A Spirituality of Reading

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This link thanks to Neil, gives some insight to the thought about the spirituality of reading. I think there is much here that may inspire hope for those who feel hopelessly left out of the contemplative world. Perhaps more later.

Reading with New Eyes
Nancy Malone, OSU (Ursuline Sisters)

I suspect that lots of people who love reading have a sense there is something spiritual about it. That was my hunch when I started thinking about "a spirituality of reading." The hunch was based on two simple observations. One, that the acts of reading and of contemplation share many of the same characteristics: Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves - body, mind, and hearts - engaged. And two, that reading scripture and the lives of the saints played a significant part in the conversions of St. Augustine and St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits. I wanted to explore the spiritual value to be found not so much in reading "holy books," however, but in good books of all kinds - novels, poetry, biography, history, short stories.

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I try to mix it up. I'm now reading Fr. Dubay's The Evidential Power of Beauty, and it's a real eye-opener.

Hmmm...interesting. I can see how literature (and art in general) gives us new eyes to see, but I'm always skeptical of having the crutch of relying on defamiliarization to lean on. After all, somebody's gotta live in Manhattan, Kansas and not the island of Manhattan.

Viktor Shklovsky wrote that "Habit devours objects, clothes, furniture, one's wife and the fear of war... art exists to help us recover the sensation of life."

But I understand that art is a gift from God and one shouldn't take it lightly. In fact, I have that book the Barrister is reading and haven't read it. Maybe I should.

Hm. I was expecting something more... insightful, maybe, in the article. But maybe that "Anthony Bloom" whopper came too early for me to make a fair assessment of the thesis.

I also don't think that the article was tremendously insightful. To be sure, reading of a certain sort can "move us to greater understanding and acceptance of the human condition," but I don't quite think that Sr. Malone really did the work necessary to get us to the Bernard Lonergan quote about loving in an "unrestricted fashion." I will forgive anyone, though, for accidentally dropping the name of the late Bishop of Sourouzh in the middle of a sentence.

But the article does touch on something very important. Reading "good books of all kinds - novels, poetry, biography, history, short stories," requires both attentiveness, "in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves - body, mind, and hearts - engaged," and asceticism, for in reading we must be "open to a way of being in the world different from our own."

The religious life also requires a high degree of attentiveness and asceticism. I think that we can say that attentiveness and asceticism, perhaps apart from reading, are not very easily cultivated in a present-day America of flashing lights and shouting voices. This might be a much bigger problem than any of us realize. And it might mean that reading has an unnoticed theological importance.



Dear Tom,

Strange, I thought the association of the skills of reading and those of contemplative prayer were sufficiently insightful. So much so that it should give the vast majority of the St. Blogs audience good hope that they have the basic skills and disciplines necessary, now they need to cultivate the habits and seek the grace.

But different eyes see different light according to God's grace.




Put that way, I suppose it's not so bad for a short magazine article. Perhaps I was hoping for an excuse to buy more books. In any case, the author failed to whet my appetite for her book.

So is there more than a superficial similarity between reading and contemplation? Is the association stronger than that between contemplation and, say, athletics, or camping, or cooking, or brewing beer? (Coming soon: The Spirituality of Texas Hold 'Em.)

Dear Tom,

I don't know, and I suppose the questions were rhetorical anyhow. However, after I've has exposure to the book-length argument I'll let you know if I think she's made a case.



Can anything good come for Sojourners? *grin* (just a joke).



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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on December 21, 2004 7:45 AM.

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