On Faith: The spirituality of reading

May 11, 2012|By Deborah Barrett

Beach reading, professional journals, vacation reading, classics, the Daily Pilot — our pile of things to read is stacked high.

Those with electronic reading devices may not have the physical clutter, but the challenge to find time to read is the same. Besides entertainment, professional development or keeping up with the news, reading may also be a vital spiritual practice.

Many Americans describe themselves as "spiritual" rather than "religious," emphasizing a preference for personal experience and responsibility over affiliation with a religious organization. Sometimes people do not feel especially drawn to meditation or prayer.


Cultivating a practice of spiritual reading is one easy but effective way to nourish mind and spirit. For those who are readers, it builds on an already established interest and habit, but adds a dimension that is sometimes missing.

One approach is to select books that are spiritual classics or have an inspirational theme. A good start might be to peruse interfaith lists such as HarperCollins' "100 Best Spiritual Books of the Century." The offerings include the "AA Big Book," "Black Elk Speaks," "Journal of a Soul" by Pope John XXIII, "Mystical Dimensions of Islam" and "the Lord of the Rings."

For those who prefer books from a particular tradition, "25 Books Every Christian Should Read," "A Catholic Lifetime Reading Plan" or "Top 100 Jewish Books" may be stimulating. For even more specific recommendations, religious organizations often have libraries or websites with suggestions. The Zen Center of Orange County's "Top Ten Zen Books" is at And, of course, good selections may also include books that are uplifting even if they are not considered religious or spiritual.

Another approach is to choose the type of book that can be read meditatively each day. Ideally, this is a book that lends itself to being read in small sections, just a few paragraphs or pages.

This quiet and comfortable reading, followed by reflection, is its own spiritual practice. It is important to read only a small amount and to allow unrushed time for reflection — to thoroughly absorb the passage. It can be done for five to 20 minutes each day.

This connection with the bigger picture — which some people might describe as the ultimate meaning of one's life, God or a higher power — is transformative. It provides focus and an increased ability to apply spiritual values to daily endeavors and challenges.

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