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Learning to Think

This probably deserves more space, but I was talking with our group last night about the need to learn the habit of thinking. We live in times when we are bombarded with information, bits of data. From blogs like this to rss feeds to non-stop entertainment and 24 news cycles, we know lots and lots about little bits of stuff. But instead of helping us to think, this immersion into data seems to make everyone talk and act like robots that repeat the latest cliche.

We need time to pause and wait and think. A.W. Tozer once suggested that books should starting the thinking process but reading is not a replacement for thinking.

As I was reflecting on the story of King David, I thought about how his time as a shepherd gave him time to think. From the psalms he composed, it is clear that he spent time thinking, reflecting and contemplating upon the law, the creation around him, relationships and even statecraft. We talk about David the warrior and David the psalmist but I would also think of him as David the thinker.

Thinking is not about using large words that exclude most people and only allow specialists to enter a dialogue. Nor is it about forming other kinds of exclusive clubs that exalt one set of ideas or one group over another. It is the habit of regular reflection. The habit of using our imagination and reason together. And in the Bible, it is about training the mind and heart to focus on the Word, soak in the Word, reflect on the Word and reflect upon the world around me through the lens of the Word. And thinking is not simply silent ideas swirling in my head. It is speaking and singing thought.

The Psalms and poetry (as well as Eugen Rosenstock Huessy) have taught me about speech-thinking. The poet focuses upon the particular, the common, the thing right in front of him. As he reflects and speaks about the “thingyness” of the thing before him, his ideas explode outward, opening the particular thing into a vision of the universal.

Here is a poem by the Welsh poet Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy). Imagine Bobi enjoying a warm home with his family. As he sits before the hearth and thinks about the heat circulating through the house, he sees the grace of God afresh. He redefines fire and heat and hearth for us as we live thorugh his eyes.

As I read this poem yet again, I pray for eyes to see the world around me, and the discipline to pause and think about all the great gifts that fill my world.

Hearth

Hell is fire; then there’s a fire that’s Heaven
In a grate amidst the children. We draw close around it
And listen to the beating of its orange wings
Against the breeze that’s gathered the invisible
Confidential cooking of the hearth.
The fire from the sky, it broke through the rain
And alighted like a bird upon the kitchen altar.
And the mother caught it like Noah’s dove
Between her two hands and offered it becomingly.

Which of us who listen to it can help but hear
The warm melody of the kettleful of family?
In bed, between mother and myself,
God is warm; and His place at the table’s filled.
He is the Musician we hear coming
From room to room in secret.
It is His music heats the house
Gurgling through feet and blood, to rise,
Smokeless, to our half drunk heads.

Only those who know the sunshine know the beauty
That breaks across the mat between door and cupboard.
It pierces to the marrow of all laughter patiently
Like a tune that lingers round the edges of the mind
Or a cat curling up. Our song’s purring, the love
That’s been composed so cunningly, that’s been performed
On the harpstrings of the family fires through Him.

by Bobi Jones (translated by Joseph Clancy)

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