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Are we attentive readers?

When we read the Bible, our first line of inquiry is to observe what is being said in the text. Because the Bible is the wonder it is, a revealed word of God, written over thousands of years, from several authors, from two different cultural perspectives, and three different original languages, it is work to unravel everything it says. Solid interpretation depends on good observation.

In their book Inductive Bible Study, Andreas Köstenberger and Alan Fuhr devote a chapter to "Having Eyes to See." These days, with our attention spans being compromised by a flood of visual information, it can be tempting to skim. I catch myself skimming when I shouldn't all the time.

While the chapter deals with the principles of good observation, specifically things to look for when reading, the authors repeat more than once the need for attentive readiing. One one page alone (p. 143), they mention it three times:

"Attentive reading will usually bear this out . . . "

". . . an observant eye will catch figures of speech throughout all genres and books of the Bible."

". . . without attentive readiing, many fail to see figurative language . . . "

They conclude the chapter with this: 

Attentive reading is perceptive reading, and perception tends to connect the dots, to make sense out of relationships.

How does one become an attentive reader? Obviously, we need to slow down. And we must pay attention to words and phrases. In this chapter, the authors point out several things to note in order to be an attentive reader: repetition, escalation, contrast and comparison, association, question and answer, conjunctions, conditional clauses, illustration, question, and irony. It's a substantial list. I am reminded again what a task it is to read the Bible well.

I would suggest also that becoming a more attentive reader of the Bible necessitates a rich reading life in general, and specifically, longer works other than short articles on the internet. Furthermore, I think we need to read from numerous topics; science, history, philosophy, theology, and fiction. Yes, fiction. I honestly don't know how anyone can fail to truly appreciate the importance fiction has on our ability to detect imagery and figures of speech. My friend and I joked once that we don't trust people who don't read fiction.

There are books out there which focus on how to read well. There is the oft recommended, but mind-numbingly boring How to Read a Book, for example. Also good are James Sire's How to Read Slowly, and Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind.

Those would be worthwhile reads, but if you weren't inclined to purchase a book about reading, the simple practice of summarizing is helpful. Keep a notebook and write a summary of each chapter or section. Take note of questions you have, words which were unfamiliar, things which puzzled you or challenged you. That alone slows us down in our reading.

I also prefer reading in silence. The world is full of noise, both to the ear and to the eye. Reading in silence means we focus on the material. Try choosing the quietest time during the day to read the most difficult material. I used to have music on while I read, but then as I got older, I found music with words a distraction. Now, I even find music that is just instrumental a distraction. 

It is true that the Holy Spirit will teach us as we read Scripture, but applying ourselves to read attentively can only help our understanding, and thus make our minds open to what the Holy Spirit is teaching us.

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