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retread| Lord’s Style of Language 18 April 2008

Posted by EDITOR in Spirituality.
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Retreads are quality posts from yesterweeks that are given a second run on Fridays. This is an ABUSHARIF piece from 31 July 2007.

Robert Wilken, of the University of Virginia, cites in an essay of his a very interesting observation made by St. Augustine. Wilken writes:

Ambrose told [Augustine] to read the prophet Isaiah. Augustine took his advice, but as soon as he took the book in hand he was perplexed by what he read. ‘I did not understand the first passage of the book,’ he writes, and he thought ‘the whole would be equally obscure.’ So Augustine laid it aside, as he explains, ‘to be resumed when I had more practice in the Lord’s style of language.’

I really like this point of being practiced in reading the “Lord’s style,” which I would amend as Divine “style” in revelation, a manner of communication that requires from the spiritual aspirant something more than cursory reading. A handler of scripture really must avoid reading words with the identical meaning and importance that we ourselves apply to these words in our day to day lives. When words are lodged in revelatory context—a book meant to have the impact of guidance or, at least, influence—then we must receive the words with minds perched high on some transcending branch. Obviously words must be familiar and provoke from us some meaning that we have come to understand, but the point here is about expanding and heightening our sensitivity to nuance when reading the Quran. We can’t make something majestic as parochial, something layered as flat, something elliptical as a whole. Learned men and women have advised readers how to approach the Quran. So I’d like to add (or borrow) this: read slowly (very slowly); don’t let your mind wander; don’t jostle back and forth as if you’re in some “madarasa”; don’t race or artificially compete; relax; remember the source; and lock in on something that really strikes you. Read out loud and, very important, once in a while read long passages slowly and silently. Something about the voice that can (sometimes) be distracting. Pray for an inkling for “the Lord’s style of language.”

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