To these four young men God gave knowledge and understanding of all kinds of literature and learning.
For the Hebrew hero Daniel and his friends in the book of Daniel, reading, literature, and learning. The writer of the book of Daniel reminds us that it’s God who gives this knowledge, this understanding, this learning that we find in our reading. I think sometimes we can lose the importance, the sacredness of growth in knowledge and learning.
And we need literature to do that.
Growing in Literature
Literature is basically any written work, but we often think of it particularly as creative writing. Novels, great histories, fiction. It’s interesting to think of biblical heroes like Daniel and his friends reading fiction. But they were. And God gave them the knowledge and understanding to do so.
There are lots of important reasons to read fiction. And I agree with most of them. I think it’s important for us to experience other people’s perspectives, and the perspectives of fictional characters helps us to do that. Fictional literature helps us to envision how others grow and develop, and wonder at how we might grow too. Maybe even allowing us to wonder how other people grow in their own lives.
Why do I read fictional literature? Honestly, for a long time I haven’t. I grew up reading fiction, as a teenager I stayed up all night reading the Harry Potter books. I fell in love with Mr. Darcy in Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. I wondered at Hemingway’s approach to depression. And I loved to read. But with university, graduate school, life, I found it increasingly difficult to pick up a book.
And so I decided, I had to make myself. At first, and sometimes even now, I still have to choose to read. I have to choose a book over Facebook. And it’s not always an easy choice.
Learning in Literature
For a long time, I felt like I was able to feed my literature needs with more non-fiction type authors. Books on grief, anxiety, grace, love, shame, faith, and joy filled my shelves. I’m looking forward to sharing in the learning these books have given me and reading new-to-me authors and books in our upcoming book club at Bethany Lutheran. And when I first started attending church again, when I was growing in my faith, and while I was at seminary, these books gave me life like the novels of my youth. A learning and understanding of my world and my community. Tools to take the next steps. Joy and excitement in the growth I was finding in myself.
But they were the only thing I was reading. Don’t get me wrong, I love this kind of literature. As a pastor, as a person of faith, as someone learning and growing in my understanding of the world, I need it.
But we need both.
Growing and Learning Together
I think too often in our lives we put ourselves into particular categories. We decide we know what we like, and we sometimes forget to venture out. To grow into something new, exploring worlds that exist only in metaphor and being given the understanding of other perspectives that God gives to us with the words of others. We forget the importance of learning so that we might be given the knowledge of love and grace God provides us in the lessons learned before us.
We need both. Which means we need reading, we need literature. Reading is fundamental, and reading of all kinds. Fiction, non-fiction, self-help, romance, fantasy, biography, all of it. Not one or the other, but rather all. So that we might grow and learn together by the gifts of God.
What will you be reading next?