October 9, 2012

Reading as Spiritual Discipline

I find myself in strong agreement with Deborah Smith Douglas, writing in Christian Century, an article titled "Saved by Fiction: Reading as a Christian Practice."   Perhaps these excerpts will cause you to link to and read the entire article.

Over the course of my life, I have taken on all manner of spiritual practices, from now-I-lay-me-down-to-sleep to centering prayer. I have prayed with the Psalms, with the rosary, with icons. I have picked up practices and put them down. Some still discipline and nourish my praying life.
But of all the spiritual disciplines I have ever attempted, the habit of steady reading has helped me most and carried me farthest. Of course, reading scripture has been indispensable. But reading fiction—classics of world literature, fairy tales and Greek myths, science fiction and detective novels—has done more to baptize my imagination, inform my faith and strengthen my courage than all the prayer techniques in the world.
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 In response to a woman who declared that fairy tales were bad for children because they frighten them, G. K. Chesterton sensibly pointed out that children are already frightened. Children know there are dragons in the world; what fairy tales give them is someone to kill the dragon. 
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 Even reading detective novels can be a spiritual discipline. The mysteries I read voraciously now—like the fairy tales I read as a child—remind me to pay attention, seek the truth, watch for what lies hidden beneath the surface.