On Reading Literature Devotionally

Many readers have been moved to pray or worship God while reading fiction or poetry—even if the literature in question was not necessarily “Christian.” Here are a few ideas for reading literature devotionally, drawn in part from my book At the Still Point: A Literary Guide to Prayer in Ordinary Time.

Approach #1: Journal your response to the work.

  • First, simply observe the work and jot notes about what it evokes in your imagination. What does it look like, sound like, smell like, taste like, feel like?
  • Then make some notes about any of the following: What does it remind you of? What memories, ideas, echoes, resonances does it raise in you? Any biblical allusions, theological questions or ideas it is wrestling with?
  • Then reflect: What is happening spiritually with the work and its effect on you?
  • Write a page response to the work as if God is your conversation partner or in your writer’s group. You may write it as a prayer if you wish, or it can simply be spiritually reflective. It can be in any form you choose: poem, letter, dialogue, story, essay, memoir.

Approach #2: Pray through the poem or excerpt (some pieces work better for this than others).

  • Thank God for the author or poet’s gift.
  • Ask God to speak to you through the work.
  • Take a breath after each line, phrase, or sentence.
  • If it seems appropriate, direct the words to God as you read.

Approach #3: Practice a form of lectio divina (divine reading) that I call lectio sacra or “holy reading” (since it’s for reading literature other than scripture). It is an ancient method for prayerful meditation involving four steps:

  1. Lectio = read the passage or poem
  2. Meditatio = meditate on the text; read it over several more times slowly
  3. Oratio = let the text speak to you by paying attention to words, phrases, images, or ideas. What “shimmers” or really stands out to you? Underline, circle, highlight, make notes on the text itself.
  4. Contemplatio = shift your focus to God; rest in God’s presence.

So, how did it go? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Feel free to share comments below.


2 Responses to On Reading Literature Devotionally

  1. Callie Feyen says:

    Thanks for sharing this practice, Sarah. I am glad to have it as a reference as well as to try it as a group at the Festival.
    Good to meet you!

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