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Jen Pollock Michel

( author + writer + speaker )

Reading the Scriptures with Eugene Peterson

I'm reading recently from Eugene Peterson's, Eat This Book, which is one of several books in his recently published series on spiritual theology. Peterson is the author of The Message, a paraphrased version of the Scriptures. I'm convinced he eats metaphors for breakfast. He is a hero of mine, and I'm wondering if I'll have Bono's good luck to meet him someday (Hmmm. What shall I do to become famous QUICK? Ah yes, blogging. The secret's out. I have you all here as a captive audience in the secret hopes of generating INSTANT fame so that I can someday meet Eugene Peterson.) Eat This Book is subtitled, "A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading," and essentially, it's nine chapters of talking about how we read the Scriptures. That's a curiosity of mine, first, simply because I am always looking to figure out how to keep this spiritual discipline fresh and vital in my own life; second, because I believe reading Scripture can easily become "polluted" (to use Peterson's word) by personal preference and cultural assumption. I suppose my question is: how do I do take these Scriptures into me without allowing them to be shaped by me?

Peterson borrows someone else's phrase, "the forbidding discipline of spiritual reading," and elaborates reasons why reading the Scriptures is indeed forbidding. "Forbidding because it requires that we read with our entire life, not just employing the synapses of our brain. Forbidding because of the endless dodges we devise in avoiding the risk of faith in God. Forbidding because of our restless inventiveness in using whatever knowledge of "spirituality" we acquire to set ourselves us as gods. Forbidding because when we have learned to read and comprehend the words on the page, we find that we have hardly begun. Forbidding because it requires all of us, our muscles and ligaments, our eyes and ears, our obedience and adoration, our imaginations and our prayers. . . [It is] participatory reading, receiving the words in such a way that they become interior to our lives, the rhythms and images becoming practices of prayer, acts of obedience, ways of love."

That seems to me a solid litmus test for what is hopefully our regular discipline of reading the Scripture:

Am I being formed into more authentic practices of prayer?

Am I being led into riskier propositions of faith?

Am I being shaped into a more courageously and persistently loving person?

Do I find that Scriptures change me - my attitudes, my preferences, my relationships, my ambitions?

Ultimately, the best question is really so simple:

Has reading the Scriptures caused me to bow, forcing me to surrender my life and assume new allegiances?