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Stranger in a Strange Land: Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

Gleaning as We Go

Literature as "equipment for living."

In this issue we feature a guest column by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre, author most recently of Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies (Eerdmans).

The ancient practice of lectio divina is a gentle discipline. Reading Scripture slowly, listening for the word or phrase that speaks to you, pausing to consider prayerfully what gift is being offered in those words for this moment, is a rich practice that can help maintain spiritual focus and equanimity at the center of even very busy lives. That practice can be adapted and imported into the reading of other kinds of texts. It can change the way we listen to the most ordinary conversation. It can become a habit of mind. It can help us locate what is nourishing and helpful in any words that come our way—especially in what Arnold called "the best that has been thought and said"—and it can equip us with a personal repertoire of sentences, phrases and single words that serve us as touchstones or talismans when we need them.

I have long valued Kenneth Burke's simple observation that literature is "equipment for living." We glean what we need from it as we go. In each reading of a book or poem or play we may be addressed in new ways, depending on what we need from it, even if we are not fully aware of those needs. The skill of good reading is not only to notice what we notice, but to allow ourselves to be addressed. To take it personally. To ask, even as we read secular texts, that the Holy Spirit enable us to receive whatever gift is there for our growth and our use. What we most hope for, those of us whose lives are full of reading and who teach others to read, is that we, and they, might continue as we make our way through a wilderness of printed, spoken, and electronically transmitted words, to glean what will equip us to navigate wisely and kindly—and also wittily—a world in which competing discourses can so easily confuse us in seeking truth and entice us falsely.

I am ...

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