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Reading Notes 5.4.18 (The Powers That Be/The Traveler, The Tower, & The Worm)

Resource: The Powers That Be: Theology for a New Millennium by Walter Wink
Section covered: Chapter 1 (Pages 13-15)
Theme(s): Worldviews and the spiritual essence of all things


On the spiritual thread of responsiveness that lies at the heart of all things:

“This book is unashamedly about things spiritual. It assumes that spiritual reality is at the heart of everything, from photons to supernovas, from a Little League baseball team to Boeing Aircraft. It sees spirit — the capacity to be aware of and responsive to God–at the core of every institution, every city, every nation, every corporation, every place of worship.”

How materialism dulls the imagination and divorces us from our connection to God:

“The world is to a degree at least, the way we imagine it. When we think it to be godless and soulless, it becomes for us precisely that. And we ourselves are then made over into the image of godless and soulless selves. If we want to be made over into the image of God — to become what God created us to be—the we need to purge our souls of materialism and of other worldviews that block us from realizing the life God so eagerly wants us to have.”

Worldviews as central to spiritual warfare:

“Understanding worldviews is key to breaking free from the ways the Powers control people’s minds.”

On what distinguishes a worldview from a philosophy or a theology:

“The Germans had the word Weltanschauung (“view of the world”), but that referred more to one’s personal philosophy of life. A worldview, by contrast, dictates the way whole societies see the world. A worldview provides a picture of the nature of things: where is heaven, where is earth, what is visible and invisible, what is real and unreal. As I am using the term, worldviews are not philosophies, theologies, or even myths or tales about the origin of things. They are the bare-bones structures with which we think. They are the foundation of the house of our minds on which we erect symbols, myths, and systems of thought. Through the lens of our worldview we make sense of our experiences. In the very act of exposing another person’s thought, we often share the same worldview.”

On how worldviews are hidden behind our view of the world:

“Normally, a worldview functions on an unconscious level. People are unaware of its existence. It is just the way things are.”


According to Wink, everything and everyone has a spiritual essence that is responsive to God in principle. Our ability to think and speak this way, however, has been compromised by dogmatic materialism. In order to undo the effects of materialism upon our thinking, we have to become conscious of the nature of worldviews and cognizant of alternative options available to us. Wink is setting the reader up here for a more detailed outline of the different categories of worldviews.

Worldviews are different from philosophies or theologies in that they capture the way whole societies (not just individuals) see the world.

Our worldviews are largely unconscious and they simply show up as “the way things are.” Our worldviews differ from our consciously held beliefs. A worldview is more like the unconscious aware-space where conscious beliefs reside. If conscious beliefs are the furniture, the world view is the house whose dimensions determines the possibilities for their arrangement.

Resource: The Traveler, the Tower, and the Worm by Alberto Manguel
Section covered: The Introduction (Pages 12-15)
Theme(s): How the book became a metaphor for the world


On how the experience of reading led to an understanding of life as a form of reading:

“All these complex characteristics that allowed a written text to reproduce, in the reader’s eye, the experience of the world, led to the container of the text (the tablet, later the scroll and the codex) being seen as the world itself. The natural human propensity to find in our physical surroundings a sense, a coherence, a narrative, whether through a system of natural laws or through imagined stories, helped translate the vocabulary of the book into a material one, granting God the art that the gods had bestowed upon humankind: the art of writing. Mountains and valleys became part of a divine language that we were meant to unravel, seas and rivers carried a message from the creator and, as Plotinus taught in the third century, “if we look at the stars as if they were letters, we can, if we know how to decipher this kind of writing, read the future in their configurations.”

Traveling through life as a form of reading and reading as a form of traveling through life:

“To live, then, is to travel through the book of the world, and to read, to make one’s way through a book, is to live, to travel through the world itself.”

The written word’s unique relationship to time and how reading differs from listening:

“An oral communication exists almost exclusively in the present of the listener; a written text occupies the full extension of the reader’s time. It extends visibly into the past of pages already read and into the future of those to come, much as we can see the road already traveled and intuit the one waiting before us, much as we know that a number of years lie behind us and (though there is no assurance of this) that a number of years lie ahead. Listening is largely a passive endeavor; reading is an active one, like traveling.”

The word as catalyst for action in the Judeo-Christian tradition:

“Contrary to later perceptions of the act of reading that opposed it to that of acting in the world, in the Judeo-Christian tradition words read elicited action: “Write the vision,” says God to the prophet Habakkuk,” and make it plain upon tables, that he may run who readeth it.”


Travel is a metaphor that seems to apply to life and reading alike. Life is a form of travel (“Life as Journey”) and reading is a form of travel (exploring inner worlds, progressing the path of knowledge).

One of the revolutionary influences of the book was that it shaped our interactions with the world in terms of the reading experience. We read the language of the stars. We read the signs of the weather or the signs of the times. We decipher hidden messages contained in the book of life. This makes me wonder what types of metaphors were used prior to books.

I find Manguel’s observation that “a written text occupies the full extension of the reader’s time” to be intriguing. A book is like a road that allows us to look ahead of us (pages we have yet to read) and behind us (pages past)

Once upon a time, the notion that reading led to action was a prominent idea in the Judeo-Christian tradition. In fairness, it still is a prominent notion in some sects and subcultures. This is definitely a contrast to the hyper-productivity of those who draw strong dichotomies between reading and doing. In the biblical world view, reading gives rise to doing. Manguel’s observation echoes Paul’s sentiment that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”

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