Last week I considered how we have tamed God’s Word instead of eating it. This week I continue the theme of meditating on the written word.
One of the better insights of Eugene Peterson’s excellent book, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading, is his proposal that spiritual reading is “participatory reading.” He uses the illustration of a period of life in which he was really into running, so began reading magazines on running. When he was injured and unable to run for a couple months, however, he found that the magazines sat unread. Yet when he began running again, he began reading again. His reading was a participatory reading—“it meant that I read every word on the page as an extension or deepening or correction or affirmation of something that I was a part of.”
Peterson then applies this insight directly to Scripture:
“The parallel with reading Scripture seems to me almost exact: if I am not participating in the reality—the God reality, the creation/salvation/holiness reality—revealed in the Bible, not involved in the obedience Calvin wrote of, I am probably not going to be much interested in reading about it—at least not for long.”
Perhaps another day I’ll explore the implications of this for Scripture, although I would commend to you Peterson’s book if you desire to explore that further. Here, however, I am thinking about how participatory reading could impact our students in classical Christian education.
Classical Christian educators likely find many students who don’t understand what we are doing or why we are doing it. “Why are we reading all these old books?” many say. I think sharing Peterson’s insight into participatory reading is a helpful way to go about answering this question. The Great Books embody a tradition, a tradition of great human minds seeking truth, seeking what it means to be human and how we should live that out. We, however, live in a culture that has tried to separate us from the past—our past. Our culture worships progress, and that means always looking forward. But what if the best way forward was to do a better job of looking back? Hint: IT IS!
If looking to the Great Tradition and the Great Books is actually a way forward, as teachers the stakes are high that we help students not just learn about the Great Tradition, but we help them learn to live in and as a part of that Great Tradition. They must not merely read the Great Books; they must participate in the same world that the authors of those books participated in. If our study (read meditation) of the Great Books is a participatory reading, I think we will find that students will, like Peterson and running, both read and do.
As teachers, we need to embrace and model a culture of meditation as participation, and as our students follow our example, the past will change the future.
Eugene Peterson, Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2006), 71.