Lauren Winner, the Venerable Bede, and Seminary
Seminary students continually hear the warning not to let their studies become a substitute for their devotional life. In other words, reading about theology, outlining a book of the Bible, or parsing Greek verbs do not replace prayer, meditation, confession, and worship. To let the academic tasks overwhelm one's relationship with God is to miss the forest for all the trees.
For the intellectual types that usually end up at seminary, this is a hard warning to heed. We LOVE books. We enjoy studying, crazy as that sounds. We feed off it, often getting lost in the intricacies of philosophy and our favorite writers. Besides, what student has time for more Bible reading? We're already behind on our assignments...
I find it reassuring to know that the church fathers and scholars of old struggled with similar tensions. The Venerable Bede, an 8th century monk, wrote, among innumerable other works, the famous Church History of England. At the end he listed his 70+ publications, then added a prayer:
I pray You, noble, Jesu, that as You have graciously granted me joyfully to imbibe the words of Your knowledge, so You will also in Your bounty grant me to come at length to Yourself, the Fount of all wisdom, and to dwell in Your presence forever.
My new favorite author, Lauren Winner, comments on this quote in her memoir Girl Meets God:
"That prayer is why I love Bede. Because he knew that knowledge and books were just a nice way to fill the time until he came to dwell with Jesus. It is a good prayer for a graduate student."
And I would add, "for a seminary student."