I’m pretty sure I spend more time reading these days than I did 10 or 15 years ago. Some of that is a function of my season of life. There is more time available once your children are gone. And over the past couple of years, I’ve had increased flexibility in my schedule that has given me more available time to read. So I do.
But I’m also pretty sure I’m now reading fewer books than I used to read. My reading these days happens online. What I’m consuming now is more typically an article or an essay.
And I think that may be a problem.
Back in the summer of 2008, Nicolas Carr wrote a provocative article in The Atlantic called Is Google Making Us Stupid? His thesis, which he later expanded into a book called The Shallows: What The Internet Is Doing To Our Brains, is that the volume and presentation of content on the internet is actually, biologically re-programming our brains, making us less able to read and think deeply, and that the ubiquity of smart phones and social media are compounding the problem.
Recently, Samuel James took that thesis and brought his theological training and biblical understanding to the table in a book called Digital Liturgies: Rediscovering Christian Wisdom In An Online Age. True to form, I scanned his book this week (instead of reading it carefully and thinking about his premise deeply) as I prepared for an interview with him for the podcast I host called The Bounce, which is aimed at an audience of local church pastors and church planters.
I had to confess that my own experience of reading more and more online and reading fewer and fewer books seems to validate the thesis. The emergence of the internet has changed how I read, and that has impacted how I think. Specifically, it has reduced the time I spend thinking deeply about a lot of things. I read more broadly than I used to, and the internet gives me the ability to be able to be exposed to a lot of ideas and perspectives. I’m glad for that.
But that also means I do a lot less contemplating than I used to. A lot less meditating.
Meditation is a red flag word for a lot of Christians who associate the term with mysticism or other forms of paganism, like New Age practices. That’s too bad. Meditation is a solid biblical word. The practice is commended in scripture. Psalm 1 begins with the declaration that we are blessed when we delight in the law of the Lord and meditate on it day and night.
Meditating on God’s word has been compared to the way cows chew their cud. They will spend as much as eight hours every day, with as many as 30,000 chews a day, working over and over again on a mouthful of grass. A cow has what’s called a ruminant digestive system. It’s stomach has four different compartments for the cud to move through in order for it to be fully digested. I’ve been told that after a cow chews and swallows its cud, the partially digested food comes back up for a second round of chewing before it moves on to stomach compartment number two. The process is repeated two more times before the cut moves into the final stage of digestion.
In other words, the cow gets every bit of nutrition it can from the grass or the grain its fed. It chews and chews on its food until all the goodness has been absorbed and all that’s left is waste.
Meditating – or ruminating, to borrow from the digestive metaphor – involves chewing on a passage of scripture over and over again to get as much as we can from those verses. The difference between a cow ruminating on its cud and our ruminating on God’s word – at least one difference – is that we can never exhaust the goodness found in any part of God’s word.
I was reminded of that reality this week as I’ve been ruminating on the verses we’ll be studying from the book of Jude this Sunday. The puritan pastor Thomas Manton needed 160 pages in his commentary on Jude to unpack Jude 3 and 4. Two verses.
As I see in myself the need to think more carefully and deeply about biblical themes, I’m recognizing the need to recover some of the ability which has atrophied over time to meditate, ruminate and contemplate. As a practical matter, Samuel James suggests that we cultivate some fresh digital disciplines in our lives. He proposes we all have at least one hour every day when our devices are off. Where we pick up a book instead of a phone.
And he doesn’t stop there. He recommends a day a week when we fast from our devices. And he goes so far as to propose we have one digital free week every year.
I’m ruminating on that proposal. I’ll let you know what I decide.
In the meantime, I’m purposing to do more meditating. And I’m suggesting you do the same. Pick a verse or two each week – maybe the verses we’re looking at in church each Sunday – and begin the practice of chewing on those verses all week long.
See if in the process the practice doesn’t drive God’s word deeper into your soul.
As we mentioned on Sunday, our small groups are back to meeting each week. And if you’re not currently in a small group, you’re invited to check any or all of them out.
Here’s the info about each of the five groups.
As we’ve said before, there is zero commitment on your part when you check out any of the groups. Feel free to visit a couple of groups and see which one is the best fit for you.
A week from Saturday, bring your dirty car to the church parking lot and let our Roots Student Ministry kids give it a good wash.
Guys – we don’t know the time for kickoff yet, but on Saturday, September 30, when Arkansas takes on Texas A&M, we’re combining BBQ and football for a tailgating get together. More info as soon as we know when the game is going to start.
I know it’s still mid-September but trust me. Now is the time to book your room for the Fall Women’s Retreat.
Make sure you sign up soon. Space is limited. And the retreat – the location, the food, the Bible teaching, the fellowship – it’s a highlight for every woman who attended. Don’t miss it.
Last Sunday, we introduced a new song we’re learning. It’s called All My Boast Is IN Jesus, and we’ll be signing it again this week. Here’s the link again to the Youtube video of the song, so you can be ready to sing loud and strong this Sunday.
The book of Jude calls all of us to “contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the saints.” But what exactly is “the faith” we are called to contend for? What does contending look like? Can we contend without becoming contentious? Are we exempt from walking by the Spirit and exhibiting the fruit of the Spirit when we’re contending for the faith?
Lots to ruminate on as we prepare to gather for worship this Sunday.
See you in church.
Soli Deo Gloria!