This week we have the semester’s reading break from Tuesday through Thursday, and it has fallen at the perfect time. It’s week 7 of the semester, which has 14 weeks in total, so at the end of this week we’ll be halfway done. I say that it’s fallen at the perfect time because I’ve been here long enough now that I’m settling into an established way of doing things, and these few days will allow me to get started on projects that I haven’t been able to get around to. The exciting, novel glow has somewhat diminished and everything’s beginning to feel quite normal. Hamilton feels like home, the people at church aren’t strangers anymore, and going to seminary has that everyday feel that reminds me of elementary and high school.
Last week I decided to start on a system of schoolwork that would have me finish my regular weekly assignments by Friday, and leave Saturdays for projects like term papers, my upcoming chapel, or things to do around the house. To that end, I divide my major weekly readings each into 5 chunks and I read one chunk per day. There are three textbooks from which I have major weekly readings: The Great Conversation: A Historical Introduction to Philosophy by Norman Melchert; Early Christian Creeds by J.N.D. Kelly; and Encountering the Manuscripts by Philip Comfort. This week, for instance, I have 21 pages from Melchert, 34 pages from Comfort, and 72 pages from Kelly. So if I divide those into 5 segments, I will read 5, 7, and 15 pages per day, respectively. I add those readings to my daily catechism and Hebrew work, along with whatever minor readings are due the next day, and my days are full. The system didn’t work out as I had wanted it to last week, and I ended up doing weekly stuff on Saturday, too. But I hope to work out some of the issues in the weeks to come, and lay a work foundation that’ll last me through the rest of this year.
As it stands, maintaining focused concentration on readings that are often dense and difficult is not in my skill set. Kelly’s the worst. I don’t mean that the book isn’t interesting or engaging, only that it’s hard to get through. I even break up my daily reading of his into smaller sections to make it more manageable. I read 5 pages of him, then my Melchert reading; 5 more pages of Kelly, then my Comfort reading; and I finish with my final 5 pages of Kelly. Reading him is like running through knee-deep snow; you can only do short bursts or you’ll pass out and freeze to death. No, I don’t know of anyone who’s quit seminary because they floundered on Kelly, which makes me even more determined not to be the first.
Actually, what’s really increased both my enjoyment of the readings and the amount I get out of them, is that I’ve taken up making reading notes. I prop the book open on my desk, to the left, roughly at a 70 degree angle. I shine my lamp onto the pages, open my laptop, and type as I read. I stay much more focused this way, and the exercise of having to put into my own words what I just read helps me to better retain the information. I was having the problem of reading chapters, even ones that I enjoyed, and forgetting what was in them a week later. However, the professors test you on the readings on the exam even if you didn’t discuss the readings in class, which means you have to be very familiar with what the authors are saying. Since I’m not interested in re-reading the books come exam prep time, I thought taking notes would be a good idea.