Confessions of a Book Worm
I adore books. I am often at my happiest reading, researching, studying, pondering; or curled up escaping from my own world for a while. Study and rest through books are both great gifts, and whilst I may need to tweak the emphasis of one over the other from time to time, there is nothing wrong with loving the rustle of paper.
However, since Lent is a time of confession and simplification: I realise I am guilty of a kind of spiritual flirtation.
I frequently fall into the habit of scanning and hunting through paragraphs, chasing a meaning I can clutch to myself. I can have times where I race through my reading pile as a consumer, quick to come to a critical summation of an author’s central point without properly reading the whole, or dismissing a work as interesting in an intellectual sense but not pertinent to me as Wisdom that I need in my life right now.
The same impulse drives me to double up on my spiritual practices: Lectio Divina with the Psalms, followed by a thought for the day from a recognised ‘heavyweight’ author, followed by reading a couple of blogs, followed by flitting to a couple of ‘inspirational’ Facebook sites, followed by reading my current ‘Christian’ book, followed by studying my current ‘non- Christian authored but pertinent to spirituality and the arts’ book, followed by a period of intercession…. Did I really write ‘double up’?
How is it possible to discern God in all of that at once?!
My last sleight of hand is to make it seem to myself as if I am doing spiritual ‘work’, filling a journal with my reflections and practicing creative writing, when actually all I am doing is copying out copious numbers of quotes with absolutely no pause or application at all.
This is spiritual tourism at its worst: an unthinking regurgitation of the supposedly sacred in the pretence of practicing personal holiness.
(And yes, I get angry at myself for doing it.)
As in all consumerism, this relentless pursuit of the ineffable is driven by anxiety, in turn driven by unacknowledged or repressed desire. In my case, I am eager to learn, but when that eagerness arises from a shadow place, I know I have fallen into a muddle-headed way of approaching my God.
The heart-breaking fact of the matter is that I do ‘game play’ even whilst calling myself a contemplative.
And it is not as if I do not know the corrective: that the Grace I seek is to be found in the here and now.
Stop the merry-go-round, you do want to get off.
Bow down, this moment, you are on holy ground.
Your Beloved beckons.
Loving-kindness and Rest await you.
There are as many methods of spiritual ‘stopping’ as there are people, but the method I have long been attracted to is Centering Prayer (which I came to via Thomas Keating). Practicing this kind of prayer on a daily basis recognises that I need the grounding such an approach gives. I am only too aware that I will be unable to create honestly with a camera or pen in my hand without such rootedness. For someone who has spent the vast majority of the last year in bed, in one place, it’s ironic that I need to be stilled. But to heal the skittering effect of pain, and its accompanying friends grief and frustration, I have come to accept such a calming, stabilising, focussing measure is very much required.
This acceptance is all part of the great movement of Reconciliation within me: am I willing to become present to God in the circumstance in which I find myself? Am I willing to enter into this circumstance and welcome whatever Wisdom God may reveal to me in it? Am I willing to be a witness to the presence of Hope underlying the ordinary, every day experiences of my life? Am I willing to announce that ‘God is in this’, whatever the ‘this’ may be, and however much that defies my own understanding?
Just as I am making small steps out of being in bed all day, perhaps I am making the smallest of steps into this prayer practice. I have at least begun to understand more about the inordinate amount of time I spend with my thoughts: scripting conversations for the future or commentating on past events, (telling myself I am thinking awfully profound thoughts of course). I am learning how these words expand to fill all available space as soon as I decide to sink into silence. I can’t say I am hearing God’s voice as if on a new DAB radio, I can’t even say I have corrected my tendency to scan too many outlets at once and overload my system; but now at least I am trying to intentionally create a space in between, around, above and below, my own words.
A space wherein the Voice, who is in and of all things, might echo.
A space in which I pay attention to that sound above all other.
(William of St Thierry)
Kate Kennington Steer is a writer and photographer with a deep abiding passion for contemplative photography and spirituality. She writes about these things on her shot at ten paces blog.