Discernment / Exercises

Discernment Exercise: Internalizing the Scriptures

Internalizing the Scriptures
The Christian tradition has always stressed the importance of Scripture, for knowing God, for attaining salvation, for a penetratingly realistic view of life, and for spirituality. In Eat This Book, Eugene Peterson helps us reflect on what the Scriptures mean for us as Christians. Here are a few brief excerpts from Eat This Book, in the hope they will prompt some thoughtful discussion and reflection (thus the questions).

Excerpt #1: “There is only one way of reading that is congruent with our Holy Scriptures, writing that trusts in the power of words to penetrate our lives and create truth and beauty and goodness, writing that requires a reader who, in the words of Rainer Maria Rilke, ‘does not always remain bent over his pages; he often leans back and closes his eyes over a line he has been reading again, and its meaning spreads through his blood’” [p. 4].

1. Peterson, via Rilke is here describing the process of meditation. To what extent is meditation on Scripture a realistic suggestion given that meditation must be unhurried and our lives are so busy?
2. What is your personal experience of meditation? What plans might you want to make?

Excerpt #2: “We live today in a world impoverished of story; so it is not surprising that many of us have picked up the bad habit of extracting ‘truths’ from the stories we read: we summarize ‘principles’ that we can use in a variety of settings at our discretion; we distill a ‘moral’ that we use as a slogan on a poster or as a motto on our desk. We are taught to do this in our schools so that we can pass examinations on novels and plays. It is no wonder that we continue this abstracting, story-mutilating practice when we read our Bibles. ‘Story’ is not serious; ‘story’ is for children and campfires. So we continuously convert our stories into the ‘serious’ speech of information and motivation. We hardly notice that we have lost the form, the form that is provided to shape our lives largely and coherently. Our spirituality-shaping text is reduced to disembodied fragments of ‘truth’ and ‘insight,’ dismembered bones of information and motivation” [p. 48].

1. To what extent do you find Peterson’s analysis to be accurate?
2. Peterson speaks of this approach to be a “bad habit” and an “abstracting, story-mutilating practice.” Is it really that bad?

Excerpt #3: “Because we speak our language so casually, it is easy to fall into the habit of treating it casually. But language is persistently difficult to understand. We spend our early lives learning the language, and just when we think we have it mastered our spouse says, ‘You don’t understand a thing I’m saying, do you?’ We teach our children to talk, and just about the time we think they might be getting it, they quit talking to us; and when we overhear them talking to their friends, we find we can’t understand more than one out of every eight or nine words they say. A close relationship doesn’t guarantee understanding. A long affection doesn’t guarantee understanding. In fact, the closer we are to another and the more intimate our relations, the more care we must exercise to hear accurately, to understand thoroughly, to answer appropriately.

“Which is to say, the more ‘spiritual’ we become, the more care we must give to exegesis [a careful, studied, analysis and interpretation of the text]. The more mature we become in the Christian faith, the more exegetically rigorous we must become. This is not a task from which we graduate. These words given to us in our Scriptures are constantly getting overlaid with personal preferences, cultural assumptions, sin distortions, and ignorant guesses that pollute the text. The pollutants are always in the air, gathering dust on our Bibles, corroding our use of the language, especially the language of faith. Exegesis is a dust cloth, a scrub brush, or even a Q-tip for keeping the words clean” [p. 53].

1. What time are you able to give to rigorous Bible study?
2. How have you been maturing and deepening your Bible study skills?


All selections are from Eat This Book: A Conversation in the Art of Spiritual Reading by Eugene H. Peterson (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans; 2006).