Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil 4.8
When I was younger and in grad school my wife would sometimes marvel because she would leave the house for the whole day—commuting by metro, studying at McGill all day, maybe hanging out a bit with classmates—and when she returned I would be sitting on exactly the same chair as when she had left, reading the same book (obviously I got up from time to time for water, coffee, and the resulting bathroom breaks). Back then I was studying and studying hard and my capacity had built up over years and so I hardly considered this ability to be a meaningful one.
That was then and this, as they say, is now:
I am reading a wonderful biography of one of the most influential people in my spiritual journey (Colin Hansen’s Tim Keller: his spiritual and intellectual formation) and as well written as it is, I am a week in and not halfway through the book but back in the day I would have finished it in a day or two (and far more of it would have sunk in!). The book itself is reminding me of this because the man it is about is a prodigious reader, known to have walked around New York City with a book open on the sidewalk, and to drive around (it was the 70s) in Virginia with a book open on his steering wheel, and just generally to always have his nose in a book. His reading was critical to his own spiritual life and his ability to share it with others, it is a model for someone like me.
That’s why this decline in my ability to read matters (and yours does too if you are in the same boat as me): because I read far less books and absorb less of what I am reading than I used to and yet my effectiveness is in many ways tied to this ability. Even if I do read I often have to re-read a page because my mind was wandering so badly while reading that I have no idea what I just read. We are all called to pursue God’s truth, to dwell in the Truth, and to be able to explain it to others. It is important to me because as a minister I can only give to others from what I have, I must be able to receive well if I am to give well, and as I take my role in the community seriously I see my reading difficulties as a major issue.
Maybe you have encountered this diminishment of reading focus too? If so, have you found any good ways around it? I have read my share of books on productivity and spent my life as a reader so I am not oblivious but I would be interested in tips and tricks you have picked up on.
We can blame any number of realities for our collective loss of ability but that doesn’t move us forward unless the blame leads to actions, like taming our phones and screens meaningfully. For my part I want to commit to doubling down on meditation which helps train the mind to focus and to blocking out times that are digital free and meant for reading. For several years reading (other than my morning bible time) has been put wherever in my schedule there happened to be space, I think getting back to a more daily routine of blocked out time for reading and reflection is going to be important. It is simple really, screens off, book open, sit there.