Spiritual Practice of Reading
Building a healthy spiritual practice of reading is about more than loving to read.
I have loved to read since I learned how to do it. Reading teaches me about the magic and power of words.
One of my wife’s greatest fears is needing to wait somewhere with nothing to read.
It is ironic how our developing contemplative life strengthens our love for words and reading. A growing appreciation for contemplation and stillness complements how we value words. Reading is a combination of the words and the space between them.
Covering as many pages as I can in as little time as possible is not essential to a spiritual practice of reading. Some of the books I enjoy reading are part of my spiritual practice of reading, but I try to savor them. There is an intense sadness in coming to the end of a good book, like leaving after visiting a close friend.
This practice is not exactly the same as sacred reading or lectio divina. It is not about trying to keep up with all the new books about spiritual life being published all the time.
There are people who see me for guidance and direction in spiritual life. We sometimes choose to read books and talk about them together. That is a particularly enjoyable spiritual practice.
I have been reflecting recently about how to develop my practice of reading in 2021. Reading while we stayed at home this year, I am looking for a way to continue to strengthen my reading practice.
Watching a news story about independent bookstores, I began to wonder if there were a way I could help.
It got me thinking about where I would like my reading practice to take me over the next year.
A Spiritual Practice of Reading for the New Year
I started thinking about my spiritual reading while contemplating what I would like to read on Christmas Eve.
Several years ago my wife and I began following a Christmas practice from Iceland. Our Christmas Eve, which begins as early that day as we can, focuses on going to bed with a new book and some well-chosen chocolate. I chose a book a couple of weeks before.
The book I decided to read was written by an author with whom I was familiar. I have read several of her books, but she has written a number of books I have not yet read.
The news story about independent bookstores and the book I had selected, at an independent bookstore, danced together in my head. I thought of my friend Byron, who runs Hearts & Minds bookstore with his wife Beth in Pennsylvania. When I emailed Byron about my idea he was excited to help.
The plan for my spiritual practice of reading is to order two or three books by my chosen author from Byron and Beth each month. I am sure they will be happy to help me select books each month. There will be plenty of choices for me to read during the next 12 months. By the end of next year, I will have read more of what Karen Armstrong has written.
My spiritual practice of reading for next year will also help me reflect on how I hope to practice reading in 2022.
The books I choose to read next year are not a spiritual practice because their subject is spiritual life, though it is, It is not a spiritual practice of reading because I read every day, though I might.
Spiritual life flows through and around my spiritual practice of reading.
Building a Spiritual Practice of Reading
I believe my spiritual practice of reading is stronger because I enjoy reading. Spiritual life is not a matter of doing what we find challenging because it builds character. For me, spiritual life flows through me because the people and things I love spark it in me.
We need to be able to experience spiritual life in what we love. Too many of us have been forced to choose between what we love and what we believe is spiritual. I believe that is a false dichotomy.
There are certainly times when I need to spend time doing things other than reading. At the same time, my spiritual practice of reading pours life into my soul when I need it.
Some of the greatest insights and most powerful questions I have even experienced came to me through reading. Reading has shaped me, my mind and my heart, in ways beyond my imagination. It introduces me to new friends and new ideas, and helps me work through the tangled knots of problems.
Reading is a way to listen to people who may have lived hundreds of years ago or thousands of miles away.
Steps Toward a Spiritual Practice of Reading
Reading is something I enjoy doing. I want to find more time to read and more ways to practice it.
There are so many books to read by so many people about so many subjects. As I begin, it helps me to focus on a particular writer or topic, at least for the next year.
One significant step for me is spending time with other people who encourage me. You can always talk to me if you would like to build a spiritual practice of reading.
Each of us needs to find more practices which strengthen spiritual life within us and in the world around us. The more time we spend practicing our way into spiritual life, the stronger our practices will become.
Some of us might want to look through the books we have which we have not read to develop our practice for next year. Those books can lead us to new books to read this year and next year.
Each step we take can be a step toward a spiritual practice.
How will we begin a spiritual practice of reading today?
Where will a spiritual practice of reading help us go during the next year?
[Image by Kaarina Dillabough]
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.