Give Us This Day Devotionals, Volume 4: John. By Charles Erlandson. Eugene, OR: Resource Publications, 2022. 266 pp. $37 (cloth), $27 (paper).
As the Word of God, the Bible is an inexhaustible fount of life in which are hid all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge. But we Christians, dull of mind and sleepy in spirit, are quick to grow complacent in our reading of God’s Word, especially if we have cultivated (as we ought to) a habit of reading all or most of the Bible on a regular basis. Through time and repetition, the words of life become humdrum and commonplace, if such a thing were possible.
With every word of Give Us This Day, Fr. Charles Erlandson shouts in the ears of readers, that they might awake once more with awe and wonder to what God has to say. Erlandson’s purpose in writing these daily devotions on the gospel of John (in the three previous volumes of this series he goes through Matthew, Mark, and Luke) is to reach the many Christians who “do not properly eat or digest the Word of God.” They read the Scriptures, but “in a sort of hit and run fashion,” and “in such a way that only the mind is fed” (viii). Erlandson responds to this tendency by rooting his devotions in the method of contemplating Scripture known as the lectio divina, in which the reader follows a process of lectio (reading/listening), meditatio (meditation), oratio (prayer), and contemplatio (contemplation) (ix). It is in reading with prayer that “the bread of life must be digested and ingested”:
Through a life of prayer, the Word of God is carried into every part of your life and becomes your life, just as a piece of digested food is broken down, enters the blood, and is carried to every part of your body. Only through a life of prayer, which is a third means [in addition to the Eucharist and the Scriptures] by which Jesus becomes our daily bread, will the Word of God become spiritual food for us. (viii)
The prayerful way of the lectio divina, then, is “just the food we need to nourish and correct our impoverished spiritual lives, our over-emphasis on the intellect, and our random forages into the Bible that leave us unsatisfied” (x).
Erlandson’s devotions are primarily informed by the moral sense of the text—meaning each verse of John is read for the purpose of “applying it to yourself or other Christians” in your daily life—though he does recognize the importance of the other three traditional senses in which Scripture can be read, namely the literal, allegorical, and anagogical (xi). That said, Erlandson acknowledges that these senses of Scripture cannot be cleanly bracketed off from one another. Even when reading Scripture for the sake of applying it to your own life, it must be remembered that:
Your life is not merely your own: it belongs to Christ, and so we seek Jesus Christ in His Church (allegorical interpretation). And all who are truly Christians are part of the Body of Christ and hopefully part of a local body, and therefore much of what the Bible says must be allegorical in this sense. (xii)
The book is designed to be read through gradually, using the guidance of a lectionary, in order to facilitate careful contemplation. Each devotion ends with a prayer (many of which are composed by Erlandson himself), points for meditation, and a resolution to help the reader act on that day’s reflection. Lest all this material prove to be overwhelming, Erlandson wisely encourages readers in the Introduction to “use what is profitable, and don’t worry about the rest.” It is not necessary to “meditate on every part of every Give Us This Day,” or to “keep up with a different Resolution every day.” What matters is that you “work on what God is calling you to work on” (x). Moreover, readers should not feel as though any devotion or its associated meditations and resolutions cannot be returned to at leisure once they have moved past the relevant portion of John in their lectionary. Indeed, the entire book is meant to be “a kind of commentary to be consulted and not only a daily devotional to be used only once” (xi).
Upon hearing the book described as “a kind of commentary,” potential readers should not mistake it for some overly academic treatise in which biblical Greek and Hebrew are scrutinized under a magnifying glass and the text of John is dissected to the point of losing its vitality. To the contrary, I found Erlandson’s reflections to be a much needed jolt arousing me from my own spiritual stupor. Every page is shot through with wisdom on the text for the day and an urgency for readers to remember whose they are, that they might turn to Him anew. Yet even as Erlandson’s particular insights on John are excellent and worth contemplating, he suggests that readers will profit most if this book is used as an inspiration to take up the lectio divina for themselves: “Most importantly: once you’ve developed the godly habit of meditating on the Bible every day—don’t ever let go of it!” (x)
I don’t usually read daily devotionals as part of my own private devotions. Even so, I recommend Erlandson’s book on John for its resolve to awaken those who have fallen asleep, and for its demonstration of what the lectio divina looks like in action. Readers will benefit not only from the concrete reflections found therein, but also from its example of how to engage Scripture in a way that goes beyond mere intellectual consideration.