Then He said to me, “Son of man, eat what is in front of you. Eat this book, then go and speak to the people of Israel.” So I opened my mouth, and He fed me this book. And He said to me, “Son of man, eat this book that I give you and fill your stomach with it.” So I ate it, and it was as sweet as honey in my mouth. [Ezekiel 3:1-3 (NLV)]
Since it was Easter, along with the oatmeal raisin cookies I made for Sunday treats, I brought a bowl of pastel-wrapped Hershey candy for the little ones. As I placed the candy on the hospitality table, I recalled the last time I had chocolates at church. It was several years ago at our Colorado mountain church. Even though it wasn’t Easter or Valentine’s Day, along with Bibles, the pew book racks were filled with chocolate kisses that morning.
When the pastor asked us to eat a candy, we all quickly and quite happily accommodated him. He then asked us to eat another one. That time, however, he instructed us to do everything deliberately and slowly. Rather than tearing off the wrapper, we were to look closely at it before pulling the plume and gradually unwrapping the candy. Instead of immediately popping the kiss into our mouths, we were to examine it carefully before placing the chocolate gently on our tongues. Rather than a few quick bites, we were to savor the texture and flavor as it gradually melted in our mouths. Even though the second kiss was identical to the first, the experience of eating it was entirely different. Since this was church and not a chocolate tasting, our pastor went on to compare our two experiences with the way we can read the Bible. He suggested that we need to be as attentive in our Bible reading as we were in the second candy-eating experience.
Are we as unaffected by reading the Bible as we are by a quick bite of candy or do the words actually touch and change us? By pointing out that we can simply consume food and be done or dine and have an experience, the Slow Food movement tries to bring mindfulness to the table! Although both ways of eating will provide calories, only one will be a memorable and affecting experience. We need to bring that sort of presence and mindfulness to our Bible reading as well. We should savor God’s Word the way we would a Lindt bar of dark chocolate and caramel with sea salt, a full-bodied vintage Cabernet, a juicy ripe summer peach, or home-grown strawberries. God’s word should dissolve into our lives, fill us, and impact the way we live.
Lectio Divina (Latin for “divine reading”) is a fancy term for treating scripture not as a text but as the living word of God. An ancient exercise, it became a regular practice in monasteries by the 6th century. Not being Benedictine monks, we could think of it as the “Slow Bible Movement.” As with food, the quality of the Bible study is more important than the quantity consumed. A few verses read and reflected upon so that we respond to and rest in the message is far better than a whole chapter read and forgotten within a few hours. Unwrapping the meaning of a verse takes more time than tearing off a candy wrapper. Rather than quickly scarfing down verses, let’s slowly savor the words we read. We should reread them, ponder them, find something that speaks directly to us, and then respond to it. Our response then leads us to contemplation and prayer as the verses sink into us. In the Slow Bible Movement, we relish what we’ve read and allow it to refresh and renew us as we carry God’s word forward in our hearts.
In Ezekiel’s vision, God fed him a scroll filled with His message for the Israelites. Even though the scroll was filled with words of sadness, they were as sweet as honey to the prophet because they were God’s words. What food is to our bodies, God’s Word is to our souls and we can’t live well without either one. Moreover, like Ezekiel and Jeremiah, we’ll never be able to share the message of God’s Good News until we’ve consumed it and allowed it to change our lives. We can snack or dine, gulp or savor; the choice is ours.