Reflecting in the Stillness Between Words
“The white spaces between words are more important that the text because they give you time to think about what you’ve read.” — Fred Rogers
Some of us have resolved to read more this year.
I read several different kinds of books. Some books I read as quickly as I can, while others I read slowly.
Some books are for breaking open and reading while they are still warm, like freshly baked bread. I enjoy detective stories. There are several authors I follow and read everything they publish. Reading them is not primarily about gaining new information, but about continuing the story. I want to hear what happens next.
There are times when I stay up late at night reading so I can finish one of these books.
Other books I read to listen and reflect. These books are as much about the stillness between words as the words themselves.
The books with stillness between words often shape the way I understand myself and the world around me.
My challenge is to read them slowly enough to grasp their meaning while not allowing myself to get distracted. I need to take time to soak in what they have to say without getting captivated by the next book, and the next.
Each kind of book, and each kind of reading, has its own rewards. I enjoy running the words of a quick read through my mind, experiencing their flavors and aromas. There is a different kind of joy in reading slowly and returning to read again and again.
Whether we are reading quickly or slowly, whether we recognize it or not, we reflect and think in the stillness between words.
Taking time to read is one of life’s great gifts.
Paying Attention to the Stillness Between Words
There is a contemplative practice which helps me listen to the stillness between words.
It is called lectio divina, which is Latin for “holy reading” or “sacred reading.”
What we read does not make our reading holy or sacred. It is about our understanding of what the text has to say to us today.
We often read as a way to gain information or grasp a particular text, researching things to find answers we want. Most of us Google things or check Wikipedia, deciding what we want to know and setting out to find them. We read wanting to know the facts and ideas which are included in the text.
Our approach to reading shapes what we learn.
Lectio divina, rather than a way to master a particular text, is how we allow a text to master us. It is reading not to gain specific facts or information, but to hear what the text has to say to me today. Lectio divina describes reading which recognizes words are a way of deep communication.
It usually takes us time and repetition to listen well. We need to slow ourselves down, quiet our internal drive to find an answer, and become open to what is there. Lectio divina is about breathing deeply, being patient, and listening to what is in the stillness.
Lectio divina works well with short texts of a sentence or so. I begin by quieting myself, calming my breathing, relaxing, and releasing the thoughts and concerns which often fill my mind. Then I read a text slowly and calmly. I allow a text to rest with me for a couple of minutes, and then read it again.
How We Listen to the Stillness Between Words
We read a text several times with enough of time for reflection and openness in the stillness between words. There are three questions which help me reflect.
The first question we ask ourselves is What is the word or phrase in this text which captures my attention? When I practice lectio divina with other people, we take some time to share the word or phrase which speaks to us. We do not comment beyond that.
Reading the text again, we ask another question: Where do we see ourselves in this text? We take some time to reflect on how we relate to the text, or how we might experience ourselves participating in the story. Again, if I am with other people we take time to share without commenting on anyone else’s insights.
We read the text again once or twice, and ask the third question: Where is this text drawing us? I generally hear a suggestion or a prompting to take a particular action, or to stop taking some action, or to move in a certain direction. There may be a challenge with which we have been struggling, even if we have not acknowledged it. Again, there is an opportunity to share without trying to verify or control what anyone is hearing from a given text.
Appreciating the Stillness Between Words
Some of us find it challenging to spend much time in the stillness between words, thinking about what we read.
We may be accustomed to absorbing as much material as we can, focusing on numbers or analyzing intellectually. There are times when that kind of reading is helpful. Sometimes, though, we read more slowly and reflectively.
Sometimes we pay more attention to the words and other times to the stillness between words.
The stillness between words is our opportunity to reflect on what we have read. The white spaces give us time to think about what the words are telling us.
Our reflection is not about assessing or evaluating what we have read. We are not writing a book review or report. Reflection is an opportunity for us to pay attention to what we have read. We listen for the truths our reading has for with us.
Stillness between words gives our hearts and minds opportunities to work together.
When will we take time to listen to the stillness between words today?
How can we practice reflecting in the stillness between words this week?
[Image by Kanko*]
Greg Richardson is a spiritual life mentor and coach in Southern California. He has served as an assistant district attorney, an associate university professor, and is a lay Oblate with New Camaldoli Hermitage near Big Sur, California. Greg’s website is StrategicMonk.com and his email address is StrategicMonk@gmail.com.