“Read, Mark, Learn, and Inwardly Digest:” A Guide to Reading More than the Bible

One of the most famous collects introduced by Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in the first Book of Common Prayer is the one appointed for the Second Sunday in Advent.[1]

Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning; grant us that we may in such wise hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them; that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word, we may embrace, and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which thou hast given us in our savior Jesus Christ.

As a college professor, I often need to remind students how to read closely. In particularly they need guidance in approaching centuries-old documents. Some years ago, when teaching my class on the history of Christian worship, I began to refer to the six-step process of reading articulated in this collect: (1) in such wise, (2) hear, (3) read, (4) mark, (5) learn, and (6) inwardly digest.

I’ve introduced it to students in many courses now. It is no silver bullet, but I like it. I think it makes important points.

  • Readers must be mindful of why they read (“in such wise”),
  • They need to be mindful to the sound as well as the meaning (“hear,” as well as “read.”)
  • They need to attend to the text and often annotate it (“mark”).
  • They need to study (“learn”).
  • They need to ponder (“inwardly digest”).

Here is a PDF of the handout I give them.

[1] Beginning in the 1970s, some Anglican prayer books moved the collect to a different Sunday earlier in the fall. In the 1979 Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church it is appointed for the Sunday nearest November 16; in the 1985 Book of Alternative Services of the Anglican Church of Canada, the Sunday nearest November 9; in the 2020 Common Worship of the Church of England, the Last Sunday after Trinity, i.e. the Sunday nearest November 23.

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