I’m deeply encouraged by St Teresa of Avila’s advice in her autobiography, Life, that reading a spiritual book is a good aid for mental prayer if one finds it hard to pray. Keeping a dedicated personal prayer time can sometimes feel like the hardest thing in the world to do on a regular basis, but I can always pick up a book and read. And not infrequently, as St Teresa also found, the reading can turn into praying.
The early Church fathers spoke highly of spiritual reading, especially, but not only, the reading of Scripture. “Endeavour to have always in your hand a pious book” counselled St Jerome. Apparently, according to St Isadore, “When we pray, we talk to God; when we read, God talks to us”.
St Augustine reached the pointy bit of his conversion at a line of scripture, at just the right moment, which he had possibly read many times before. Closer to our time St Josemaria Escriva advised his followers: “Don’t neglect your spiritual reading. Reading has made many saints.”
I do lots of spiritual reading but read lots of other things too; fiction, blogs, gardening magazines, cook books. People sometimes ask me how I find time to do it. It’s just what I have always done. I can find snippets of time through the day and sometimes an hour or more each night. Reading might be my ‘core competency’ in life, the one thing I am really best at and a habit I doubt I will ever outgrow.
Of course I know that reading about God is no substitute for a living relationship with God, any more than reading Gardening Australia is going to get my root-bound rosemary repotted, or reading an email from my husband is the same as hug.
But can God really communicate with someone through their spiritual reading?
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