I just got done reading “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis. Not really noteworthy, except for the way in which I read it. Instead of reading on my own, I read with a small group of people.
Every week since early September, on Sunday evenings at 5:30, seven or eight of us gathered in a room here at the church and read aloud, stopping every page or so to ask questions, offer insights, and process what we were reading. We had a wonderful experience; we called ourselves “The Inklings” in honor of the discussion group Lewis was a part of at Oxford in the 1930s and 40s.
I would definitely recommend this process to anyone who has ever wanted to read a weighty theological book, but couldn’t find the motivation, or was a bit intimidated, or just didn’t know exactly where to begin.
Here are a few of the things I learned in the process:
- There was no curriculum other than what came out of our own minds in the moment. That made for some fantastic conversation and some energetic back-and-forth of ideas. It also led to some very interesting, albeit tangential, conversations about all kinds of things from cabbage to terrorism to amusing English idioms. Since we were not restricted by a curriculum, we were free to take the conversation where it wanted to go naturally, although always returning to the book itself to move things along.
- We took turns reading aloud, which gave us the opportunity to hear several different voices. It is fascinating to learn about who somebody is by listening to them read aloud. Tone of voice, inflection, syllabic emphasis choices – each reader brings their own personality to the task of reading, and in so doing offers a bit of themselves to the group. And to hear words read aloud as you are reading them yourself deepens the impact of their meaning.
- It is so fun to hear how others react when an idea strikes their fancy. There were many times that another person’s reaction to a particular thought was more significant than my own, which always made me pause to ask them what had been so meaningful to them. Comments were made as the reader went along – “Oh I like that!” “That’s a good one!” or even just “Wow!” And there were definitely moments when the entire group all reacted at the same time, and it was really exciting to be a part of the synergy of thought.
- One of the most interesting parts of the process was the way in which members of the group made connections to “real life” experiences. The Syrian refugee crisis was an ongoing story this fall, and often came up in our conversations. We talked about Pope Francis, presidential candidates, racial issues on campus, war in the middle east, and gun violence, among other things. Often the connections that others made were not necessarily ones I would have made myself, which was sometimes puzzling but always illuminating.
So now we are going to take a break, but decided last night to pick up another book in the new year. We chose “The Cost of Discipleship” by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Yep. We’re going for it! As one said last night, “I’ve always wanted to read it, but never would have on my own. The only way I would read it is with a group, so I’m in!
I truly think that people long to “go deep” spiritually, to spend time wrestling with heavy thoughts, thoughts that are worth thinking, and we’re much more likely to do that together than alone. So pick a book, get some people together, and start reading. It’s easy. You can start your own “Inklings” right where you are!