Spiritual Practice Techniques: Devotional Reading and Listening

This is the fourth in an occasional series on spiritual practice techniques.
Devotional reading is intended to help keep your mind and your heart focused on matters of Ultimate importance.
It is not intended for education, although you will certainly learn when you do it. It is not intended as worship, although it will move you to worship. It will not make the world a better place, although you will be inspired to work for peace and justice and sustainability.
Read the Bible every day and the words of Moses, Isaiah, Jesus, and Paul will be with you constantly. Read the Quran every day and Muhammad will speak to you. The principle is the same no matter what your religion. How many people do you know who pour over the pages of Entertainment Weekly and never miss an episode of TMZ? They keep the world of celebrities constantly on their minds and in their hearts. Surely we can show the same level of dedication to our faith.
Unitarian Universalists have many choices, including the Bible. You can go a long way with the basics – the works of Emerson, Thoreau, and Channing. Blogger Boston Unitarian offers regular excerpts from the Unitarians of the 19th century – you could do far worse than to use his blog for your daily readings. If you prefer East to West or contemporary to classic, try Thich Nhat Hanh.
For Pagans the obvious choices are the myths and lore from which we get much of our knowledge of our gods and goddesses. The Norse Edda, the Welsh Mabinogion, and the Greek and Roman classic mythologies all make good devotional reading. Yes, the Mabinogion was Christianized by the monks who first wrote it down, but re-Paganizing it as you read isn’t difficult. The same holds true for the Arthurian legends.
Don’t overlook contemporary fiction. I came across Within The Hollow Hills (1994 – edited by John Matthews) in a used book store earlier this year and found it to be as good at centering and focusing my attention as any of the ancient works.
There is a ton of magical fiction on the market in the Urban Fantasy genre. I find much of it enjoyable – some of it actually approaches devotional status. The question (that only you can answer for yourself) is whether a particular book or author or series motivates you to do things that actually help your practice (such as meditating or doing spell work or energy work), or whether it’s just magical porn.
I’ve come late to the world of podcasting, but there are many good Pagan podcasts and several of them make for good devotional listening. Thorn Coyle’s Elemental Castings and OBOD/Damh the Bard’s DruidCast are my favorites. TommyElf’s From the Edge of the Circle is thought-provoking, and while Shhh! There are Pagans in Texas! hasn’t reached devotional status yet, I listen to it regularly for the community connections in the DFW area. I should also mention the CUUPS Podcast, with the disclosure that my Spiritual Practice Seminar was the main content of Episode 8.
Choose carefully, though – I’ve come across quite a few Pagan podcasts that remind me of morning drive radio shows. You don’t have to be serious all the time, but I didn’t like juvenile humor when I was a juvenile. If you like that you’re welcome to it, but don’t expect it to provide the benefits of deeper, more spiritual material.
Listening to music can be very devotional – my Baptist father used to sing hymns virtually non-stop. Fortunately, the quality of Pagan music is finally catching up with its enthusiasm. My current favorites are Damh the Bard for traditional folk/acoustic, Wendy Rule for meditative/ethereal, and Pandemonaeon for what they call “folk metal” and I call good Pagan rock.
There are many many options for devotional reading and listening. Find something that appeals to you, something that reminds you of your connection to the Divine, to our ancestors, to the natural world, and to all of Life. And then make it a daily part of your life.

About John Beckett

I grew up in Tennessee with the woods right outside my back door. Wandering through them gave me a sense of connection to Nature and to a certain Forest God. I’m a Druid graduate of the Order of Bards, Ovates and Druids, the Coordinating Officer of the Denton Covenant of Unitarian Universalist Pagans and a former Vice President of CUUPS Continental. I’ve been writing, speaking, teaching, and leading public rituals for the past eleven years. I live in the Dallas – Fort Worth area and I earn my keep as an engineer.


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