When I was a child, there was occasionally a frightening and disgusting dish placed on the table before me. No, it wasn’t meat loaf. Nor was it Brussels sprouts. It was fish. Fish presented a moral dilemma for me. Like many boys, I loved to grab my rod and reel, dig up a few worms, and walk down to the local lake. I’d hook no trophy mounts, but I could usually fill a stringer in a couple of hours. The issue then became what to do with them. If I took home my catch, we’d have to clean them. Then we’d have to cook them. Then—Lord have mercy—we’d have to eat them.
My parents, with very good intentions, had warned me of the danger of fish bones. Over and over, they’d caution me that I needed to chew eat bite thoroughly before I swallowed, because, if I swallowed a fish bone, I’d choke on it and die. Ok, maybe those weren’t their exact words, but that was the dire impression I received. So every bite I chewed and chewed and still chewed more, until the inside of my mouth felt like I’d taken a drink from a dirty aquarium. Then, fearing that this might be my last moment on earth, I’d swallow the masticated mess, praying that no bones had escaped by tongue’s detection. The only pleasure in this meal was knowing that I’d lived through it.
In later years, I was to discover another food that I was also urged to chew and chew and still chew more. But unlike fish, there was actual pleasure in the prolonged chewing of this food. For the longer it remained in my mouth, the better it tasted, the more pronounced became its flavor, the more nourishment I received from each bite. This food is the bread on which Jesus survived during his forty days of temptation in the wilderness. It is the food that comes directly into our mouths from the very mouth of God.
There is certainly good to be gained from reading extensive portions of Scripture. Perusing a whole narrative, or even a short book, like Ruth, is beneficial. But sometimes we bite off more than we can chew. Of even greater benefit (at least, in my opinion), is the taking of a single bite of Scripture—perhaps a verse or two, or even a phrase within a verse—and savoring it. Chew on it. Chew on it some more. Repeat each word slowly, pausing over each one, exploring its depths, its nuances, its flavor and feel and taste. Then move on to the next and do the same. Then mix all these words together and discover new delights. Only after prolonged meditative chewing should you swallow and move on to the next verse.
Indeed, that’s what I’m endeavoring to do this year. I will take a verse a day and make that my meditative meal. I will not so much read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest (as a common prayer phrases it), as read, chew, chew some more, and still chew more, and then inwardly digest what I’ve learned.
Perhaps you too, dear reader, wish to join me at the table.