I have always been a passionate reader. An early childhood memory is of me lugging home as many books as I could check out on my public library card, hoarding the biggest ones like treasures. It wasn’t long before my habit was common knowledge; the librarians would wink at each other when I came in.
I read passionately because in many ways, as a child, I was seeking an escape from reality. In my daily life, I was awkward and helpless, a shy brown girl from Brooklyn who felt powerless to change anything about her circumstances. But in books, everything changed: I could live a thousand different lives, fall in love, say witty things and take risks I would never have dared in real life. By losing myself in story, I came into breathless contact with the infinite and electrifying universe of possibility.
As I grew older, my experience of reading sharpened and evolved. I learned to read critically and dispassionately, pulling a text apart for information. I learned to read as a way of declaring myself, as an act of protest and solidarity. It was still passionate reading, but it was broader and somehow more powerful. I was no longer a child, longing to escape from reality and to lose myself through the act of reading. As an adult, I read in order to enter and engage with reality and myself more fully, emerging a more active participant in the world around me.
In recent years, I think the greatest leap in my evolution as a reader has come out of my practice of lectio divina (spiritual reading). In the Rule of Benedict, about four hours of the day are prescribed for the ancient practice of lectio, prayerful and meditative reading of Scripture. Lectio invokes awareness of the resonant inner-self where the Spirit and word are in deepest communion, the tender place within. All readers are inherently aware of this soulful place that flutters into life, perhaps by a particularly beautiful or meaningful phrase or image, a gut-level “oh!” or “ah!” lighting into sudden consciousness. But in lectio, these epiphanies are consciously cultivated. The reader doesn’t wait for serendipity, but disciplines the mind, heart and spirit to an alert responsiveness and reads in fresh expectation of transformation.
Since I began practicing lectio more diligently, I’ve noticed that its effects bleed into other reading. For instance, I cannot read the newspaper the way I used to. There are times when I’m reading a story of some distant or near place, and my soul flutters awake – begging me to pay attention. The newspaper becomes a vehicle then for divine encounter. As I read of mudslides in Washington or the missing passengers of Malaysian Flight 370, I cannot pass by easily. I pause and read with all my heart, exploring a larger conversation: what does God say to me through the stories of my world? How am I being called to respond?
Two weekends ago, the sojourners facilitated a Lenten retreat at the monastery. During the afternoon session, we practiced what I call newspaper lectio. Instead of using Scripture, we explored a way of reading the paper with our hearts, listening deeply to what the world was telling us through it, and praying together. In creating the format for this group exercise, I was reminded that while reading can be a deeply personal exercise it also calls us forth. It may be unorthodox, but I find that reading the newspaper with the sacred attention of lectio disciplines me to face the problems of the world at their deepest level: in relation to God.
Follow this link to read Rosy’s earlier posts: Living in Community – A Benedictine Sojourner’s Journey