Thursday, May 06, 2010

Quiet times and noisy times

Those familiar with the Evangelical Lexicon will have encountered the term "quiet time". It's a big deal. In fact, I once had a conversation with an evangelical girl who demonstrated that her Anglican upbringing wasn't really Christian because she hadn't known what a quiet time was.

Now it's a bit of a misnomer - it doesn't exactly do what it says on the tin. "Quiet" is not merely an adjective here, it's part of a proper noun, as in a quiet time, wherein, rather than being still and listening Quaker-style, the emphasis is often on cramming as many Bible verses as possible, and praying, by which I mean petitioning God.

Hence, in my evangelical days, I got unbearably tied up in issues of propositional assent as I read, the quiet of quiet time wholly absent as my reason waged war noisily on itself. Even when I had the energy to get beyond a few verses of morally suspect quasi-history, clunking translations of 3000 year-old poetry, or letters that clearly weren't written to me, I would think: but do I really believe it?

Reading Brian Brock's 'Singing the Ethos of God', I encountered his exhortation to have a "first-person" relationship with scripture. For the one who claims its heritage, the Bible is not an object consisting of truth claims but an ensemble of our community's stories and songs. Participation in these stories does not require propositional assent but in fact it requires a kind of active use, an active embrace, whether this is one of acceptance or of resistance, like that of a wrestler.

So I tried it, singing a number of Psalms each day, and the effect is remarkable. It is not that singing glosses over the verses one would rather didn't exist, but it opens up particular sorts of human experience as inhabitable worlds. I vocalise another's resistance to God and it becomes mine; my voice expresses another's hatred of a vicious foe, and I enter their world as guest; I revel in another's experience of intimacy with God and, as the inheritor of their song, so I find intimacy.

Brock views the best engagement with scripture to be this inhabiting of its thought world, eschewing the usual attempt to bring it into ours as a textbook. His approach recovers something our literate culture has largely lost by objectifying texts as something one either 'believes' or rejects.

In biblical terms, this is a form of idolatry, and thanks to Brian Brock I'm having a go at repentance.


Pstyle said...

this is a superb post.

I grew up in the "quiet time" / "time with jesus" crowd. I think the whole concept can become a dangerous tool for establishing heirarchies of spirituality. Those who "do quiet time" and those who do not.

boxthejack said...

Cheers Pstyle. Glad you found the post amid my political pontificating!

Islam said...

Thank your for sharing
Messenger of Allah