Did you ever meet someone who at first you disliked, but later on you came to like a lot? I think all of us have had this experience at one time or another. Sometimes it’s the sin of “judging the book by its cover.” Sometimes there is “guilt by association” too. It can be guilt by tattoos, or ethnic group, or accent, or politics, or a myriad of other things that might provide an excuse for making a hasty and unmerited judgment of a person.
Books can sometimes elicit similar responses. When the Great and Holy 40 Day Fast was already at hand I asked myself, “What spiritual book (in addition to the Bible) should I be reading as part of my lenten journey?” Reader John, our choir director, told me that he was reading “Sunflower” by St. John of Tobolsk. I shuddered. I hated that book! In fact, I disliked it so much that I couldn’t finish it. I thought it was harsh. I thought it was too heavily influenced by western thinking. I bristled at the number of stories and examples taken from the post-schism Latin Church, rather than exclusively using stories or examples from our own Orthodox tradition. I hated it. I judged it. I dismissed it. But Reader John didn’t hate it. He suggested to me that while the book might reflect some of the “Western Captivity” of the Russian Church’s theological education in the 18th century, there was, nonetheless, a great deal of precious and soul-profiting material to be found within it. Hmmm. Had I been too hasty? Had I been too quick to judge? So, I have taken the book up again, and I’m reading it using the Melitta method. What is the Melitta method, you ask? It’s the way I make my coffee. I take my mug, and on top of that mug I place a Melitta cone lined with a #2 natural filter. Into that filter I place one scoop of freshly-ground Murchie’s Best premium coffee. After that I pour freshly boiled, filtered water three times over the coffee grounds (very Orthodox, no?) until the mug is full of amazing, rich, fragrant, and restorative coffee. I know...it’s ridiculous, but that’s what I do. (Please don’t judge!)
So how does any of that relate to reading a book? It’s simple. The premium ground coffee is the book. It’s fabulous coffee, and likewise the book is written by a beloved saint of the Russian Orthodox Church. The hot water and filter means reading with faith and discernment. So pouring the hot water of faith and discernment over the coffee grounds of the book FILTERS the resulting liquid. In other words, what you want is the filtered extract, not the extraneous grounds. The used-up grounds are simply tipped out into the bin, discarded. That’s the Melitta method, and that’s how I am re-reading “Sunflower.” And guess what? The second look is turning my original impression upside down. It’s a wonderful book, filled with so many edifying words and practical suggestions. Wow! Lesson learned.