An email from Amazon invites me to set up a book club using the Amazon platform. It got me thinking about the impact books could have on us. What if we treated our book club selection as a sacred reading to open communications with ourselves to better understand who we are?
The Torah, The Quran, The Bible are sacred because communities of readers proclaimed them to be. Something caught the readers’ attention, moral teaching, guiding principles (or a shortage of available reading material). Lectio Divina is the practice of reading holy books for a greater connection with a higher power, whether it’s God in heaven or your essence within.
In 2015, a community of friends in Cambridge, Massachusetts, decided to read Harry Potter as a sacred text, mindfully and repeatedly. Each week, they read a chapter through a theme (authenticity, boldness, community, etc.) to prepare for a conversation. The group didn’t claim the book was perfect, but the more attention and contemplation they gave it, the more insight they gained into the text and themselves.
That’s true of all creative endeavors, art, writing, painting, music, etc. They bring out what dwells inside us. Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh gets better the longer you look at it. The scene is an evening, a sky, and a cypress tree. What else? There are shapes, swirls, colors, and brush strokes. The sky above the village reminds me of climbing through the attic window to watch millions of stars, the northern lights, and the moon that looked like cheese. Sitting on the roof, I experienced a feeling of singleness and unity of wholeness, like looking at Vincent Van Gogh’s painting. Starry Night reconfirms my place in the spinning sea of benevolence towards myself and others.
Self-discovery through reading can be revelatory and challenging. Several family members and friends reading Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents noted, “It’s hard to read.” My friend, Nan’s, cousin started a Zoom reading group to read books on racism that’s includes 71 people.
The Cambridge group reading Harry Potter grew. Rereading passages for deeper meaning turned Harry Potter into a spiritual experience. Their vision was ripe to take wings and turned into an award-winning podcast. Millions of readers now treat Harry Potter as a sacred text. Therapists say it’s helping, and teachers are adapting the practice in their classrooms.
When an idea knocks at my door, I let it in and wait for synchronicity to ring the doorbell. After the Amazon book club idea, a text from my friend, Zoe, “Stop by my front door to pick up a favorite read of mine.” Skimming through Jack Ricchiuto’s, conscious becoming, the chime went ding-dong.
It is our nature to be conscious.
When we’re conscious
we live by four simple truths.
Everything in life happens
the moment it becomes fully possible
Whatever story we tell ourselves about reality
it’s only one possible story
Whatever we’re doing right now
is only one possible thing to do.
We don’t need a different reality
to do what else is possible right now.
The ancient practice of Lectio Divina included the following steps:
- Take a deep breath.
- Read a short passage.
- Pause and reflect.
- Close by praying.
That worked for the monks, not for us in 2021 living under an umbrella of a pandemic, geographical distances, and addictions for technology built to distract. This way of life is unstainable. Author Anne Dillard writes, “how we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” We don’t need more apps but greater self-awareness. For that to happen, we must reclaim our time and well-being. We need space to reflect deeply and authentically.
I named the Amazon book club Fiction Delights. That was the easy part. I settled on a book and themes for our first reading, Night Road by Kristin Hannah. The themes, loss and belonging, are shared human experiences.
Perhaps you have a favorite book or a movie you reread and watch over and over. Some people watch Groundhog Day each February second. Every time you do, you see something new. By rereading passages that evoke something in you, the “meaning score” like the likes on YouTube, rises. Monastic communities didn’t read a book only once. The Bible on the pew bench is read a hundred, a thousand times. A book well read becomes a doorway into reflection, a sacred path to journey into ourselves.
Instead of reading only for entertainment, we can do both. With sacred readings we sate our soul’s hunger for depth, a solitary undertaking to understand ourselves better. It’s to repair the divide between our everyday consciousness and higher consciousness. Marilynne Robinson puts it this way: “The classic soul is more ourselves than we are, a loving and well-loved companion, loyal to us uniquely, entrusted to us, to who we entrust ourselves. We feel its yearnings, its musings, as a truer and more primary experience of ourselves than our ordinary concsiouness can offer.”
Conscious self-awareness can stop me from saying the same stupid stuff, worry about things that never happen, believe the stories in my head, and stop obsessing about what others think. You may feel a sense of wonder as your true self is slowly revealed, book-by-book. It takes strength to face ourselves, easier not to engage. The old adage, better safe than sorry in reference to trying something was better expressed as safe “and” sorry.
Sacred reading as practiced today includes three elements:
1. We trust the content. The book is not perfect text in construction or moral logic, but a potential blessing.
2. Rigor and ritual. Reading the text slowly and deliberately with concentrated attention.
3. Community. The readings or reactions to the readings take place in a shared community, in person, Zoom, or emails.
Hatching my first sacred reading group will be like playing with a bunch of hatchlings, awkward and a lot of falling down and worrying the other hatchlings are laughing at me. But what matters more is we are also becoming free.