Reading Strategies

Friend Meredith made an interesting comment:

Taken literally, this passage is difficult because it does not match my experience.

It is interesting to me, as it implies there may be figurative ways of taking this passage, and its hard words (like righteous) that do not pose for her difficulties and which may be true (or at least truer) to her expereince(s).

We all bring reading strategies to the words we read. Taking the text literally is just one such strategy. Advocates of literalism try to privilege literal interpretation — discounting other approaches. Similarly, the scholarly approach of histoprical critical method(s) tends to discount other approaches as well.

What reading strategies do Friends (and friends) tend to use when they approach a scriptural passage? Or are we even aware of using them when we do?

I tend to use a gamut of strategies often labelled reader response. I ask the question, what can we know about the intended or ideal reader of this passage? And tehn I tend to ask how that affects my how the passage might be read. And whetehr th wisdom in it can properly be applied to me — if I don’t approximate that ideal reader.

For example, James opens by addressing his letter to the Twelve tribes of the Diaspora. In otehr words the People of God Who Suffer for Their Faith. I think of myslef as one of God’s people, flawed perhaps, but of their number. I also suffer. But I’m not to sure if my suffering is for my faith or for my wavering. So I have doubts about applying James’ teaching to my own life.

Another reader response strategy I tend to use, I borrowed from George Fox. When I read, and I feel resistance welling within me, or any emoptive response. I look to where it originates. I seek to interpret that resistance as much or more as the scriptural text before me.

How do you read the scriptures? What helps you in this work?

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9 responses

  1. Reading strategies. Interesting – I’ve never really reflected on this. I hardly ever ask myself who the document was written for … almost nothing’s written for me 🙂 but still I can find it meaningful.My emotional responses – one ot the things Ignatius says in the Exercises is that a person should stay where there is “fruit” … dwell on stuff that arouses an emotional response, positive or negative. I try to do that and to ask myself why I feel the way I feel … baggage from the past, some belief buried so deeply that it’s unconcious, fears, hopes, yada, yada.I think I’m ok with taking literally things that I agree with and want to be true and taking figuatively things I don’t so much like the idea of :-).

  2. I like Crystal’s recommendation as via Ignatius. Interestingly, I do something similar. I try to approach the verses intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually. When something really catches my attention, whether that be some new intellectual insight or some strong emotional or spiritual response, I try to focus on that. I find jotting notes down helps me to clarify any themes, etc.Also, I find the Friendly Bible study questions as very helpful guides. I also find that reading a small section is plenty enough for me, as long as I continue to read the whole chapter/book along the way so as to avoid taking too many things out of context. When I was in my twenties I would read the Bible on a daily basis. But, now I find that too much. I find that staying to one section for a week or so is enough for me. In that past I’d go through it so fast that I think I missed a lot of insights and just experiencing being in God’s presence while reading it.And sometimes I just sense God’s presence, but have no clear guidance or insight. I’m thankful just for that!

  3. If we take literally what we agree with and take figuratively waht we have trouble with, are we not robbing scripture of its power to challenge us?

  4. Hello Joe G.I don’t knoqw if you’ve been round here before an I’ve missed you. But welcome anyway (belated or otherwise).Quaker bloggers seem to find one another.

  5. I don’t have much to offer to this discussion except to point out that I tend to see the two primary ways of reading the Bible are: literally (which seems to me of relatively little value) or spiritually– metaphorical, poetic, pointing toward the spiritual realities that cannot be described otherwise. I also feel its a living Bible. I believe that it says different things to different people, and I’ve experienced it saying entirely different things to me depending upon when I read it. If I see anything supernatural in the book, it’s the way it speaks to everyone’s condition (which is infintely diverse).

  6. Hi, Joe G – welcome. You’re a Quaker? I’m catholic, an endangered species on this blog :-). David said – If we take literally what we agree with and take figuratively waht we have trouble with, are we not robbing scripture of its power to challenge us? …yes, exactly. I’m just noting I tend to do that, not that it’s a good thing to do – heh!

  7. At what point does a comment become a post? I’ve written a long comment which I’ve decided to post…

  8. Marjorie: Post as the spirit moves you; I haven’t seen any blog police so I don’t think you’ll get ticketed for improper parking of your comments.

  9. Larry: For me, saying only mythopoetic approaches work or only historical-critical works or lieralism isn’t much use, is not much better than saying you have to read scripture literally.I can have a telescope for looking at the rings of Saturn, a pair of binoculars to watch the birds in my backyard and a microscope to photograph snowflakes. If somebody told me I could only use the telescope to do all those three things I’d tell him he was crazy.Differing tools for differing tasks.Sometimes I only want to read the scripture. Sometimes I want to decode the political and social implications. Sometimes I want strengthen my faith. Sometimes I want to prepare for prayer.

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