In former bulletins, we have spoken about the vital importance of Lectio divina. We are dealing here with another subject, that of spiritual reading. Different in two ways : it is not confined to Holy Scripture and does not necessarily end with a time of prayer.
Maybe, we do not always appreciate the importance of this practice for our spiritual life. The obligations of our daily life and many components we deem necessay in order to maintain the fragile and delicate balance of our life, generate the risk of forgetting it altogether.
But this feature of our life deserves attention and has a substantial impact on our spiritual itinerary. It is enough to see how much some readings have impressed the spiritual course of many saints, to be convinced about it. Among many we can mention the impact the Confessions of St Augustin and the Third Abecedarian of Francisco de Osuna on the conversion of St Therese of Avila, the importance of The Imitation of Jesus-Christ in the heart and the life of Ste Therese of Lisieux and the inner revelation Edith Stein received on reading the Life à Ste Therese of Avila.
So let’s dare to affirm it :We cannot easily satisfy ourselves with the reading and meditation of Holy Scripture alone, as central as it is, even if any spiritual reading worthy of the name will always refer to it, in one way or another. What are the many reasons behind the importance of spiritual reading ?
We are going to mention them shortly and then deal with that subject in a practical way.
Everybody has experienced how difficult it is to love what we do not know, or what we do not know well. It is true in human relationships but even more so in our relationship with God. Knowledge is ordained to love. Spiritual reading, therefore, plays an important role in our spiritual growth, which is none other than growth in faith, hope and charity. God is both All-near and All-other. If we don’t sufficiently nourish our knowledge of Him, our love will necessarily fade away and will neither grow nor be strengthened.
Furthermore, the ways of God often seem ”strange” to us (Ez.18,25) and difficult to understand (Is.55,8-11). Although it is not a question of mastering our spiritual life, nor of pretending to understand God and his Wisdom (which is infinitely beyond us), a minimum understanding of spiritual paths is very useful for our inner life. Our faith cannot grow without the contribution of our intelligence which is fed and enlightened. Let us not make the mistake to deprive ourselves of the Wisdom our Mother Church gives us through its Magisterium, through the science of the saints or through the charism God gives to one person or another, even among our contemporaries, to explain the ways of God. It is ever so profitable for us to draw humbly and gratefully from these treasures God offers us through his Church.
Fighting against thoughts
Let’s make another observation. Our intelligence is thus made that it is in permanent activity. We cannot stop this activity but we are responsible for what we feed it with. If we give it quality food centered on what is the object of our deepest desire, God… it will wander less around useless, secondary, or even harmful thoughts. This will have a very beneficial effect on our daily lives, especially, but not exclusively, on our times of prayer. Our longing for God, to grow in holiness, to hold firm in the faith, to make Jesus known and loved, will thus be nourished and fortified. We will gain more strength to fight the good fight, the fight of faith, rather than going around in circles on secondary issues. As we can read in « Hidden in Love » :
« Spiritual reading is one of the pillars of contemplative life. Without regular spiritual reading you will advance with difficulty on the path that leads to God. Any negligence in this area is immediately avenged. It becomes more difficult to live in the Presence of the Lord and prayer is filled with distractions. »
Let us also remember, that if during the time of orison itself, we find it very difficult to gather our thoughts and experience emptiness or distraction, it may be a good thing to do a little spiritual reading, in order to focus again our thoughts on God.
From a practical point of view two questions arise concerning time and choice of readings.
The question of time is obviously difficult: It depends very much on the conditions we live in but also on our constitution and the evolution of our life. Still, we can risk some considerations.
It is not necessarily a matter of reading a lot or a long time. A brief time can be fruitful: if it is well focused on a reading that corresponds to us for now, whose subject motivates our soul and can sustain its growth; and well oriented, because the purpose of these readings will never be to accumulate knowledge. Knowledge can swell with pride. Spiritual reading aims at spiritual progress. Sometimes the obstacle lies in the difficulty of limiting oneself. It is not a matter of knowing everything, or of reading every good work that exists, but of focusing on what is beneficial to our soul. Five minutes of earnest and nourishing reading is more valuable than a large quantity of books swallowed in haste. In addition, if we have a book at our fingertips, that really catches our hearts, we will find it easier to free up a little reading time in the midst of our many occupations. Of course, if we can read often, or even a little every day, it will be excellent for our inner life… Otherwise, it may be useful to find spaces in our weekly or monthly life rhythms that are reserved for this practice.
As for the choice of readings, apart from focusing on what is appropriate for us at the stage we are at (this can also be seen in a dialogue with our spiritual adviser), it is fruitful to discern in time the coloring of our soul and to draw from this particular reading, even if it means that sometimes it is necessary to revisit a work, or an author, already widely known. In short, aiming for quality rather than quantity…
May the Holy Spirit lead us all and each one of us, in such a beneficent practice and may we encourage one another in this area, for instance, by coming together and sharing on this subject from time to time …
« He who knows in truth, is the one who loves in fire ! » Ste Angèle de Foligno
Hidden In Love, extracts
Do not satisfy yourself with a speedy and superficial reading, but composedly, give enough time to the text to enlighten your intelligence. Stop for a moment when you encounter something that strikes you particularly. Allow yourself to take short breaks in order to draw within what you have just read. »
« Read with an open and humble heart, with a pure intention, in order to learn to better know and fulfill His will. Don’t read out of curiosity or to hoard knowledge and so impress others. »
« Experience teaches us that it is good to have more than one book at hand, two or even three, and to read them alternately according to one’s internal dispositions. »
To go further…
Only for today:
Find the previous articles in our “Life of prayer” series.
(publication edited by brothers and sisters of the Community of the Beatitudes – © rights reserved).