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On Faith: The spirituality of reading

May 11, 2012|By Deborah Barrett

In Zen meditation, we sometimes use a sentence or a phrase as part of meditation. The passage is first studied for its ordinary intellectual meaning. Next, it becomes a question for meditation: "What meaning does this have for my life?"

It is important not to think directly about the response, but to simply allow the question or passage to come up gently now and then during meditation, while continuing to practice awareness of the breath and the body posture. "Being with" the passage in this way allows deeper meanings and insights to emerge.

A similar practice in the Christian tradition is lectio divina, Latin for "divine reading." In this method of prayer, a Biblical passage is used. The divine reading has four steps: read, meditate, pray, contemplate.


It is compared to "feasting on the Word:" the reading is taking a bite, the meditation is chewing on it, the prayer is savoring its essence and the contemplation is its digestion and becoming part of the body.

Taking time to read slowly, reflect and absorb is critical if the words are to become our own. Too often, we search for truth in other people's ideas, rather than spending the time and energy to truly understand our own experience and to trust that wisdom.

Zen is radical in pointing practitioners to their own experience in meditation (on the cushion and in daily life). Zen practice emphasizes no dependence on words and letters, a direct pointing to the mind and seeing into one's own nature.

Each summer for the past 14 years, the Zen Center has engaged in a Summer Book Study. We choose one book to read slowly, to use for reflection and meditation, and to discuss as a community. This year's choice is "Warm Smiles from Cold Mountains: Dharma Talks on Zen Meditation" by American Zen teacher Reb Anderson.

Spiritual reading of any kind is a practice that should help us appreciate the value of our everyday lives.

DEBORAH BARRETT is a counselor, minister and teacher at the Zen Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.

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