Slow reading: Out of my mind with fear.

Our four-week-series of reflecting on church together has been postponed while we give ourselves time to adapt to the next phase of COVID-19 restrictions. Instead, here’s an opportunity for slow reading.

Some days are better than others: but this was not one of them. I woke up with my heart pounding, intensely aware of my anxiety. I felt it, named it, and prayed about it, then swung my legs out of bed and began my morning routine. Anxiously, I drank some water; anxiously, I did a workout; anxiously, I had a long hot shower … and still my heart pounded with fear. Muttering to myself that it would be a stupid waste of time while I was in this state, nevertheless I sat down to my daily practice: slow reading Scripture then sitting in silence, imagining myself in the Scripture and looking always towards God.

Today’s reading was the story of the Gerasene demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). I read, and read, and read again. Then, as I sat in silence, I sensed how deeply frantic I was, how disembodied by fear. My head was floating; my breathing shallow; my monkey mind gibbering all over the place. I was the Gerasene demoniac, so overcome that I was alone and raving among the tombstones.

Then a stranger came. In his presence, I was invited to name the legion of thoughts and fears assailing me; and, as I named them, they drained away. And I found myself sitting on a gravestone beside the stranger, calm, in my right mind, breathing slowly, heart quiet, deeply grounded in my body, and with a profound sense of peace.

Friends, this is how the living word ministers to us. This is why, throughout the centuries, people of faith have read and wondered and pondered the word, opening their hearts to the healing that it can bring. This particular technique is known as ‘lectio divina’, or slow reading: and you can engage in it anywhere, anytime, that you find a few minutes to read and rest in the word.

Optimally, it would be the same time and place everyday; but if the only time you can find alone is while you’re waiting for pasta water to boil, then use it. Pull up a story, take a deep breath, ask God to guide you, and reflect. Today’s text is below, with the steps laid out. You might have a similar experience to me, or you might find it ministers to you in a very different way. That’s the beauty of this method: there are no right answers, simply a right attitude of openness to the power of the living word to comfort and challenge, heal and transform you, in deep and abiding ways.

1. PREPARE: Make yourself comfortable. Uncross your legs; relax your body; uncomplicate your heart. Ask God to help you surrender to whatever it is that God wants to do in you or say to or through you. Breathe slowly and deeply in, then out.

2. READ: Read the following passage, aloud if possible, at least three times through, slowly. Listen carefully. Notice anything which captures your attention.

  • Jesus and the disciples came to the country of the Gerasenes. And when he had stepped out of the boat, immediately a man out of the tombs with an unclean spirit met him. He lived among the tombs; and no one could restrain him any more, even with a chain; for he had often been restrained with shackles and chains, but the chains he wrenched apart, and the shackles he broke in pieces; and no one had the strength to subdue him. Night and day among the tombs and on the mountains he was always howling and bruising himself with stones. When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and bowed down before him; and he shouted at the top of his voice, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I adjure you by God, do not torment me.’ For he had said to him, ‘Come out of the man, you unclean spirit!’ Then Jesus asked him, ‘What is your name?’ He replied, ‘My name is Legion; for we are many.’ He begged him earnestly not to send them out of the country. Now there on the hillside a great herd of swine was feeding; and the unclean spirits begged him, ‘Send us into the swine; let us enter them.’ So he gave them permission. And the unclean spirits came out and entered the swine; and the herd, numbering about two thousand, rushed down the steep bank into the lake, and were drowned in the lake.

    The swineherds ran off and told it in the city and in the country. Then people came to see what it was that had happened. They came to Jesus and saw the demoniac sitting there, clothed and in his right mind, the very man who had had the legion; and they were afraid. Those who had seen what had happened to the demoniac and to the swine reported it. Then they began to beg Jesus to leave their neighbourhood. As he was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed by demons begged him that he might be with him. But Jesus refused, and said to him, ‘Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him; and everyone was amazed (Mark 5:1-20, NRSV).

3. REFLECT: Allow the passage, a phrase or a single word or image speak to you. What catches your attention? What emotions are you feeling? What questions are bubbling up? Reflect in silence. If you are new to this, you might aim for 5 or 10 minutes; as you become used to this practice, you might extend this time.

4. RESPOND: Tell God about anything which has emerged: emotions, thoughts, memories. If you feel called to respond in a concrete way, ask God to show you the next step.

5. REST: Rest now in the Word, who loves you. As you leave this space, if any word, phrase or image persists, carry it with you and let it punctuate and guide your day. Or, if nothing in particular arises, remember this:

  • Go to your friends and tell them what God has done for you.

(These words have, of course, led me to write this email!) If anything arises in your practice of slow reading which you would like to talk through, call me. And of course you can use this simple pattern to dwell in the word with any passage, at anytime.

Peace,
Alison

Emailed to Sanctuary 5 August 2020 © Alison Sampson, 2020. Photo by Veit Hammer on Unsplash.

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