Lent is traditionally a season for reflection, revision, and renewal. It’s a time when we set aside a little extra time for spiritual reading. We know that each year our Lenten e-courses, such as this year’s Practicing Spirituality with Brian McLaren, are very popular because they focus on short readings perfect for daily meditation.
Reading — whether a book, an article, or an email — is one of the ways we practice gratitude, meaning, hospitality, openness, and enthusiasm, and we commend it to you. When your reading also exercises your faith, fires your imagination, stirs your soul, and expands your circle of compassion, it becomes a sacred activity.
Here are some practices we’ve used to deepen our reading experiences.
• Before you begin, take a moment to give thanks to God for gifting the writer with the time, energy, creativity, and cooperation needed to make it possible for you to read now.
• Treat the space where you are reading as a sacred place. Try to eliminate all distractions. Turn off your phone. Close the door. Make a commitment to focus all of your divinely endowed energies of attention and imagination on the text.
• Be a good host to the author. Let go of attitudes that might limit your receptiveness. Forget what you’ve heard him or her so you don’t prejudge the reading. Don’t expect the author to live up to some standard you’ve established. Instead, just be open to the words and the messages as they unfold. Allow yourself to be surprised.
• Don’t rush. Words are meant to be savored like a delicious meal. If you hurry, you may miss some of the important nuances and the subtle textures the author has worked hard to include.
• Be patient with whatever you are reading. Sometimes you won’t get the author’s meaning right away. Maybe, as happens when you are talking with someone, you won’t realize what was meant until you think about it later. If so, go back and reread that section. There’s no rule that you only get one pass through the pages!
• Have a conversation with the author as you read. Underline or save passages that catch your fancy. Or, if you are reading a borrowed book or a library copy, copy favorite phrases into a notebook. Consider your underlines and notes as the equivalents of standing ovations at a musical performance. Know that a heavily notated book is one that you have taken to heart.
• As you read, notice and relish all the ways that the text speaks directly to you. It may remind you of something you are feeling, some need or yearning. More often than not, God gives us things to read at just the right time to challenge or comfort us.
• Pause periodically and allow yourself a moment of reverie. Let your senses come alive after reading a particularly apt description. Harvest the memories a turn of a story brings to mind. See if you identify with what the author or a character is feeling.
• The writings of religious and spiritual teachers, biographies of admirable people, even many novels are good medicine for our souls. They give us the courage to face the truth about ourselves, including any darkness within us, and to endure pain, suffering, and death. Consciously seek out moral mentors in your reading. Let their experiences become a source of inspiration and healing for you.
• Reading is such a joy. Spread that joy around. Send a letter via the publisher to the author or the editor. Write a mini-review and post it where the book is described at one of the online bookstores such as Amazon.com, BarnesandNoble.com, or Borders.com.
• Finally, when you get together with people, talk about what you are reading. Demonstrate your love by passing on a book or sharing an article that is special to you. One of the very best ways to make reading sacred is to use it to create deeper connections with your family, friends, and community.