Reading as Rest

Reflections on Recovering the Lost art of Reading (continued, part 2)

Reading as rest? The concept may sound strange, but Leland Ryken and Glenda Mathes in Recovering the Lost Art of Reading refreshingly associate reading with the rest that God requires in the commandment that, as Jesus said, he made for mankind. “Our failures to read and read well have deprived us of an essential way to transcend our confining world of private preoccupations and worries.” (p. 30)

“[O]ur culture (including the Christian segment of it) has drifted towards reducing leisure to mere diversion and distraction” observe the authors. Not surprisingly they suggest, “Literature refreshes at deeper levels than many other leisure activities.” (p. 29)

Literature connects us with the past and provides contact with essential human experience. That point of the book is illustrated by something told me several years ago by a former pastor of mine, who had survived a serious injury while piloting a B 25 bomber over Italy in June 1944 (details here). After a possible small stroke he was being assisted by a young woman serving as a physical therapist aide. She noticed the scaring and other issues with his right arm and inquired what had happened. When my friend simply said, “a World War 2 injury,” she asked, “what’s World War 2?” Yes, reading is an art that requires recovering!

What about literature that runs counter to a biblical viewpoint? Ryken and Mathes caution about immersing oneself in material that assaults, reminding us that “The songs of Zion are better than the songs of Babylon.” (p. 35) Yet, the encounter with literature of unbelief can be edifying, even if the material itself is not. “Reading modern literature of despair can make us more aware of our joy in the Lord.” (p. 36)

Mathes recounts her own process of learning to read as she identifies participation in what is being read a something that moves reading from simply a skill to an art (pages 39–40). The authors self-consciously use the term “biblical aesthetic” rather than referring to “Christian art” because all too much of what passes for Christian literature falls short of being artistic. It fails to refresh or provide rest.

The authors point us to Article 2 of the historic Belgic Confession, which describes God’s creation as “a most beautiful Book in which all creatures, from the least to the greatest, are as certain letters and marks through which the invisible things of God can be examined and understood….” We read and write because we are made in the image of our Creator.

(to be continued)