Friday, April 13, 2012

Friday Thoughts - Reading Fiction is a Spiritual Exercise

I was going through my day as normal: preparing things for ordination, dealing with schoolwork when I clicked over, vainly of course, to my blog tab on Chrome to see its views for today and realized, "It's Friday!"

Life has gotten out of control for me right now. Lots of things are going on in my life, and I can barely balance them all. The formation staff here has tried to instill in us a rule of life (sort of like a self-imposed Rule like St. Benedict had for his monks without of course the monastic aspects). About a month and a half ago, I made an addition to my rule of life, read a chapter of fiction each day.

Now being in the Utilitarian culture that had formed us this sounds impractical. If I have stuff to do and not enough time to do it, why spend time reading fiction, going off into fiery lands and imagination and stuff. The same could be said of prayer, and indeed, my reason is this. Reading fiction, for me is human formation (buzz word for seminarians, if you don't understand ask you're favorite seminarian, which I understand might very well be me ... cue vanity music).

Fiction helps form and activate the imagination. St. Thomas Aquinas spends part of the Summa Theologiae speaking about the imagination (I q.78 and on from there). He elucidates how it is operative within the union of body and soul. St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of it with regard to spiritual warfare. It is the battleground where the Holy Spirit insights great gifts of prayer and evil spirits tempt.

Watching film doesn't necessarily activate the imagination. All the images I need are right there in front of me, but with a book, my imagination is hard at work building the words on the page into images in my mind. I will explain with a excerpt from a novella, by Alexander McCall Smith, I just finished called The Perils of Morning Coffee:

She seated herself at the only free table, under one of the large windows, and looked out. The view was of Candlemaker Row, a narrow street that descended sharply towards the Grassmarket. There were angled slate roofs, chimney pots, stone gables, and towering above them, like the set of some improbable opera, the Castle. For a few moments she stared at the scene. The fragility of the city touched her, as it always did; made her catch her breath. And she lived in this: that was what never failed to astonish here. I live in the midst of this beauty.
This is Edinburgh Castle, the "Castle" of
which the character above is referring 
McCall Smith lets the reader in on the beauty of Edinburgh, Scotland. It's ancientness captures the mind, the heart, and the imagination. That street used to house candlemakers. I can imagine people coming from all over the city to get their candles only to head down the hill to the open-field market to purchase the food for that day. Now, not only do I have an image implanted in my mind of Scotland, but a better appreciation of the history of my own city.

Now that my imagination is activated through this simple reading I am more aware when the Holy Spirit introduces Himself and when the evil spirits force themselves in. To read fiction, in some sense, is a spiritual exercise.

1 comment:

Mr. Carruth said...

Deacon -- this was simple and astute. Even though I *teach* literature, sometimes I can miss the joy of imagination and wonder in it. Thanks for reminding me why we ought to turn off our TVs and read.