Discipline

Today I started a new thing. I don’t know what to call it, so I’ll explain it to you. It sounds weird, but stick with me. I can’t promise you’ll be glad you did, but I can (and do) hope that this will be the case.

I rolled out of bed at 6 AM, which is ridiculously early for me (especially for a Friday, and during Spring Break) and, with my glasses dangling off the tip of my nose, headed to the kitchen table holding four things: my laptop, a black gel pen, an empty leather journal and my well-worn Greek New Testament. Can you detect the pattern? If so, you’re good. If not, keep reading. Ignoring the invitation of my stomach, which craved whatever sugary breakfast cereals my mom had bought to appease it, I flipped open my laptop, pulled up Pandora, switched on my custom station ‘Monk Radio’ (Gregorian and Byzantine chant) and spent ten minutes in silence, letting the voices roll over me. Roughly three songs later, I opened the New Testament to page 1, ΚΑΤΑ ΜΑΡΚΟΝ 1:1, and began to copy the text into my new journal. For one hour, I stepped into a medieval scriptorium and experienced the difficult and unique challenges of copying texts. I learned a few things along the way:

  1. Genealogies are still boring in Koine Greek.
  2. My Greek handwriting needs a bit of work, especially pesky ζ and ξ.
  3. I have so much more faith in the manuscript tradition than ever before. Granted, I only worked for an hour, but I only misspelled two words (Uriah and autou) both of which I managed to correct before going much farther in the text. And I’m only a college student doing this for fun. I can’t imagine the skills of a monk who spent his entire monastic career working on texts.
  4. It inspired me to think of the level of depth I hope to attain at the end of this project. It’s easy to read a passage in English and just move on, not let the passage seep in and effect you in powerful ways. But copying the text is different, especially in Greek. I can’t simply skim the lines, because then I’ll have no idea what’s going on. I have to read slowly, one word at a time, and let the text seep into my brain. I’ve only just begun, but I can tell you that today’s passage, even though it was a boring genealogy, is stuck fast because I went slow and let it sink deep into my brain. We should all desire more depth in our readings of scripture, and this might do just the trick.

In the end, my goal is to practice this discipline for one hour every day, and to copy the New Testament in its entirety into this leather journal. Hopefully, this will be a process I can repeat many times over, one that will continue to build depth. I might even start giving away completed manuscripts (after I finish one for my own shelf, of course). Who knows where this might lead?

But maybe copying manuscripts seems really boring to you (I imagine you’re probably in the majority). Well, there exist a whole host of other spiritual disciplines to be perused with zeal. A good place to start is Richards Foster’s Celebration of Discipline. Pick one that does appeal to you and throw yourself into it. You’ll be amazed at how your relationship with Christ grows and deepens. These monks just may have been on to something…

Mad props to Bearded Me (Wes Spears) for the Pandora idea.

  1. It’s sort of funny, because I recently discovered a great way for me to study for memorization-based tests such as Spanish or the sciences is to literally copy down the material into a notebook. Much like you said, it forces me to cope with each sentence and idea that presents itself. I can’t just skim over anything. I thought maybe doing this for the Bible would be an interesting (and time consuming) way to study. Who knows? I might try and do something similar. Granted I don’t know any Greek, but English will suffice for now.

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