Saturday, August 21, 2010

Feasting on the Word

In one of the final scenes of The Last Battle, the last book in C. S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series, some dwarfs sit near Aslan, who provides a “glorious feast” for them. The dwarfs, however, firmly believe they’re in a stable. They see and taste only the kinds of things they imagine would be in a stable: hay, water from a donkey’s trough, raw cabbage leaves, a piece of turnip.

In the scriptures, we have a glorious feast provided for us. Do we see and taste little more than damp hay and turnips?

We’ve been commanded to “feast upon the words of Christ” (2 Nephi 32:3), but often we see that commandment as a chore. It’s one more—boring—thing on our never-ending to-do list, perhaps even a burden.

It doesn’t have to be that way. The beginning of a new school year provides a change in pace for the entire family, so it's a great time to also change up how you’ve been reading the scriptures.

Pick one of the ideas below to make your personal scripture reading fresh and new. You’ll feast on more than fancy steak or salmon; and you’ll find gratitude for new treasures found in your very own summer scriptural feast.

Forget Chapter Breaks

The scriptures weren’t originally transcribed with formal verses and chapters. We often forget that, but chapter-by-chapter is usually how we read. While verse and chapter breaks are convenient, sometimes they can get in the way of understanding. One year I read the Book of Mormon differently: each day, I read two pages. After turning a page, I finished the verse or sentence I was on and stopped. When I came to a chapter break mid-page, I kept going, often skipping the chapter headings (which weren't originally part of the scripture text but added for the "new" edition in 1979).

This method brought the events and storyline of the Book of Mormon into sharper focus. I was more aware of how events and feelings connected to one another, doctrine and events that had previously been mentally separated for me by a big chapter break. I found new insights and understanding.

Study a Word or Theme

I learned this one from my mother. Select a doctrine or topic you want to learn more about. Start underlining words relating to it. You’ll be pleasantly surprised at how often the theme comes up, in what ways, and how much you learn about it while you’re looking for it. It'll continue to show up later (perhaps even years later), after you've already marked up your scriptures.

During a BYU religion class, my teacher got me fascinated with how the scriptures are filled with covenants, temples, and teachings about them. I took that as my topic. With a green marking pen, I underlined every word that, to me, related to covenants or temples. The list began with the obvious covenant, oath, promise, temple, and priesthood. Soon more words jumped out at me, like house, mountain, anoint, tabernacle, ordinance, and cleanse. I paid closer attention to times the Lord makes promises, marking moments when He made promises to his people or when others promised things to the Lord or to one another. I marked key words such as if . . . shall, I raise my hand, witness, etc.

I'd watched Mom study her scriptures in similar ways with long lists of words. The longer I personally went on this journey, the more words relating to the temple that I found to mark. Seventeen years (and several times through the scriptures) later, I’m still finding new words to add, and I’m continually learning more about this important topic.

Granted, you don’t need to commit to one theme for a decade or two, but picking one or two words to focus on for even a month or more can provide you with a deeper knowledge than you would have had otherwise.

A Footnote Journey

A single footnote can take a single study session to a new level—and into every standard work. Find an interesting word and look up all the references to it. Then look up the references in those verses, and so on. Eventually, you’ll circle back to the same verse you started with, and by that time, you’ll have a greater understanding of the topic.

Once when reading the account in 3 Nephi where the people hear the Father’s voice and it “pierces” them to the very center, I looked up the footnotes by “pierce.” The scripture trail led me to instances where people are impacted powerfully by the Spirit.

I noticed that whenever the people were righteous, the word used was pierce or something similar, indicating that the message went straight to the center of their hearts. But when the wicked felt the Spirit strongly, more painful, violent words associated with it, such as being “cut to the heart” (for example, Mosiah 13:7). In both types of cases, the Spirit is doing the same thing—reaching the heart. But the recipient experienced something different. While the righteous feel the Spirit to their core, the wicked may feel wounded and hurt, for as Nephi said, the wicked “take the truth to be hard” (1 Nephi 16:2). Without reading all of those instances back-to-back in a twenty-minute period, I never would have had that insight.

Mark Those Footnotes

As I mentioned (and explained how to do) in THIS POST, marking the footnotes in the "new" 1979 version of the King James Bible is well worth the time and effort. As I read my scriptures with relevant footnotes already marked for me, I'll catch alternate meanings of words, Joseph Smith Translations that are critical to understanding the text, and more. Read that post for more.

It’s time to partake and be filled with the glorious feast of the scriptures. Don’t let them be merely turnips and dirty water that you nibble on while making a face. Instead, fill up on the delicacies and fine wine found within the pages sitting on your night stand.