Reading for Total Conversion

The law of freedom teaches the whole truth. Many read about it in a theoretical way, but few really understand it, and these only in the degree to which they practice the commandments.
-Mark the Monk

When your intellect becomes full of reverence and joy, then you may conclude that you are close to the frontiers of prayer … And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.
- Evagrios the Solitary

And because my tongue overflows as one who has sucked the sweetness of Paradise, I will portray it in diverse forms.
- Ephrem the Syrian

What does it mean to read for total conversion? What does it mean to read the Scriptures and the Fathers so that our entire lives grow in ever-increasing conversion?

For Mark the Monk, it’s a great temptation to read in a theoretical way, when we merely think about ideas, but fail to put them into action. Few really understand the whole truth because most fail to practice the commandments. For Mark, the wise builder is the one who hears the words of Christ and puts them into practice, who builds on rock and not on sand.

For Evagrios the Solitary, it’s only when our intellect is full of reverence and joy that we can approach the frontiers of prayer. And it’s only when we’ve crossed the frontiers of prayer that we can become a theologian. So, what is a theologian? For Evagrios, a theologian is someone who enters prayer through reverence and joy and, in the life of prayer, comes to know God.

For Ephrem the Syrian, it’s the tongue that overflows with the sweetness of Paradise that can portray it in diverse forms. Ephrem has tasted and seen that the Lord is good. And so his words are the sweet juice of Paradise. But then what are the words of Scripture? What have the Apostles tasted? What juices flow from the mouths of the Prophets? How can we know what flavors come from their lips? We, too, must taste and see.

What does it mean to read for total conversion? It means that we have to practice the commandments if we want to understand what we read. It means that we have to acquire reverence and joy if we want to know God. It means that we must drink from the sweet juices overflowing the tongues of the Saints if we want to see the goodness of the Lord.

What does it mean to read for total conversion? It means to be transformed by the renewing of our minds. It means to take every thought captive to Christ. It means following the Saints into the inner sanctuary of God that we might offer our entire lives as a fragrant incense before the altar named Christ Jesus our Lord.

What does it mean to read for total conversion? Here are some very practical guidelines:

1. Allow the reading to draw you into worship. There are times when reading the Saints that your heart will skip a beat and your mind will nearly burst with awe. When this happens, put down the book. The reading has accomplished its task of calling you to devotion, wonder, and praise.

2. Read slowly. Don’t read fast. Allow the ideas to transform your mind and create new pathways and connections. Our minds must be converted. This doesn’t happen easily. And it doesn’t happen quickly. It is far better to read half a book carefully, pondering it and considering it intently, than an entire book without conviction, finishing it just to accomplish another task.

3. Read with expectation. Approach the Saints as if they are indeed holy, as if they do indeed dwell in the glorious presence of God. Approach them with the expectation that they are who they claim to be – humble servants who commune intimately with the Lord and ones who would call us to the same communion.

4. Go and do likewise. Read the Saints with the anticipation that your whole life will be called to the task of obedience. The Saints don’t play head-games. Instead, they follow Christ with relentless commitment, laying everything on the line. And what they call us to is nothing less than the total conversion of our entire lives as we live in greater and greater conformity to Jesus Christ.