By the book

A book’s a funny place to look for answers. If customer support took that long to answer my question, I’d hang up.

Some books make the Bible into an answer book. On supermarket displays back by the butcher’s and druggist’s counters, you may pick up books of Bible verses, helpfully categorized by issues. Spin the display, and the cookbooks appear.

When I was younger, many of my Jesus friends made decisions by closing their eyes, opening the Bible, and pointing to a verse. They honed their prophetic sense by learning how to read the sometimes-opaque tea leaves.

I’m not reading much differently if I’m still reading just for answers. I’m not living by the book; I’m limiting my reading to my narrow questions. Michael Casey puts it better:

Anything that feeds into our current concerns is accepted as relevant; everything else is dismissed as of lesser importance. . . . As a result, we do not build the infrastructure on which “relevant” insights will depend.

My reading must, at least, broaden an issue until the original question becomes, in retrospect, a fillip, and now an afterthought – maybe even irrelevant (ironically). But I must not set out on my more important reading to find anything relevant to the day’s exigencies. Casey:

Not everything is immediately relevant. Sometimes we have to juggle two apparently divergent themes in our minds until some sort of connectedness links them.

Living by the book means, in part, carrying the word around and watching it shape life. Casey:

Perhaps we hear the word and understand it intellectually. Because we do not carry it around, bridges are not built between the text and daily life.

Seek wisdom, the Bible says. But wisdom may not have answers.1 Maybe wisdom isn’t even only the expansion of a question into a broader, more comprehensive issue, though that’s often important. Maybe wisdom is God’s fellowship.2

Answers are overrated.

Am I like Saul, going to the prophet Samuel to find my donkeys?3 “Blah, blah, blah, and your donkeys have been found.” I won’t find the “blah, blah, blah” on supermarket carousels.

Reflections on reading “Irrelevance,” a paragraph on page 74 of Michael Casey’s Sacred Reading: The Ancient Art of Lectio Divina.

  1. Maybe a “word of wisdom” redirects my inquiry – points me to a better path.
  2. Or maybe God himself. The book of Proverbs personifies wisdom as a woman (chapter 9). And Paul says, with little explanation, that Jesus is our wisdom (1 Corinthians 1:30).
  3. 1 Samuel 9 & 10.


  1. Yep, answers can be dead ends. That classroom of students staring back at us waiting for – The Answer. If the promised answer is to the question on a test – bonus!!! Don’t you just love being told to – get to the point. The bottom line please. Sum it up for me. Let’s go.

  2. Thanks, Al. You may have rescued my post from its preachiness — I’m kind of embarrassed about it now — by applying the point to school. Answers too soon do seem to cut off thinking! Your Socratic seminars are my way out.

  3. Oh, Al! We’re all dull, right? Anyway, putting on your teacher glasses, I just read this passage again from Casey that my post quotes: “Anything that feeds into our current concerns is accepted as relevant; everything else is dismissed as of lesser importance. . . . As a result, we do not build the infrastructure on which ‘relevant’ insights will depend.” That’s a perfect description of the high-stakes-test-driven curriculum and classroom. It’s also why all this requisite knowledge doesn’t amount to an adequate academic “infrastructure” for college and life.

  4. Yep. I think what we are reinforcing is a narrowness to school/life. Relevancy is the prime focus – as if there are groups of experts who can assure us of future relevancy. My favorite business book was called Thriving On Choas. We shoudn’t always be driving choatic thinking out of the school room. Perhaps we should be embracing it.

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