Learning is ultimately about connecting. When you learn new verses, you’ll get the most out of them if you connect them to what you already know.
Not just “book learning,” but your actual life experiences. Your own experiences are incredibly vivid. The word vivid comes from the Latin word for “life”. Your experiences are your life. The more you connect the verses you learn to your own experience, the more you literally make them come to life.
Let’s take a simple example. Read this sentence:
John ate a cookie.
Normally, this sentence would not detain us. “John” is probably a little boy. And we all know what eating a cookie is. This kind of filler clogs the arteries of many a mediocre bedtime story.
But suppose I actually walked into the room with a platter of cookies. Your favorite kind. Freshly baked.
In real life, there’s nothing boring about a platter of fresh cookies. It doesn’t matter that this incident isn’t movie material. It doesn’t matter that you’ve already eaten thousands of cookies over the course of your lifetime. When you actually smell your favorite kind of cookie, and take that bite … life is good.
Now here’s the crazy part. As you read this, is your mouth actually watering? In a way, you just did eat a cookie.
Don’t worry, this isn’t The Matrix. I’m not trying to blur the crucial distinction between imagination and real life. But I am trying to show you how closely they intertwine. Your real life is far more available to you, as memories, than you realize.
You can sit here and experience eating your favorite kind of cookie. You can relive the smell, the taste, the warmth, the feel of the food in your fingers and your mouth.
(Maybe I should have eaten breakfast before I wrote this article.)
I keep saying “your favorite kind,” because that helps point you to specific experiences. We don’t sit down and eat the Platonic ideal of a cookie, like that poorly drawn character in the children’s book. We eat an oatmeal cookie, or a chocolate chip cookie, or a banana nut cookie, or a peanut butter cookie, or a gingerbread cookie, or a molasses cookie … they are each different. Unique. Precious.
You can only remember eating a specific kind of cookie. If you don’t know which cookie you’re eating, you’re still thinking abstract thoughts about eating cookies. You’re not smelling any warm cinnamon or tasting any peanut butter.
If you do succeed in remembering actual tastes and smells — you’ll know! It’s a jolt. You will feel these things again. It’s so different from abstract thought.
I’m afraid we need to wrap up this cookie meditation. But here’s the takeaway. If you wanted to, you could have relived all these delightful memories as soon as you read:
John ate a cookie.
“Unpacking” the Cookie
And you could go even further, beyond this sugar-free approach to enjoying Christmas treats.
If you have small children or grandchildren, you could remember how they look when you give them a dessert, how happy you are to make them happy.
You could think about how children enjoy food, with no fear or guilt. On the other hand, you could consider how this innocence has led to an epidemic of childhood obesity and diabetes (and Christmas doesn’t make things any easier).
You could find yourself musing on the balance between enjoyment and temperance, on the search for delight that does no harm … suddenly John is exploring a forest, making a snowman, feasting on grapes in the middle of winter …
I’ll stop my cookie exegesis. But sometimes I think this is the secret to why so much language in Scripture, and other ancient cultures, is so sparse and succinct. They had no TVs. No one did their imagining for them.
They didn’t need painstaking descriptions and telling details before they slowly began to imagine a real angel. You just said, “an angel of the Lord stood by them,” and their minds exploded into cinematic fireworks.
I can’t prove this, of course. But I’m fairly sure. Either way, we can think like that now.
And the delights of imagination are entirely unique. They are creative. What is creativity, anyway, but making new connections?
Move beyond identification to connect with your experiences. These connections can bring intense, creative delight.