How to read for enlightenment

Published 9:02 pm Friday, December 6, 2013

By Chris Surber

There are basically two types of purposeful reading. There is reading for learning, and there is reading for enlightenment.

The first involves simple assimilation of facts and information. This is the kind of reading done when one needs to learn how to accomplish a certain task. A factory worker gets a new machine and reads a manual so he can use it. An accountant gets new financial software and reads the manual for the same reason. It’s purely functional.

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Then there is reading for enlightenment. That’s what I’ll deal with here.

Consider how one ought to read a newspaper column of the sort you are presently engaged in. You’ll do well to take notice that this column is on the opinion page of the newspaper. A column is not typically written to convey functional information. It may contain information, but the point of it is not usually to tell you how to do something practical.

More likely, it was written in order to stimulate the reader to something even more needful than how to turn on a machine or use software. In this case, as in most cases, this column was written in the hopes of stimulating the mind and encouraging the use of the brain’s software.

My goal in writing columns and other articles that I write is to open wide the gates to enlightenment. My goal is never to tell anyone what to think but to encourage them to think.

When reading for enlighten don’t get bogged down in the details of an analogy, an example, or a hyperbolic (exaggerated for a point) statement.

Read to be stimulated. Interact with the ideas. Don’t be too easily personally offended and turn off the brain. Interact with the writer. Talk back to the newspaper. Consider alternative points of view and grapple with whether your assumptions or those of the writer are closer to the truth.

Unfortunately most of us have only ever learned to read for information. In school we were taught to read for facts in order to regurgitate information on a quiz, a test or in an essay. The tests gauged only our ability to retain facts for a little while, and the essays were usually dry, devoid of big ideas of our own.

Reading for enlightenment is more about having one’s mind pricked by an idea in order to stimulate further consideration on the topic. By reading intentionally for enlightenment we can move beyond the boundaries of our own limited experience and benefit from the light that has been revealed to and through others.

I like the way American science fiction and fantasy writer George R.R. Martin put it: “A reader lives a thousand lives before he dies… The man who never reads lives only one.”

Read actively. Read often. And read things that challenge your assumptions about yourself and the world.

Chris Surber is pastor of Cypress Chapel Christian Church in Suffolk. Visit his website at