Receptivity and the Word

Last week I shared Peterson’s thought that receptivity is central to the Christian life. In many ways receptivity feels like an ethereal concept. It is a posture, rather than an action; a condition of the heart, rather than something to be achieved. Often, when we encounter ideas like this, regardless of how spiritually rich they are, we struggle to both envision and apply them. Hence, this post, attempting to take this idea of receptivity and dig deeper into what it means in terms of our relationship with the Word.

Book with no Words
“Book with no Words” by Simon Ingram

The Word as Scripture is something that we primarily engage by reading. We may sometimes hear it out loud in a liturgical setting (usually at times like Christmas and Easter), but most of our time is spent flipping pages, eyes moving down the columns of text.

Reading is one of the primary ways we engage the world. But when we think about the posture of receptivity, something about our reading is confronted. This is because, culturally, reading is about mastery. Consider the central place that everyone is forced to read – the school. In academic contexts, reading is generally oriented around absorbing content and mastering it such that it can be regurgitated on an exam.

But if the Christian’s approach to God is one of receptivity, then this ought to mark our approach to the Word as well. In other words, engaging with the Word is not about reading, but about receiving. Yes, our eyes still run down the pages, but when we engage Scripture allow it to master us, rather than the other way around.

Perhaps this is partly why God chose to reveal himself in a book. Certainly, we could imagine that there were other ways he could have done so. But perhaps it is because in the very act of coming to the text of Scripture, we are offered an opportunity to put on Christ. Every time we open the pages of the Bible, we are confronted with two options: lay down our rights and receive, or seek to master the Bible like we would most other books.

It is no coincidence that the choice is the same when we are confronted by Jesus, the Word incarnate. Do we receive him into our lives, allowing him, by his Spirit to transform and confront and work? Or do we reject him in our sense of self-mastery, that we alone have the right to decide our fate?

God grants us the dignity of agency. He welcomes us to Scripture but allows us to choose our posture. Receiving the Word is always more uncomfortable; it runs counter to our culture and self-interest. But, surely, it is equally rewarding. Our approach to the Word (both text and incarnate) must be marked by receptivity not mastery.  May we, by the Spirit’s help and the Father’s grace, receive the Word.

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