This week in the Expanding Wisdom community we began reading Dante’s Inferno. Someone brought up a comment related to the topic of reading, especially as it concerns the Christian and I thought it deserved some extra attention. I have found many other Christians have struggled with some of these same questions and thoughts. Here was the comment.
“Adler writes in ‘How to Read a Book’ “Don’t try to resist the effect that a work of imaginative literature has on you.” I’m wondering if he means, don’t try to resist being swept up in the world of the work OR don’t try to subdue your initial emotional reactions to it. I found myself very skeptical as I read Canto 1 and wasn’t sure if Adler would want me to subdue or listen to that emotion… Either way, hell is just such a tough subject, not to be taken lightly, and I’m a bit nervous to engage with it!”
I love this comment because it brings up several real tensions many of us struggle with. Here are 5 more tips to help transform your reading, especially if you are a Christian. If you missed tips 1-5, you can read all about those here.
Tip #6: Be enchanted
I do think it is good to allow yourself to be enchanted by the story, a.k.a. Allowing ourselves to feel the emotions. C.S. Lewis wrote about this in his book ‘An Experiment in Criticism’. He talks about an unliterary way of reading versus a literary way of reading. He compares the two to how one listens to a great piece of music, like Bach or Mozart. Music like this is art, and so is great literature. When we listen to music like this, we allow ourselves to experience it for what it is. This pattern of listening should also hold true when we read great literature. I think this brings up a fear for many Christians about whether it is wise, good or appropriate to allow ourselves to be enchanted by anything that is not “true.” I am not suggesting we be enchanted by everything, but the great works of literature are great for a reason. They have stood the test of time and speak to the human things in a way that resonates. Even though every statement in each work will not be perfectly true, the truths, archetypes, and ideals it does carry are important. Just like an impressionist painting is an abstraction of the reality it is depicting, so are all works of art (literature, music, sculpture, etc.) abstractions of the realities they are depicting. Every time I gaze on a beautiful piece of art, really listen to a masterpiece of music and am enchanted by a great piece of literature it is as if I was called to a higher level of living. I am changed, because what I am gazing on in these great works is Christ, not Christ in his completeness but depictions of him.
Tip #7: Pray & Trust the work of the Holy Spirit
As we read and seek to gaze on Christ we, as Christians, have the benefit of the gift of the Holy Spirit. I do not know a lot about this, but I can refer to what the Word of God says. As we reflect, we have the guidance of the Holy Spirit to see if we are on the right track. The Holy Spirit, the counselor (John 14:26), lives in us (1 Corinthians 3:16), therefore, I believe we can trust we will be led into all truth. One thing you can do while you read is to simply pray and ask God to lead you and help you see Christ in what you a reading. He is faithful and will do it. God wants to be known; He wants you know Him. Why else would it be possible to encounter God in everything we can study and observe in creation?
Tip #8: Remember that all things are yours
One other thing that helped me allow myself to be enchanted by the literature I was reading was 1 Corinthians 3:21-23.
“So then let no one boast in men. For all things belong to you, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or things present or things to come; all things belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God.”
Because of our position in Christ, we have authority over all things. Because of Christ, we are in a position to judge all things rightly. As a co-heir with Christ, I have no need to fear the things of this world,. I stand in authority over it and am not subject to it or its influence. I belong to Christ. Therefore, I can allow myself to be enchanted by Homer without fear that I am somehow going to become deceived about reality by reading it. Homer belongs to me, to you.
Tip #9: Read and learn in community
We can also reflect later with the guidance of community to see if we are on the right track or not. I would be reserved and nervous about exploring if I were in isolation trying to navigate new ideas on my own. Andrew Kern was talking about isolated reflection in his opening talk at the Circe Conference this summer. Kern revealed examples from mythology and history that show how those who embrace isolation and self-focused reflection find deception, dissolution, and narcissism. He discussed how the very nature of truth is communal by bringing our attention to the Trinity. Community is essential in reading and discovery of truth.
Tip #10: Follow a master’s example
Socrates was keenly aware of his lack of understanding and how much more there was for him to learn, because of this, he was completely willing to take on any belief, initially. Then as he wrestled further he and his companions in discourse arrived at a confirmation of it or revised their prior understanding. By choosing to affirm something they had both a reference and starting point. In his book Norms and Nobility, David Hicks says it this way:
“Dialectical education implies that a learner cannot see all sides of a question until he has chosen one, but analytical education assumes that choosing one side blinds the learner to all others.” -On the Necessity of Dogma, page 71
The funny thinking about things we do not know is that we do not know that we don’t know them. When we apply this principle, especially as Christians, we can be sure that even if we read something that is not Biblical or true, the Word of God will stand up to it and the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth. Furthermore, how much stronger will conviction be when both our spirits see the truth, but also our intellect has seen both sides and really wrestled through the ideas. By allowing ourselves to be enchanted by the classics we are affirming something about the literature. This allows us to enter into the world of that b
ook in a full and authoritative way. It must however, begin with humility. Humility says, “There is always the possibility I am wrong, since I am finite and human,” and “even if I am right, I want to love you and learn with you, since this is how to best lead someone to the truth.”
We can allow ourselves to be enchanted without danger because of the Holy Spirit in our lives, our position in Christ, involvement in community of believers, and our humble approach to learning.
What have been some of your struggles and victories with reading and learning? Let me know about it in the comments section. I would love to celebrate and/or seek a solution with you.
Expanding wisdom, extending grace,