I continue to ponder Mathew the Poor’s teaching concerning the importance of reiteration and rumination on the Holy Scripture. Mathew’s thoughts echo a commonplace in ancient Christian teaching and within the ancient world in general: repetitio mater studiorum est, a phrase you might have noted in earlier blogs of mine. Repetition is the mother of all learning.” Repetition constantly recalls; rumination chews and chews.

I mentioned last week that one gadget I used in learning to reiterate and ruminate was my iPod. I now use my iPhone, but what I do is pretty much the same as my iPod practices. For example, lately I’ve felt led to listen repeatedly to the prophets. 

So, this morning I got up, made some coffee, fed Poncho — the dog we have inherited from my son Nathan — and headed into the living room. I sat down in my favorite chair, a chair that is comfortable and helps me focus my attention, began drinking my coffee, and turned on my iPhone. 

I have the entire Bible on my phone, narrated by Max McLean. Somewhat sleepily, I began listening to Isaiah 6 – 9. I’ve been doing so for a while. I’m in no rush. As I listen repeatedly to the text I sense good things are happening. Isaiah’s mind and heart are opening to me. What is important to Isaiah — justice for the poor, for example — are increasingly important to me. My perspective is changing. And, of course, God is speaking through Isaiah. A kind of three-way conversation is occurring, initiated and led by the Holy Spirit. 

As I read and listen to the Scripture, the analytic side of my brain is still active. My mind is processing information, analyzing syntax, following arguments, thinking through metaphors and illustrations and tracing key themes. After years of reading texts — Christian and otherwise — I can’t prevent these ingrained habits from kicking in; they are key aspects of the discipline of study. 

Yet if I only employ the discipline of study in my reading of Scripture, a spiritual discipline that entails a purposeful distancing of the reader from the biblical text to facilitate an analysis of its content, my reading will fall short of its ultimate purpose. The goal of my reading is more than information gathering and analysis. Ever deepening transformation into the image of Christ is what I’m ultimately seeking. If so, my study must be supplemented by another kind of reading, the reiteration, rumination, and repetition that Mathew the Poor recommends. 

Let’s return to my experience of listening to Isaiah on my iPhone. As I repeatedly listen to the text, I’m using my ears to read” the text rather than my eyes. As I reflect on the dynamics of my listening, a verb I mentioned last week comes to mind: to seep. Isaiah is seeping ever more deeply into me, filtering through my mind into my heart; Isaiah’s prophetic voice is addressing both my intellect and my affections, my mind and my heart. His words are percolating within me, much like the bubbling of hot water up through coffee grains. 

The water seeps through the grains, flows back to the bottom of the coffee pot, and then bubbles up through the grains again. The metaphor of percolation points to the rich soaking that occurs in reiteration and rumination. As I listen to the text of Scripture I’m not simply gathering information for a future sermon or book. Rather, there is a watering, an irrigating, a soaking or immersion of my mind and heart that study helps to facilitate, but is clearly different from study itself. 

Many of you are familiar with this slow, paced, immersive reading of Scripture. It’s often referred to as lectio divina or divine reading.” We’ll take a closer look at this wonderful discipline next week.