Speed-Reading and Re-Reading

Rev Jeremy Smith

Growing up, my father was a clown. Yes, really. But I have one specific memory of his profession that ended up leading to a skill that I cherish today.

When I was a child, my father would do education-based children’s shows that encouraged children to read at libraries across rural Oklahoma. We would travel to an area, do 2-3 shows at a few rural towns, and then camp somewhere close-by that night…just so we could repeat the schedule the next day!

After I memorized the show after the first or second show, I found that I wanted to do something else other than listen to my father (typical child!). I would look for a teen or young reader’s book that I could read and finish by the end of his hour-long show. A Hardy Boys, Three Investigators, or in a pinch a Nancy Drew book did just the trick. I found by the second or third trip that I began to be able to read the 75-100 page novels in about an hour. That’s pretty quick!

That skill of speed-reading served me well until I got to college and graduate school: speed-reading does not always lead to comprehension. I’ve had to learn to slow down and re-read sections that I’ve tagged as interesting. It is in the act of re-visiting the text that I find I get the most out of it, not the first time through. I now have a few shelves of novels that I re-read when I want to relax. I take it slow, savor the details, and truly enjoy the scenes being crafted through prose onto my imagination.

I think in our prayer life, there’s a tendency to want to speed-read. To get through the prayer list as quickly as possible. To do the obligatory prayer so we can get on with our meal. Perhaps even in worship to feel better at how quickly we got through the words and song, the sermon and the prayers. And yet, it is in the act of re-praying, or re-reading, or re-singing, or re-imagining the sermon that we get more out of the moment.

My hope is that you also discern when and where you are speed-living and find ways to slow down and enjoy the novel, the prayer, the worship, the moment in ways that lead to life.

I may still speed-read the novels…I got through Dan Brown’s Inferno in four hours on the couch last weekend. But maybe, just maybe, I’ll get more out of it when I take it slower. Maybe you will too.

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