Friday, August 27, 2010

Early Morning Secular Scripture Study

When I was a faithful Mormon, I was encouraged to study the scriptures daily to grow closer to God. Sometimes it was boring, but often as I read those ancient (or "impostor ancient" in the case of the Book of Mormon) words, I felt my mind clearing and opening, felt a peaceful presence that I then identified as the Holy Spirit. This seemed especially effective when I would study first thing in the morning, when my mind was already clear. Reading scriptures just before bedtime usually ended up being something I did just so I could check it off my to-do list and feel like a good Mormon. I was usually too tired to get anything out of it.

I recognized scripture study as a valuable spiritual practice, but then wasn't sure what to do once I no longer saw the Bible or the Book of Mormon as the inspired Word of God. I recognized that there was a lot of good stuff in there, but it was mixed in with a lot of hooey. I've come to the conclusion that if you're in the right frame of mind and if you do some pondering, you can find meaning and value in imperfect scripture, but with the same consideration you can find those same textured layers of meaning in Homer or Hemingway or Harry Potter. I don't think the Bible is superior to Beowulf. 

I've been in the habit lately of switching on my laptop first thing in the morning, much like the alcoholics in Isaiah 5:11 "that rise up early in the morning, that they may follow strong drink." (Or could "strong drink" be construed as coffee? I sure like mine strong, and one of the best parts about no longer being Mormon is drinking it guilt-free.)  Then I check my email and Facebook fifty times a day. There was a recent New York Times article in which a group of psychologists and neuroscientists wanted to study the effects of heavy use of digital devices on the brain. One hypothesis was that even the anticipation of interruptions in the form of new emails or text messages (or blog comments, not that I don't love all your comments! In fact, I probably love them too much) eats into our working memory and reduces our capacity for clear, productive thinking. Parents of young children will recognize this "brain turned to mush" syndrome too, since the needs of little ones are constantly interrupting us.

What to do? How to maintain technology as a tool for my use without becoming addicted and weighed down by the mental clatter created by its overuse?

Two birds with one stone: I've decided I miss the ritual of taking time early in the morning to read and ponder wise words, so I'm reclaiming that. I'm going to start getting up before my kids to have some quiet time for reading. No computer until my oldest has been seen off to school. I started this morning, and it was nice.  :-)

I really like this quote from the Dalai Lama: "My call for a spiritual revolution is not a call for a religious revolution, nor for a way of life that is otherworldly - still less to something magical or mysterious. It is a call for a radical reorientation away from our habitual preoccupation with self, a call to turn toward the wider community of beings with whom we are connected, and for conduct which recognizes others’ interests alongside our own."

And in that vein, the first subject of my secular scripture study experiment is this:

Written by a psychologist and a historian, it examines our attitudes and beliefs about kindness, our tendency to be suspicious of kindness, and why we're hesitant to show kindness, even though we derive intense pleasure from doing so. I'll post a review when I'm finished.


If you enjoyed this post, I hope you'll check out my new blog.


  1. There is definitely a huge value in ritual, if I miss my morning walk with the dog it can throw off the whole rest of my day. I'd imagine it's a similar experience to morning reading.

  2. This sounds like a fantastic idea. I would do it, too, but my ability to wake earlier than my kids in the, if I can do it it doesn't last long. I go through phases where i can wake early no prob and others where even 10 hours isn't nearly enough.

    Besides, my oldest boy is up at 5:30 most mornings.

    But I would like to take some of the time I'm on this thing and read with it. It would be a great example to my kids (hopefully esp with said boy who considered reading "boring") and help me get in some non-tech time.

    I should probably study too.


  3. I have such a love/hate relationship with all things electronic or Internet-oriented. I recently dropped out of Facebook and I feel ever so much better without it - but also horribly out of the loop of what's going on with my (actual) friends. I don't use Twitter, but I blog and use email, and really it's the blogging - the reading and commenting on other blogs - that consumes so much of my time online. Oh, and the Daily Show. I can't tell you how much I wish I could drop these activities altogether, but I also love them so, so much.

    Anyway, I think this is a great idea. But I've tried to set personal limits in the past, and, well... Here I am. Commenting on your blog. When I'm supposed to be doing other things. I'm not so good with that whole self-control thing. Clearly I learned NOTHING from my time in the Church!

  4. I saw you subscribed to me... what a fascinating blog you have! I just briefed over some of your story and popular posts... keep writing! I am subscribing.

  5. Rhacodactylus, Yes, rituals and routines are a way of ordering our lives. I feel more calm when I'm in a routine.

    Lisa, part of my goal in getting up earlier is disciplining myself to go to bed earlier too! If I get on the computer before bedtime, it's easy to stay up way too late. Now that my son is back in school, we're being forced back into a more set schedule, which I think is good for everyone. I think a lot about how much time I waste on the computer (yes, I realize the irony in writing about this in response to blog comments) and think I could get a lot of reading done if I weren't on the computer, but part of my problem is the anticipated interruption of my children. It's hard to delve too deeply into anything too cerebral when you're anticipating interruption. It's easy to jump on FB real quick and laugh at someone's link to silly video. That doesn't take any mental effort.

    Chandelle, I often think that I would totally quit FB if it weren't for my brothers and family that live far away. That's how I stay up to date on what they're doing. Also, a lot of my readers have friended me on there and it's fun to get to know them on a more personal level. I do have my family and close friends sorted onto a separate list, and if I'm in a hurry, I just check them. It is hard to set limits and stick with them. I won't be at all surprised if I fall off this wagon within a couple of weeks. :-)

    Kacie, thanks for stopping by and subscribing! Glad to have you! I thought your blog looked fascinating as well, which was why I subscribed. :-)

  6. >>"I sure like mine strong, and one of the best parts about no longer being Mormon is drinking it guilt-free."

    Oh man, I'm an absolute coffee FIEND and I know it's all the Mormons' fault. :D

  7. The great thing about the computer stuff is that you can take time off from it like that now and then. In most cases no one will find it amiss if it takes a few hours, or even a day or two, to respond to their e-mail. Personally I think telephones are much more disruptive to one's time and orderly attention, since they more or less demand to be answered when they ring. Which is why I've phased out telephones from my life as much as I can.

  8. Typhon, I love coffee so much more than I ever loved God!

    Infidel, I'm not fond of phones either. I like caller ID, don't pick up if I don't know who it is, or if it's my mother-in-law.

  9. I've given in for now and just admit I'm hopelessly addicted to being online. I'll deal with my addiction someday, until then I'm going to revel in it

  10. Jamie, embracing the addiction does seem like it might be a healthier (and more realistic) approach than constantly resisting it.

  11. I hear you. If I am not at work or out my computer is on. I check Facebook and the blog map constantly... I have thought about what the attraction is and a big part of it is connecting to people from a common background and going through similar things.

    I agree with your comment on finding good things even in imperfect scripture. No matter what the ultimate source was there are a lot of good thing in both the Bible and the Book of Mormon. I pull them out once in awhile and thumb through them usually while drinking coffee or tea!

  12. Kiley, I love it! I might have to throw back a pint and crack open the Bible!

  13. *adding On Kindness to my Amazon wishlist*

  14. Carla, I'm about two thirds of the way through, and really liking it.

  15. I've given in for now and just admit I'm hopelessly addicted to being online. I'll deal with my addiction someday, until then I'm going to revel in it


Religion, skepticism, and carving out a spiritual life post-Mormonism