed.  According to Gloria Mark, author of Attention Span, "In 2004, we could stay focused on a screen for 150 seconds on average. In 2012, we were down to 75 seconds. Between 2016 and 2020, it had fallen to an average of 47 seconds."  Our attention spans have shrunk from 2 ½ minutes to 47 seconds in less than 20 years!

And we'd be fooling ourselves if we thought this has no effect on how we approach Scripture.  So let me ask you:  What's your experience been lately with reading the Bible?  My bet is that you don't do it as much as you'd like and you don't get as much out of it as you think you should.  You don't have to settle for this!  We don't have to be driven by our need for stimulation and ever-shrinking attention spans.

So let me offer a few suggestions for taking our minds back–and these really are suggestions, not rules or demands.  All the same, they are based on what I've read and experienced in talking with people young and old about what works best for them.  First, ditch the Bible app on your phone.  (I know, some of you do just fine with this, but even if that's really true, you're the exception, not the rule.)  The temptation to look something up or to be reminded of something else you need to do or buy or just "look into" is too distracting–the next thing you know, you're checking your text messages or looking up how long it's been since the Tigers won the World Series or where Slovenia (or Mesopotamia) is on a map. 

Second, SLOW DOWN.  Wait, let me say that one more time.  Slowww dowwn.  Remember that your objective in reading God's Word is listening for God.  Your objective in reading God's Word is listening for God, not checking the reading off your list or finally putting Lamentations behind you, or just getting Paul's next letter finished in your through-the-Bible-in-a-year reading plan.

Third, read the passage you're in several times.  You may find (although it's difficult for me) that reading the passage out loud helps.  As fast as some of us talk, we read or skim even faster.  Try reading it out loud.  Another thing you might try is a little trick I've learned to enjoy.  Try reading a short passage several times, emphasizing a different word or phrase each time.  For example, notice the difference the shifting emphasis makes in just this one encouragement from Jesus:

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me."  (John 14:1)

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me."

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me."

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

"Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Believe in God, believe also in me." 

It may seem silly, but this helps me see subtle little nuances in the simplest passages and, more importantly, it slows me down to see things that I otherwise would skate right on by.  If this helps you, awesome!  If not, just move on … but slowly!

In order to emphasize this idea of slowing, let's talk about cows.  Yep, cows.  Cows are what's known as ruminants, which means basically that they chew their cud.  We've all heard that before, I assume, but do you know what cud is?  (It's actually pretty disgusting.)  Cows (and goats and sheep) have more than one stomach!  When they eat, the food goes into their first stomach, called the rumen, but only temporarily.  The cow regurgitates this partially digested stuff (cud), and then chews it a little more before it's sent to the next stomach, from whence there is no return.  (Don't say I didn't warn you!)  

I hope you see how this ties into our idea of slowing, or at least to how we should approach the Word of God.  I think we have a lot to learn from cows in this regard.  We ought to be taking in the Word, swallowing it so to speak, and then letting it "come back up" or come back to mind, in order that we can mull over the meaning of the passage in front of us.  We need to "chew on it" a bit and figure out what it reveals about who God is and who we are, and how we should be dealing with our brothers and sisters, not to mention all the other folk we interact with through the day.

But notice, too, how this can't happen quickly–it requires a bit of time.  Now, there's no reason to think we have to spend hours on this, but we do need to allow room at some point in our day where we can mull over the truth of God's Word, where we can "ruminate" on what He opens up to us.  And there is so much God reveals in the mulling.  There is so much we will not see if we don't ruminate!

To wrap this up then, all this requires a slowness, an on-purpose backing off out of our normal, hectic, crazy pace of life the way we so often live it.  

I started out talking about teaching poetry to my high school students.  Well, at least most of you are beyond high school, I'm pretty sure, but I'd like to give you an assignment all the same.  Take just one day this week–I won't say which one, or whether it should be in the morning, afternoon or evening, or whether it should be fifteen minutes or two hours–take one small part of one day and ruminate over a passage that speaks something wonderful about God to you.  

Go deeper.  Go slower.  Chew your cud (eww, it still kind of creeps me out).  Take this beyond just good intentions and I think you'll see wonderful things in God's Word, things perhaps you've missed before, simply because you haven't been chewing your food well!  And the next time you hear someone say they need time to ruminate on something, you'll know they're saying something deeply meaningful!

Be encouraged, friend, for God, the Maker of Heaven and Earth, who spoke all worlds into being, is both with you and for you.

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