Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

With all that’s been going on in my life lately, I’ve been finding it necessary to take action to slow down.

I know, that sounds like an oxymoron.  But as a recovering perfectionist and incorrigible planner, I tend to labor over any life changes, even if it’s merely the quest to find a little peace and quiet.  I have learned a few things from this methodical approach, although in reality, just the awareness of trying to slow down has helped lead me into some more practical, if unexpected, steps.

Turning off the “TV”

Prior to all of this, I had (for other reasons) decided to take a YouTube fast for three weeks this past November.  For me, YouTube is the equivalent of cable TV, except that I get to choose the content through a very personalized subscription list.  Typically, I can spend hours just trying to keep up with each channel, and I actually avoid some channels in part because I can’t keep up.

Taking a break was really hard, but very good.  I did not feel particularly happy knowing I was missing out on all my favorite YouTubers, but at the same time, it forced to me do more reading.  It’s probably the reason I managed to finish Kirkegaard’s The Concept of Anxiety, a book which was as dry as YouTube is enthralling.

Coming back to YouTube in December, I’d been dreading the “catch up” phase. What I didn’t expect was that my fast had changed my perspective.  Now I see a lot of videos I could watch, but viewed collectively, only some of them stand out as actually interesting.  I feel motivated by this to limit my viewing now and may even unsubscribe from some channels.

A Long-Expected Viewing Party

Something really exciting happened during my YouTube fast.

The local library had the full, extended-edition Hobbit trilogy.  More importantly, the DVDs all arrived for me at once.  Unheard of!

My siblings and I have been watching it over the past few weeks – it’s new to us.  “Extended edition” is by definition “slow,” but in a good way.  It gives you space to really savor each segment and talk about it.   

I don’t know if it’s the “extendedness,” but I love these three films more than ever and in some ways as much as The Lord of the Rings.  It’s really apples and oranges, yet I’m a child at heart, and The Hobbit especially appeals to my love of fairy tales.

You can read about my history with Tolkien here.  I have just started re-reading The Lord of the Rings for the first time.  I don’t know how long it’ll take me – and in the spirit of slowing down, that’s ok.  I just don’t want to wait for the “perfect time.”

The Bible and Lectio Divina

As a Christian, I’ve read the Bible through once or twice, in addition to studying sections of it.  But it’s been a while since I read it regularly, and I’ve found it difficult to get back into it.

During my break from YouTube, I listened to several episodes of The Word on Fire Show, a podcast by Bishop Robert Barron from Los Angeles.  He talks about books on occasion; I think I first stumbled across his talks on YouTube, possibly to do with Shūsaku Endō’s The Silence (a book I have yet to read).  I’m not Catholic, and I don’t agree with all of Barron’s views, but of the episodes I’ve listened to, I’ve found the podcast to be interesting, educational, and well presented.

One of his older episodes is about “5 Ways to Pray Better Today.”  In it, he talks about lectio divina, a method of prayer and Bible reading traditionally used by Benedictine monks.  It’s broken down into four steps (which I paraphrase from Wikipedia):

  1. Lectio (read) – Read a passage of Scripture.
  2. Meditatio (meditate) – Ponder over what you have read.
  3. Oratio (pray) – Speak to God.
  4. Contemplatio (contemplate) – A calm silence.  Bp. Barron describes this step as “contemplative listening to what God wants to tell you.”

Coming from a Protestant background, I had never heard of lectio divina before.  I tried this for the first time the other night, reading John 17

John 17 is one of my favorite parts of the Bible and certainly one of the most beautiful passages of all literature.  Absorbing it slowly and with prayer brought me so much peace.  I think I will continue lectio divina as I re-read the New Testament.

Looking to the New Year

As planned, I’ve read at least 40 books this year.  Much of that was for my podcast, which I highly enjoyed while I had time to do it.  I still want to bring it back next year, though it’s looking doubtful if I will have the energy for it.

I’ve shelved Flannery O’Connor‘s Complete Stories and Václav Havel’s Open Letters for the time being.  Same with Hawthorne’s Complete Tales and Sketches.  I love anthologies, but the best way to read them is at intervals, not all at once.  (I made the latter mistake with Kafka.)

Next year remains open.  How many books will I read?  I don’t know if I want to set a goal.  Ideally I’d like to avoid reading several books at once, which is what happened this year.  Focusing on one book at a time and avoiding multi-tasking – these are going to help me get more out of my reading and enjoy life.

12 thoughts on “Slowing Down with Tolkien, Lectio Divina

  1. I think you’re probably right about saturations and authors. However, my OCD weakness compels me toward saturation reading. I think the Bible, though, might be better read in small portions from beginning to end. Of course, stumbling blocks of long boring sections have derailed my efforts. Genesis to Revelation remains my goal. Do you have a preferred “translation”.

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  2. R. T., thanks for stopping by! In Sunday School we read from the NIV, but mostly I grew up with the KJV. Right now, I'm reading the NKJV for the first time and finding it quite a bit easier. Though it further slows me down, I also Google certain parts that I have questions about.

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  3. Nice to meet a fellow Tolkien fan. I love reading and re-reading the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. I think I'm about due to read the Silmarillion again.I also love John 17. R.C. Sproul has a wonderful study on it called, The Lord Prays for His Own.Something else you might really enjoy, even though you say you are fasting from youtube, but put it on your to watch list when you can is an interview between Ben Shapiro and John MacArthur. It is so powerful!https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F-ofKxfYqGw

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  4. As I was reading your post I turned of the T.V. Thanks for a much needed reminder!Glad to see as a Protestant you're branching out. I've learned so much more about God by exploring the Orthodox faith. So many wonderful traditions that help you get closer to Him.Great post!

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  5. I still haven’t read TLOTR & also haven’t seen the movies – on purpose – I want to read the books first. I read The Hobbit aloud a couple of years ago to my daughter & enjoyed it so I don’t know why I’ve taken so long to get to his other books.

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  6. i haven't read the Silmarillion either; maybe that would work as a new year's resolution… (mudpuddle trying to comment w/o google)

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  7. Mudpuddle, glad you are able to comment! 🙂 I really struggled with The Children of Hurin, so I have a feeling it would be a similar experience with Silmarillion – rewarding, but difficult.

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