Wednesday, July 18, 2007
Read Why We Read? Part One Here
In modern America many would rather watch reality TV that sit in a nook with a book. But there are many positive reasons to take up and read. In this blog I want to share just a few thoughts along these lines.
Reading is what has been called a "cool medium" that invites us to step back and ponder critically what we have encountered. We can stop at any time and compare what we have read with what we previously have known from other sources. We can build bridges between the text and our own experience through a "fusion of horizons." Good reading trains us to think issues and perspectives through for ourselves.
TV on the other hand is a "hot medium." It comes prepackaged and speaks directly to emotions. It often passes on an agenda through the use of camera angles, editing, graphic images and even outright fabrication. TV is food for the mind that is is meant to be swallowed without being chewed. It is sort of like the strained bananas we used to give our children.
Thomas Merton writes clearly on the matter. He said "the life of a television-watcher is a kind of caricature of contemplation. Passivity, uncritical absorption, receptivity, inertia. Not only that but a gradual yielding to the mystic attraction until one is spellbound in a state of complete union ... [it] is the nadir of intellectual and emotional slavery" ("Inner Experience: Problems of the Contemplative Life (VII)," Cistercian Studies Quarterly 19 , 269-270.
This blog is not about the evils of TV. I enjoy some TV every once in a while (especially during football season). Rather I am lamenting the loss, or the diminishing value, of reading in our culture ... both "secular" and religious. This is true even among preachers folks who live and die by "words."
Yet there is something beautiful about the sight of a person absorbed in reading. The body is stilled and the mind is quieted. There is a concentration of mental energy and a gentle, and healing, withdrawal from the ups and downs of life.
Reading is in the service of the spiritual life. Not only does it broaden the mind by extending the range of interests, but it also brings about a certain refinement that is the opposite of coarseness or vulgarity. There are of course different kinds of reading. The kind I am promoting is not mere speed reading to see how many books one can simply pass through. No, I echo the words of Michael Casey who opined that a good book, like fine wine, cannot be savored in a hurry!
But reading is not simply to be enjoyed. Our reading is designed to take us somewhere. A good book should never leave us as we where when we picked it up. A good book is an invitation to grow beyond what we are at present, to view issues from a different perspective, to add fresh elements to our synthesis of reality as we encounter it. Thus good reading is dialogical. We are not asked to sell out our understanding or convictions merely because they have been challenged. Rather we are invited to a conversation that will enable us to nuance our convictions and the reasons for holding them in response to implied or explicit criticism. Understanding a point of view that is strange to us often serves as a means of bringing to the surface deeply held convictions that hitherto we have not closely examined.
My final thought for this blog on reading is trite at first glance but much more significant than we might first think. Good reading is a source of enjoyment and refreshment that can and does help us recuperate from the stress of our vocations.