I completely understand. When we are trained in a consumer culture to have everything handed to us on a plate, it is hard to get excited about cooking.
(I have to begin with the caveat that boredom isn’t necessarily negative. I say this to my children in what must be an unbelievably annoying tone of voice: boredom is the gateway to creativity. That said…)
In a culture contending for our attention, reading something from another time and another place with another why requires work in a different way to say… scrolling down a screen. And that initial work can easily be mistaken for boredom.
However, when we make the ground-breaking decision to be a contributor rather than a consumer in every area of life, we find ourselves more empowered than we ever felt possible. (This is up there in my personal list of mindset conversions, so I can speak from personal experience about just how transformational it is). Because, ultimately, we aren’t designed to be consumers; we are designed to be co-creators.
In order to read the Bible well we have to posture the process as a co-creative one. Reading the Bible is work.
We sit down with a coffee, yes. We read, yes. We consume, yes. But we also contribute too. We engage; we question; we reason; we research; we interrogate; we process; we absorb. This is a design principle. There is no other way of effectively reading the Bible. We are invited into this way of reading because we are designed to be contributors.
And, in the same way that we feel so unbelievably vulnerable and yet empowered when we have made the effort to learn how to cook, resource food and invite someone else to join us in eating it; if we also approach each encounter with the Bible with the posture of a contributor, we come out of each encounter with the Bible not only more aware of our vulnerability but also more fundamentally empowered.
(I LOVE a caveat - here is this one! Although I have loved the Bible in English translations for decades, in some ways I feel like I am literally just scratching the surface. I feel like I am starting all over again. I feel like I am a complete beginner. That said...)
When we have radically re-orientated our posture, our first and most important work is to learn to pay attention…
The Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) is bursting with repetition.
Take any portion - any few sentences - of the Hebrew Bible - it could be either in the form of a poem or a story - and you will begin to spot repeated words or phrases.
These repetitions could be at the beginning and the end of the section you are reading; they could be next to each other; they could alternate with other repeated words or phrases.
Ok. So you have found some repetition.
Next step - pay even more close attention:
Is this repetition using very similar words to the first time?
Is this repetition expanding the thought behind the first words?
Is it this repetition completely contrasting with the original thought?
About this point in reading I find something happens: an awful sense of stillness settles in the room. As I am sitting and reading, I am becoming acutely aware that an unknown author has constructed this piece of writing I am paying attention to, some 2,500 years ago, with an extraordinary level of care, thoughtfulness, beauty and sophistication. Every word is intentional; nothing is accidental.
Moreover, I not only recognise the presence of a human author, but Holy Spirit too, who is partnering with, inspiring, carrying this writer into the formation of these words.
When I said awful, I meant it - in the original sense of the word - I am full of awe.
I have not got anywhere near enough time in this blog to communicate what happens if we make this moment of encounter a daily practice, we make this daily practice, a habit of biblical meditation, and make this habit of biblical meditation, a lifestyle.
(I am going to cover this metamorphosis more closely in another blog series on 'Why I love reading the Old Testament'.)
Suffice to say. Just start. Anywhere. If you are not sure where anywhere is (which I completely understand) - start with Genesis 1. Just sit there in the first chapter; day in; day out; for a while. And then Genesis 2. And then Genesis 3. I guarantee you - if you sit in those three chapters for days or weeks or months - every other section of the entire Bible will explode into life for you.
A note for this practice:
Our English translations are an unbelievable gift. As this is close reading - start with one as close to word for word (rather than idea for idea) as possible. The English will be more clunky.
And - for those who want to go a bit deeper - why not work with the ancient Hebrew? Boom. (Did I mention work?)
Yes, I only read and write one language and that's English too. Relax, for people like us there is a lot of help out there:
I would highly recommend using bible hub's online tool:
(And this is for all you out there, who exactly like me, are big picture people - while we get the need for details, we just love the big sweeping epic story of the human condition.)
Does the Bible deliver on this? Oh yes... Tolstoy and Shakespeare eat your heart(s) out. (I never really understand where that expression comes from).
The Bible is an epic drama. Drama. Drama. Drama. Literally non-stop drama.
There are powerful empires that actually existed in time and place: Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, Rome. Glamorous, rich, sophisticated, intelligent, ambitious, ruthless.
There is blood and guts. Including sacrifices. A lot of sacrifices. Mainly animals, but some humans along the way.
There are human stories too: of love, betrayal, loss, death, restoration.
And in the midst of all this - there is a little group of prophets who are a part of a little tribe of people who are rather audaciously claiming that their god Yahweh is actually everyone’s God. Yes. The God of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia.
And this causes A LOT of problems. Sometimes because the little tribe prefer the gods of Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia to Yahweh as God. And sometimes because Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia renounce their gods and recognise Yahweh as God.
For whole empires to change their world view, and consequently their practices, on the grounds of the integrity of a few little prophets who follow Yahweh is dramatic.
And this epic drama reaches a climax during the Roman empire.
It had not worked out so well for those little group of prophets - let's just say one of them was probably sawn in half.
So Yahweh came to earth in human form. He restored everyone who said yes to restoration, body, mind, soul and spirit. He was crucified under Rome. He was physically raised from the dead. He returned to be with God. He poured out His Spirit to reveal Himself to all of humanity.
Holy Spirit mobilised such a grass roots groundswell of a change of mindset about what is actually real, that Rome (glamorous, rich, sophisticated, intelligent, ambitious, ruthless, Rome) was exposed to be a fiction, and had no choice but to collapse.
And this Spirit is guaranteeing the restoration and renewal of all things - people with God, people with each other, and people with the earth itself.
As we immerse ourselves in the big picture, we not only discover that the story of the Bible is actually gripping, but also that we ourselves, have all, already, been swept up in it.
So, lets break the boredom and roll up our sleeves and get to work: lets make a practice of paying close attention to the text; and also lets make a practice of inhabiting the worldview of this whole epic drama.