IVP - Behind the Books - Slowing Down

January 23, 2008

Slowing Down

I believe that a hallmark of good spiritual writing is that it causes the reader to read slowly. Fine writing has that effect on a reader most of the time. Because the ideas are rich. Because there's a lovely turn of phrase to savor. But there's something more--it's the very tone of the book that slows the pace. It's similar to Christian meditation. We sit and get quiet and let our blood pressure drop.

This is very different from the recent experience many of us had of racing through Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at breakneck speed. That was a great reading experience as well, but it didn't stir up a desire to slow down and savor life. (I was also driven by the need to read fast before another family member grabbed it away from me.)

It is also different from reading, say, Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics.* There we read slowly because of the depth and complexity of the ideas. Our brains need time to process the meanings. It's excellent to have our intellect challenged in this way. The writings of many of the church fathers and saints require this kind of slow careful reading just to get the meaning. But with contemporary spiritual writing it is a different quality I am after.

When I read Kathleen Norris's The Cloister Walk or Henri Nouwen's Genesee Diary, I read slowly. I'm not trying to race to the end because I'm enjoying the journey so much. I'm rereading sentences not to gain clarity but because I want them to sink deep into my own soul.

Good spiritual writing helps the reader start doing the spiritual work.

*About Church Dogmatics: I am obliged to note that that one of my colleagues does read this as devotional material. Nevertheless, I would say that Barth's work is fairly characterized primarily in the genre of theology.

Posted by Cindy Bunch at January 23, 2008 1:07 PM Bookmark and Share


Yes. It is kind of like curling up near a sunny window on a winter's day... letting the warmth wash over our souls.

Comment by: L.L. Barkat at January 24, 2008 10:23 AM

Yeah, but Barth is passionate theology! If I were to quote what I was reading this morning, I'm sure I'd win you over. (But there's not enough space here!)

Comment by: Dan at January 25, 2008 7:08 PM

I think that there are "light" and "heavy" spiritual books; but both can have quite an impact on my life for good. It is like a meal--I can have the salad , the drinks, the main course and all add something to the meal and to the nutritional content. You mentioned the Potter books---I wouldn't even classify them as spiritual yet God used them in my life as a portrayal of spiritual warfare. It made me really think more about Ephesians 6 ; they have had a long lasting effect on me in producing in me more alertness to warfare. Piper's books have influenced me and were easily read--but the focus of living for God's glory was so focused on in his writings that many of his thoughts were emphasizing this one point and therefore his books also had a long term effect. Bonhoeffer's books (I always forget the spelling of his name) are slow going ---take more thought---but have had long reaching effects too. So I think all kinds can produce effects that have major impacts.

Comment by: nannykim at February 9, 2008 11:02 PM

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