Spiritual Reading--The Hammer


I picked up Fr. Raphael Simon's Hammer and Fire again last night and it hit me right between the eyes--this is one of those books that it would be easier to blank out what you would prefer not to read again rather than to highlight and comment on all the good points that are being made.

from Hammer and Fire
Fr. Raphael Simon O.C.S.O.

All are invited to union with God. This invitation is applied to the individual whenever he or she reads of hears it, or feels within the attraction of Holy Spirit. Day laborer, machinist, unlettered and learned, children, the aged, single and married persons are all called to holiness. The Father created the universe and keeps it in existence for this purpose, that all may have the opportunity to be united to Himself.

The entire Universe as personal invitation to enjoy the companionship of God. The stars in their courses, the waters in the ocean, and all the created myriad of living things praise Him in their being and call to Him from where they are. More, they call us to Him, constant reminders of His benevolence and kindness, His mercy and grace.

A little later:

from "Hammer: Reading the Scripture"

Half the battle of life--the spiritual life--consists in persevering in spiritual reading. We are constantly subjected to impressions from the world through what we see, hear and read. We are continuously influenced too by our temperament and imagination, which tend to make our thoughts subjective and misleading. We need daily contact with a source of divine truth, and this we have through spiritual reading. Through it we enter into an atmosphere of truth and reality in which the proper perspective on values is maintained and this affects our judgments, desires, decisions, and conduct.

Without spiritual reading, prayer becomes empty and unfruitful, for spiritual reading supplies matter for our prayer. It reawakens memories and recollections, deepens true impressions, corrects errors, and extends our vision. While we continue to do daily spiritual reading, the relish for it increase; but when we let it drop out of our daily life it becomes distasteful, and only be repeated efforts do we recover its enjoyment.

The hammer, then, is spiritual reading. And the reading of spiritual books is a matter not too many are versed in. Most, it seems, attempt spiritual reading in the same way they read a novel or a biography--to get to the point. What does this author have to say to me that I can take away and make a better life? Come on, get to the point.

But often the point of spiritual reading is not to get to the point. That is, spiritual reading, properly conducted teaches patience and rewards consistency in small amounts. While it is laudable to "read the Bible in a year" every year, it is not necessarily salutary. It isn't as though this exercise is a kind of spiritual aerobics that makes us fitter for battle on the spiritual plane. Reading the Bible in a year helps us only inasmuch as we internalize what the Bible has to say. Therefore the wisdom of the church that sets up a three-year Sunday lectionary just to get us through the Gospels.

In spiritual reading, it is not quantity so much as it is quality. I am not a daily devotional person--I've discovered that because even the very best of daily devotionals leaves me rather cold and disconnected. However, a book, read daily, that has a different kind of continuity, helps immeasurably. Taking up The Ascent of Mount Carmel or The Dark Night of the Soul and reading it one paragraph at a time gives me much to reflect on and, God willing, eventually to pray about.

I can read the entire Gospel of Mark in about an hour. However, how much better to spend that hour with a single verse if it should speak to me.

Spiritual reading takes time--usually a lot of time. Consider reading St. Thomas Aquinas as spiritual reading. Say one took the Summa as one's text. It would seem to me that one would not finish even one article in a session. Properly conducted and properly focused and considering the Summa as a prayer text, you might actually read through the question itself and think through the implications of it and reflect on what scripture has to say about it. In an hour you would only begin to pierce the shell of the question.

Now, the Summa may not be everyone's cup of tea, nor might it be the best text for many for reflection and spiritual reading--but it is a text for some, and that is the second aspect of spiritual reading--each person must choose to listen to God as God has seen fit to speak to that person. So for some the Summa would not make good fodder for prayer. Personally, I find many non-Catholic sources rich material for reflection. I feel particularly drawn to certain Quaker and Shaker writers. George Fox, William Penn, and John Woolman have stocked my spiritual reading for years, as have countless Catholic writers--the Carmeliets, Merton, Day, de Mello, St. Catherine of Siena, Julian of Norwich, Richard Rolle, Walter HIlton, The Cloud of Unknowing, The Imitation of Christ, and so on. But in the past I have made the mistake I charge many with. I've read these books as though I needed to get to some point in them, that with swift reading I would find the point and move on. Such reading is a grave mistake in the conduct of spiritual reading.

And this is one reason why it is a discipline any literate person can conduct, no matter how unappealing he or she may find reading. You don't have to read much and reading isn't really the point. The faculties used in reading are employed, but the point is one must also engage the faculties more commonly used in listening. The reading should be conducted in much the same way as the reading from Mass--one should hear, deep down inside, all that is said in the course of the reading. The reading then is a conversation with an author and ultimately and conversation past the author to the Author of all. That is, the good spiritual writer, following the example of the Blessed Mother, directs our attention to God, Father, Son, and Spirit. He does not occupy us with himself, but rather conducts us and introduces us to the Lord of All in such a way as we can begin to speak without uncomfortable pauses and uncertainties. This takes time and a willingness to read as though listening. We must hear what is being said and talk to God about what we hear.

(Note: The book is available through Zaccheus Press, and if it follows true to form, it may be distributed by Ignatius Press as well. Beautiful, well made, and nicely put together--the book will reward careful reading. It would seem to be the kind of book that would make, for a certain kind of person, a very rewarding spiritual reading experience.

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This page contains a single entry by Steven Riddle published on September 25, 2006 9:11 AM.

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