A Musical Advent Calendar – 10.For Unto Us a Child is Born

For the 10th day of Advent how about a movement from that most famous of all oratorios, Messiah, by George Frideric Handel.

So much has been written about Messiah. Composed as it was in just 24 days, Handel did what many composers of the time routinely did – re-worked music he had written previously.  In this case he adapted a love duet from a secular Italian cantata of his entitled Nò, di voi non vo’fidarmi, which explains the slightly strange word stress.

Never mind… it is a wonderful piece full of joy and excitement, especially in this performance!

The Legacy of Bible Highlighting

The other day I wrote about being a highlighter kind of guy, when it came to noting and trying to remember what I read.

That set me thinking about Bible marking? Again, I think I’m a highlighter or underlining kind of guy, with the odd note in the margin. But I’m far from systematic, and my Bible reading has been far from consistent over the years, using quite a few different copies and translations. At the times I have been struggling most in my Christian life, the Bible has been especially precious to me. The underlinings, notes and highlights are evidence of that. Whoever inherits my Bible (particularly the one I read when I was struggling most) will have an interesting time working out what was going on.

So what are the benefits of highlighting your Bible? I think it’s not just for yourself, to remember the things God has been saying to you, but could be for others too. Let me explain.

A pastor-friend in the US reads through the Bible once a year, and sometimes when on a Bible binge (my words, definitely not his!) he reads through the WHOLE Bible once a month for six months. When I knew him he would underline and note as he went, and when a Bible was thoroughly marked-up he would give it away to someone, perhaps one of his kids, and start again. What a blessing to have that Bible!

I am fortunate to have my mother’s black, worn, leather-bound loose leaf Bible which she used in her quiet time and for preaching and speaking, from 1947 when she was just 23, until her death in 1988. Being loose-leaf it is full of sermon outlines and quotable quotes, as well as promises underlined and claimed (with the date) in the margin. It is very revealing – and since she (as I now understand) experienced many of the same Spiritual struggles I do, it is sometimes very helpful too.

Elizabeth (my wife) managed to rescue it for me after my Mum died, and looking at it again now, it brings everything back. She never seemed to be without it. As a boy growing up I always remember it sitting beside her bed with the little red book she used in her prayer-times (I wish I had that too!), and I can see her now sitting up in bed in the mornings, reading from it and praying.

While she did this, my father would kneel at his side of the bed and read from his completely unmarked, but also well-thumbed Bible, which I also now own. I remember asking him as a child why, when everyone around was highlighting and underlining their Bibles, he didn’t do the same. He told me it was so that when he read a passage he could read it fresh, and not come with preconceptions, or only see what God had said to him last time.

I guess that makes some sense, but it was still rather exciting to find after he died another Bible I never knew existed in a desk drawer. It is a wide margin Authorised (King James) Version, given to him on his 17th birthday in 1929, and is absolutely covered with underlining and notes in neat and tiny blue fountain pen. I have no idea how long he used this, but the Bible I always remember him having was printed sometime after 1959, so it must have been at least 30 years!

My conclusion – don’t be afraid to mark your Bible and any other book you have. And remember that as well as helping you recall what God has said and promised specifically during your lifetime, you pass a great legacy to your children (if you have them) which one day they may bless you for, as I do my parents.

A highlighter kind of guy

I have been reading quite a bit recently about reading. If that sounds vaguely odd, it’s not meant to, but I have been wondering how to get the most out of the books that I read, how to absorb more and recall more and benefit more. This is partly born out of a desire to learn how to study after embarking on an MA course in Missional Leadership here in Ipswich, but also because of a desire to recall more of the great books I am discovering by authors such as John Piper, Jerry Bridges and others.

C J Mahaney has had some interesting recent interviews on his blog with Christian leaders in the US and has asked all of them “When you finish a book, what system have you developed in order to remember and reference that book in the future?”  Some people rely on memory, other recommend starting a “quote file”.

John Piper has a frighteningly efficient way of indexing his books – no less than you would expect from someone as prolific in his writing and sermons.

I index books as I read them, by writing short notes in the front of the book with page numbers beside them. In a good book there may be over a hundred such notes.

Tim Challies has written extensively on this just recently in his excellent blog, and here is his synopsis of how he reads a book.

I begin by giving the book a quick scan, hoping to understand what it is about, what the author is going to attempt to prove and how he is going to set about this task. I read the back cover and the endorsements. I skim over the table of contents and look through the end notes and bibliography. Having done that, I tend to linger a little bit over the introductory chapter(s), since I find this to be the most important section in the book. It generally lays out the basic framework of the author’s argument and lets me know what he is arguing against. I read with a pencil in hand (I buy those clickable Bic pencils by the box) and highlight liberally. I also tend to jot short notes and questions in the margins or at the end of chapters. Points that are important to the author’s argument tend to receive a *, and points that are exceedingly important receive a bigger, bolder *. I often also make a list of important page numbers and questions on the inside front cover of the book. In some cases I’ll make two or three columns of page numbers. By doing all of this, I am making the book my own and not just reading it, but actually interacting with it as I go. This is tremendously helpful for both understanding and retention.

All this sounds a bit scary to me – like the approach of someone who has graduated with a PhD from the University of Discipline. As someone who failed his ‘O’-level in that department I think my favourite approach is the one from Thabiti Anyabwile when asked about referencing:

Does highlighting count? I highlight a book and write comments in the margin. I’ve tried to start a quote file. And I’ve written personal indexes in the back of a book. But I don’t find that those help me reference a book in the future. I’m just a highlighter kind of guy. And it’s fun for me because I re-read the section with new eyes and distance sometimes. So, I glean new things, or I go away thinking, “Why in the world did I highlight that?” So it becomes a fun interaction between my past and future.

This resonates with me. I have a number of books which are very well highlighted. And the highlighting is revealing, not least for what I was feeling and thinking and struggling with at the time. For that reason I am sometimes reluctant to lend a book I have highlighted – it reveals more of me than is comfortable.

In summary then, I might try some of these other approaches, but, without admitting defeat before I start, I think I’m definitely a highlighter kind of guy. I hope that works.