Study. One word that doesn’t exactly inspire people. It’s read as a command to most of us.
Our teachers tell us to study. Our parents repeat the same. We are told by tests and by jobs and preachers and their scriptures. Study. Can this word, this act, be at all worth our incorporating into a rule that forms and transforms us?
I heard a colleague say the other day that Christian spirituality is not anti-intellectual. We were discussing a class we’re preparing to teach, talking about the reading load for it versus other courses similarly categorized. We were in agreement that what we had (and will have) students read was necessary for the work we were trying to accomplish in the course.
One way of thinking through how study fits into the Rule is by asking what the objective is. Dallas Willard’s writing is thick with this. He says in many ways that to be a Christian is to be a student of Jesus. We cannot be students of Jesus (or any religion really) if we are not learners. We have to study to be his followers.
I think to something a mentor said to me years ago about preaching. He said, “I don’t study to get ready. I study to be ready.” It was his way of saying that his work (and, by hopeful implication, my work) was to prepare in a way that he was always reasonably within the neighborhood the scriptures, always in some portion of conversation with God, always asking the hard questions of how whatever God said related to what we say.
What’s the objective? That’s one question. Another question in preparation for the Rule is, “What do I need to know right now?” Another version of that is, “What do I need to grow in over the season that this Rule will be in effect?”
Sometimes we focus ourselves on certain things. For a while, I was only reading 19th century United States of American history. I had to focus on it. In seminary I trained my gaze on pastoral care and theology. I’ve sensed pushed myself to read poetry, to always be reading fiction, poetry, theology, and history. To dabble in a collection of essays and to look for a good memoir. For me, this choice is an extension of the study part of my internal Rule. I need to always be growing in these areas. Language is at the core of all my work. Church, teaching, curriculum, and counseling all require the precise, careful, thoughtful and regular use of words well chosen. So that frames what I study.
A final question worth pondering is, “What’s in me that I need to study?” This gets down to me in my rule. I need to see certain things about myself that I’m not seeing. I need to notice not only the words of others in those published materials, but I need to read and review the words and phrases etched in me.