Spiritual reading is reading with an inner attentiveness to the movement of God’s Spirit in our outer and inner lives. With that attentiveness, we will allow God to read us and to explain to us what we are truly about–Henri Nouwen
Guido of Arezzo, a Benedictine monk in 11th Century Italy, defines spiritual reading as “a sustained receptivity to a beauty not yet realized.” James Finley, a former monk and now a contemplative practitioner and clinical psychologist, says that “spiritual reading creates an interior stance that lowers our resistance to spiritual awakening.” Finley further says, that on an experiential level, spiritual reading is taking a biblical text and allowing it to initiate an interior dialogue between you and God that leads you to a deepening realization of God’s infinite love. What exactly might this look like? Here is how I like to approach spiritual reading as Finley describes it.
A Spiritual Reading Exercise
For me, spiritual reading requires that I first get in a proper posture, mentally and physically. This usually means a place of solitude, a comfortable chair, and soft light. Stilling my monkey mind may require some breathing exercises or reciting the Lord’s Prayer or the Jesus Prayer several times.
I then select a biblical text. I’ve found that the Psalms and Jesus’ Parables best facilitate a dialogue with God. I slowly read the text to myself, then out loud, several times. Sometimes even in different translations to see which one resonates the most with me in the moment. I find, that if I place myself into the text, God will use the text to initiate an inner conversation and that He will wait for my response.
Here is how it might work with the Story of the Prodigal Son. I imagine the son walking down the road towards his father’s house rehearsing his lines on why he should be allowed back into the house and hoping his father would be gracious. I imagine the father’s loving, forgiving, and accepting response, even before the son has a chance to deliver his rehearsed speech. This passage touches on my own brokenness. I say to God that I want this experience, but I can’t get past what I did, or what others did to me. I say God, help me out here. I hear God saying that His response to my brokenness is unconditional love, forgiveness, and healing. I find that a prayer usually arises as the dialogue continues.
I might make some notes from this conversation in the margin of my Bible. I pick out one word or phrase from the text or my notes that spoke to me, and I write it on a piece of paper and fold it several times. I put it into my right pants pocket, because I reach into that pocket several times a day for my keys. Each time I feel that piece of paper I am reminded to reflect further on that word, phrase, or passage. Or, I might place it in my left shirt pocket, next to my heart. Then in the business of the day when I get disgruntled or annoyed, I place my hand on my pocket. I ask myself, “does this event or person really have authority over me, and does my slippage really diminish God’s love from me?” The calming effect is palpable.
It is amazing what this practice will do if you repeat it every day. You will find that the habitual practice of spiritual reading becomes its own reward.
Posted on February 18, 2020