The Landscape of Familiarity
There is a settled earthiness to folk rooted in one place for a lifetime. That type of familiarity with your surrounds calls to me. I wonder what it would be like to have woken every dawn to the same horizon, to wander path and valley by the memory of a lifetime of yesterdays. I once visited a childhood town, one I never drove roots down into, and paused by my family’s home on the edge of town, except it wasn’t the edge anymore. The sudden change was confronting. Truth be told, there was nothing ‘sudden’ about it, the change had crept up over the years since I’d been gone. If I had been there, if my view had never altered, I would know which estates were cleared first, when they had cut down my favourite climbing tree, or when they had demolished our neighbourhood fort. But I didn’t know those things. I hadn’t been there.
Some say that familiarity breeds contempt. But that hasn’t been the case for me. Familiarity breeds intimacy. The aged farmer, whose only journey is to the sagging bench on his front porch, looks over fields ploughed for a generation and knows every furrow and fence. He recalls the back-breaking sweat of removing stones that would dent his plough, the low end of the yard where the rain pools before running off into the gully, and the first time he’d harvested a profit. There is a simple yet profound joy in the landscape of familiarity.
Reading, like taking a hike, is rarely about the destination. Yet this past week, especially on the first two days, I found that reading through Colossians each day often felt rushed. Words I’d read before rushed by in a blur of images and analogies. Sure, I noticed the highlights, but the gentle flow of the landscape was lost on me, until I slowed down. As the small things became more familiar, the sudden rush of reaching the end was drowned out in the colours and ambience of the majesty of Christ. Reading became a gentle stroll through familiar territory that allowed me to not just notice the details along the path, but to appreciate them for their own peculiar beauty.
Prose is no barren wasteland of carefully assembled symbols on a page. Words and sentences wind and flow like a cataract of ideas, rushing toward the beauty of the whole. Yet even these small components assembled have a beauty of their own. So recently, when challenged to read a single book of the Bible repeatedly, every day for a week, I was amazed how much the familiar terrain altered as the days rolled by. More than just connected ideas, the rhythm of the writer became apparent. More than just grammar and syntax, the letter began to be seen more as masterpiece formed under the skilled hand of a craftsman. That type of familiarity with your surrounds calls to me.
Try it. Take a single book, one that can be read in a single sitting during the course of your day, and commit. Just read. Every day for seven days, read the same words. Don’t take notes and don’t sketch out a sermon series. Don’t read on a screen. Find a good old fashioned print Bible, open to your selection, and profoundly read.