Spiritual reading II

Spiritual Reading II
In his comprehensive work on Carmelite Spirituality, Fr. Marie-Eugene, O.C.D., wrote that our love of God will cause us to “study revealed truth in order to fathom it; will pick up all the analogies that interpret it; the references that explain it, the authorized commentaries that clarify it, so as to enter still further into the truth itself and draw out food for faith and deeper love.” (I Want to See God, p. 216). I think this passage richly captures the reasons we should be regularly engaged in spiritual reading.

Which books are best for spiritual reading? Fr. Marie-Eugene gives us a guiding principle for the selection of spiritual reading material: “the choice of reading must be inspired by this fundamental truth, namely, that all spiritual knowledge is contained in Christ and has been revealed to us in Him.” The Bible, of course, is the book of Revelation, so it takes first place amongst all books. Commentaries on the various books of the Bible, as well as introductions to Scripture reading, such as Peter Kreeft’s “You Can Understand the Bible,” are helpful aids to comprehending and mining the treasures of the Bible.

Another guide for the selection of spiritual reading materials is expressed by the single word “saint”. As a general rule any book written by a saint is a wise choice. The classic spiritual works by saints include St. Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castles, St. John on the Cross’s The Ascent of Mount Carmel, and St. Therese’s Story of a Soul. In her autobiography, The Book of Her Life, St. Teresa tells of the decisive influence St. Augustine’s Confessions had on her spiritual life.

A final aid to the selection of spiritual books is the imprimatur and nihil obstat. The Nihil Obstat and Imprimatur are official declarations that the book is free of doctrinal error. These declarations are found in the very first pages of the book, usually on the same page as the publishers’ information, and before any preface, forward, or table of contents.

“Tremendous is the influence of reading in the development of the spiritual life,” says Fr. Marie-Eugene, “we can assert that the first obstacle to be overcome in the way of popularizing today the spiritual life is the religious ignorance of our time.”

Spiritual Reading

Spiritual reading is not like our everyday casual reading for worldly information, where our eyes move rapidly over the words in a sentence, line after line. Rather, spiritual reading is listening to the Word of God. Hence, we need to use our heart, not just our mind, when reading spiritually. We should regularly engage in the three forms of spiritual reading: (1) lectio continua, (2) studious reading, and (3) lectio divina.

Lectio continua means “continuous reading” of Scripture, a complete reading of the whole Bible, one book after the other. Spiritual writer Louis Bouyer, in his book, Introduction to Spirituality, calls this way of reading “the foundation on which all the rest is to be built up.” This is because the Word of God, as given to us in the Bible, is a whole world, requiring knowledge of the whole in order to comprehend the parts. So, one starts with Genesis, the first book of the Bible; or as Bouyer suggests, one can be guided by liturgical tradition, starting with Exodus during Lent, the Acts of the Apostles during the Easter season, or Isaiah during the Christmas season.

Studious reading refers to reading for background information, for context, and for greater comprehension of the truths of faith found in Scripture. Any writing that sheds light on the Scripture is suitable for studious reading. The Catechism, or a book on Jewish culture and traditions at the time of Christ, or books by the saints would all be excellent examples of the types of books to read for studious reading.

Lectio divinia is perhaps the most familiar method of reading Scripture. It differs from lectio continua where we read to get the big picture; lectio divinia is prayerful reading, listening to God speak to us through the written word. Bouyer says it is “the basic food” or “the basic element of all spirituality” because “true lectio divina leads forthwith to prayer.” The idea here is to read short sections of Scripture, slowly, to discover what God is trying to tell us on any given day. When a passage grabs our attention, we stop, re-read the passage, and memorize it, allowing it to become part of our being, asking how it applies to our life. “Apply yourself wholly to the text, and apply its matter wholly to yourself.”