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“Breadcrumbs From My Reading Life”
This is part 7 of an ongoing series on reading for transformation. See parts one, Confessions of a Biblioholic; two, Reading for Transformation; three, On Meditative Reading; four, Writing - The Way of Slow Reading; five, Hospitable Reading; six, Reading in Formational Space and Sacred Time.
I love teaching because of the space for exploration that opens up through dialogue. Discussion leads to discovery. I come with a lesson excited to share what I have learned, but equally excited to learn from others and discover through the kaleidoscope of complementary vision.
Did you know that can also happen in online discussions? I know much online discussion deserves criticism. My first encounter with online communication was almost 20 years ago on websites devoted to apologetics where people engaged in longhand debate. Social media has done great damage to our capacity for fruitful internet dialogue, but I would love to see platforms like Substack change that!
Holly Rabalais ofhelped me see something in one of her comments to an earlier post in this series. It was a simple, generative phrase: “breadcrumbs from my reading life.” This image of breadcrumbs inspired me to follow through on something I often intend with my reading but miss when I sprint on to the next book on my list.
I do meditative chewing while reading, but finishing a book doesn’t mean I’m done eating it. There is always more chewing that could be done. As an avid underliner and marginalia-maker, I am now pushing myself to re-read books by only reading what I’ve underlined. Nibbling up the breadcrumbs from my reading, if you will.
Whether actively or passively, this would also help commit reading to memory for further meditation. As I discussed in On Meditative Reading, lingering over texts through meditation is a non-negotiable ingredient for formative reading. And if Scripture commends memorization for meditation, why not other texts as well?
Scott Huelin notes that memorization, at least in classical antiquity, was practiced on all manner of texts:
“Among the ways of reading that have been lost to us are those which firmly bind the arts of memory to those of reading. For example, Petrarch: ‘If you want glory from your books, you must take another road: not just have them, but know them; not place them in your library, but in your memory; and lock them in your mind, not in your bookcase’...And if the self is precisely the memory, as St Augustine so persuasively argues, then memorial reading opens the door not only to the textual guest but also to the guest’s hospitable return, the gift of a new self. Paul Griffiths has captured this point well: ‘A memorized work (like a lover, a friend, a spouse, a child) has entered into the fabric of its possessor’s intellectual and emotional life in a way that makes deep claims upon that life, claims that can only be ignored with effort and deliberation.”1
Huelin goes on to recommend reading out loud and longhand copying of texts as time-tested ways of engaging “the arts of memory.” I can’t imagine copying out an entire book, but I like the idea of writing out what I have underlined. That way I can savor my breadcrumbs and not just quickly re-read the way my dog gobbles up crumbs from his kibble.
With these distilled breadcrumbs (how is that for mixing metaphors?), more focused attention can be paid to application. It’s an overtaxed word, but the original Latin literally meant “to fold”, and later took on the meaning of "bring things in contact with one another." Isn’t that what we are after? Bringing our reading in contact with real life?
I have one final post to share in this series next week, but this is a fitting place to discuss questions for application. Why do authors and publishers create questions for further reflection? Because we as readers won’t do it if they don’t! But I don’t see any reason why we can’t do that ourselves. Coming up with good questions is probably itself just as formative as the answers. I have listed some generic questions below, but I’m sure there are more and better ideas. Please share in the comments!
Quote from Franz Kafka
“If the book we are reading does not wake us, as with a fist hammering on our skulls, then why do we read it? Good God, we also would be happy if we had no books and such books that make us happy we could, if need be, write ourselves. What we must have are those books that come on us like ill fortune, like the death of one we love better than ourselves, like suicide. A book must be an ice axe to break the sea frozen inside us.”
Take and Read: Spiritual Reading -- An Annotated List, by Eugene Peterson.
Questions for application
Head: We read to grow in understanding, making connections between what is known and unknown.
What new idea do I see in this reading?
What knowledge/beliefs/assumptions are challenged by this reading?
Heart: We read to inspire, move and transform affections, to love and hate as God loves and hates.
What does the reading move me to love?
What does the reading move me to stop loving?
Hands: We read for action, to “go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
What does the reading move me to do?
What action can I take today to live what I have read?
Scott Huelin, Peregrination, Hermeneutics, Hospitality: On the Way to a Theologically Informed General Hermeneutics, pp. 10-11 (quoting Paul J. Griffiths, Religious Reading: The Place of Reading in the Practice of Religion).