Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading
Eating books? The image is as old as the Bible itself, in which heavenly beings tell Ezekiel and later John the evangelist to "eat" scrolls. Tasting, chewing, swallowing, digesting, and being nourished by the Word of God --- it's an apt foundational metaphor for the "spiritual reading" Eugene Peterson espouses.
Although EAT THIS BOOK is the second of Peterson's five works on spiritual theology, it stands alone, independent of the first (CHRIST PLAYS IN TEN THOUSAND PLACES). Unlike CHRIST PLAYS, which I would hand to a serious but uninformed seeker, EAT THIS BOOK is more suitable for Christians with some familiarity with Scripture and Christian basics. This is not a book that explains, for example, where to start initial Bible reading (with Genesis? with Mark or John?) or that really commends one particular version, unless it is Peterson's own "contemporary language" version, titled THE MESSAGE.
Peterson devotees will be particularly interested in the last section of the book, which in the larger context of textual translation tells the story of how and why Peterson started retranslating the Bible from the original Greek and then Hebrew into the popular MESSAGE version.
But that's not the central message or purpose of the book. Peterson wants us to see the Bible, rather than personal experience, as the authority for living. Noting a contemporary interest in spirituality, he says, "An interest in souls divorced from an interest in Scripture leaves us without a text that shapes these souls." But this isn't an academic interest in Scripture. "An interest in Scripture divorced from an interest in souls leaves us without any material for the text to work on." He also wants us to read the text, not primarily for knowledge, for theological study, for proof-texting, or even for inspiration --- for our own purposes --- but rather to incorporate it into our lives. "Spiritual reading," he says, means "participatory reading." It involves really digesting the story --- the sentences and the words --- of the Lord and living them out in obedience.
A center section of the book --- 30 pages --- discusses lectio divina, a 12th-century pattern of biblical reading that is better known in Catholic than in Protestant circles: reading the text, mediating on it, praying it, and living it out. The four aspects aren't necessarily done in a "stair-step fashion" but "more like a looping spiral," Peterson notes.
Even these chapters on lectio divina aren't written in a how-to voice but rather as a conversation or an essay explaining the dynamics, purposes and benefits of participatory reading.
Peterson includes an interesting though probably obvious discussion about the nature of words and language itself --- that it is first a spoken, then a written, form, both in history and in personal experience, from infancy to more advanced learning. He has sparked in me a greater interest in listening to the Scriptures as well as reading them.
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