Why should you read Christian Classics?

First off: Let me give the condensed answer from a well respected scholar of great repute.

“There is a strange idea abroad that in every subject the ancient books should be read only by the professionals, and that the amateur should content himself with the modern books….” “But, if he must read only the new or only the old, I would advise him to read the old.”  “Every age has its own outlook.  Is is specially good at seeing certain trauth and specially liable to make certain mistakes.”

– CS Lewis.  From “On the Reading of Old Books” (full PDF found here, only 5 pages long.)

This was the premise for a strange church book club that I had hopes of starting with help from several others.

I say strange because there were two thing which has led somewhat to the slow start of the group:

1.  You didn’t actually have to read the book to attend. (But this was poorly communicated.)

2.  You did not have to commit to attending every time.

No, the point of the book club was to give an introduction to some of the Christian Classics – both ancient and modern.  I, as a voracious reader, of course, take it personally that people are more likely to participate in Beth Moore studies than those of Richard Foster. (He doesn’t, after all, have a Q&A at the end of each chapter, or videos which accompany his texts)

I am sad that we stick with our own era, and sadder still that reading classics is often subjugated to the more pragmatic parenting class, review of Old Testament history, or the theological nuances of soteriology.  (I just wanted to use the word ‘soteriology in my blog post, grin and bear with me.)  Not that those things are bad, and you will find me attending those talks with interest and a good spirit.

But seriously folks, if CS Lewis said to do it, we should do it!  (That’s a joke, for those of you who don’t get it.)

CS Lewis says “Read Old Books!”

Anyway, I mostly want to talk about a REALLY old book that I unfortunately did not get the chance to discuss on Thursday.

“The Practice of the Presence of God” by Brother Lawrence.

A little history: This is a very small “book.”  It was published sometime around 1690, likely following the death of ‘Brother Lawrence,’ a humble monk who served in the kitchen and sandal repair shop of a monastery in Paris from mid-life until his death.  The full text of the book can be found here, and it’s possible to read the whole thing in a very short amount of time.  It is a series of fifteen letters addressed to an anonymous friend.

Why read it:
– Demonstrates a different cultural perspective
– Provides encouragement for those who are suffering, and a new way of looking at suffering
– Gives a window to a time before goals and measurement – this is the dawn of the “Scientific era” (I always need to be reminded that people were getting along just fine without check charts back in the day.)
– Demonstrates a beautiful balance of both set prayer and meditation, as well as conversational and thought prayers.

How to read it:

I think it would be best to read this book responsively.  Because it is so short, it is easy to read it quickly, but I think it would be wise to read it and then consider writing a letter to a fellow Christian in a spirit of encouragement, as Brother Lawrence would do.

Brother Lawrence, although he apparently eschewed formal set meditation as your only prayer, did not reject imagination or imagery (meditation).  This is not a set part of worship in Protestant/Evangelical circles, though I’ve heard from conversations with my Anglican brother in law (who also blogs), that this incorporation of the senses is much more common there. Consider trying some meditation on your own.  (Another old book: Introduction to a Devout Life, by Francis de Sales, will provide you with ideas/clues for how to try this. If anyone has recommendations for other books, I’ll take them!)

Attempt the spiritual exercise which made Brother Lawrence “famous” –  prayer while washing dishes, cooking, and doing all work of all kinds.  A constant recollection of God.

Some quotes:

“Let him think of God as often as possible. Let him accustom himself, by degrees, to this small but holy exercise. No one sees it, and nothing is easier than to repeat these little internal adorations all through the day.”

“I make it my priority to persevere in His holy presence, wherein I maintain a simple attention and a fond regard for God, which I may call an actual presence of God. Or, to put it another way, it is an habitual, silent, and private conversation of the soul with God.”

Clearly, a book for all ages.

Author: Beth M

I love new ideas & information, connecting people, and discovering New England adventures.

2 thoughts on “Why should you read Christian Classics?”

  1. I read that book in my last year of college. It was a quick read and not a very thoughtful read – I didn’t get as much out of it as I could have, and I don’t remember its contents very well as a result, but I do think it still had an impact on my private prayer life. I’m glad you noticed that he had a balance between communal set prayers (the monastic office) and his private presence-awareness prayerful state. (Too many people I’ve talked to have gotten the idea that Br. Lawrence was against liturgical/common prayer!)
    I share your frustration in that people don’t read enough old stuff. It’s a slow uphill battle but I believe it’s a worthwhile thing to stick to and encourage 🙂

    1. Actually, even when I read it the first time I thought he was against set prayers. But then I went to write the blog post and had to study it a little better to write what I wanted to say, and realized I was wrong.

      It was also interesting to be able to put Brother Lawrence in the context of Francis de Sales since they were *almost* contemporaries. de Sales is ALL about the set meditation. I don’t think I would have known what that looked like if I hadn’t read his book earlier in the year.

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