Saturday, November 15, 2008

Reading James

One of my churches is participating in the ELCA's Book of Faith Initiative, which encourages local churches to ramp up their Bible studies. Last week, we all tried to spend 15 minutes a day reading the Old Testament, and this week, we did the same for the New Testament. After spending a few days dipping in and out of the Gospels of Luke and Matthew, I was feeling oddly frazzled. I decided to follow our Pastor's lead and focus on just one book and read it each day.

As I've been doing that, I'm reminded of the monastic practice of Lectio Divina, that deeply focused reading practiced by so many religious people (cloistered or not). What I've done is not exactly that. I should read a sentence, meditate on it for some time, read the next sentence, continue to contemplate.

Still, reading the same book of the Bible each day does force one to pay more attention. I'm not the world's most careful reader, which is odd admission from an English major. I'm an efficient reader--I have a reading task, and I want to get it done. So, I like this idea of returning to a text again and again.

Even once our Book of Faith Initiative is complete (will it be complete? I don't know the long range plans of the ELCA, but as Christians, we should never view the reading of the Bible as complete and accomplished), I feel I should continue this practice. I'll write up my thoughts as I undertake this spiritual discipline, and I'll use the label Lectio Divina, so that those who are interested can easily find this type of writing on my blog.

This past week, I've been reading James.

I've read the Letter of James several times now, and each time, I'm struck by how much it has to say to me, by the things that leap out at me. As a Lutheran, I worry about verse 17 (chapter 2), that says that faith without works is dead. Maybe I'm a bad Lutheran--I agree with James on that point.

He makes very salient points about how we treat the poor and how we treat the rich, and he asks, "Is it not the rich who oppress you, is it not they who drag you into court?" (the last part of verse 6, chapter 2). Very interesting to read that on a day when we're debating whether or not to bail out the American auto industry.

I like his frank discussion of how much damage your tongue can do. Again and again, I need to relearn that lesson. I think of my reading of Little Women as a young girl and feeling a fierce identity with Jo, who needed to control both her temper and her tongue. My ten year old self would feel despair if she knew I still had to work on that each day. She saw personality flaws as something that would eventually be changed permanently. She didn't realize that these struggles are cyclical.

And then there's that apocalyptic ending, just after he's reminded us that we're "a mist that appears for a little time, and then vanishes" (last part of verse 14, chapter 4). It's always good to remember to keep everything in pespective. All the things which seem like huge crises today (whether it's a global financial crisis or a personal relationship crisis) are really not that important.

He ends by reminding us to pray for what we need. It's still hard for me to do that; my needs seem pathetic, compared to what someone in Africa needs. I solve that by praying for us all. He tells us that when someone wanders away, we're to bring them back. I wonder if he was writing today, if he'd advise us to do the same with our minds, which are prone to wander away into fields of fretting about the future. There, too, he could tell us to pray, since prayer is one of the more powerful techniques to bring that monkey mind (as our Zen compatriots would call it) back.


johnnym said...

I enjoyed reading your musings on 'reading James'. Do you feel your approval of comments is warranted? JMM

Ina Lee said...

Very thoughtful. I'll pass on your blog to others around here who are challenged by your writing.
Ina Lee

Kristin said...

For JohnnyM--I'm fairly new to blogging, so I didn't really think about that aspect until someone commented. Requiring me, the blogger, to approve comments before they're posted, is more cumbersome than I intended. Luckily, it's an easy fix! Thanks!