We know we are nearing the end of the liturgical year when in our collect we read, “Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: help us so to hear them, to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them...”

It is also a reminder that reading scripture as well as anything else worth reading can be a spiritual practice. Of all the spiritual practices I have commended to you, I believe the habit of reading has helped me the most and carried me deeply on my spiritual journey. Reading scripture has been indispensible, but reading fiction, children’s stories, fairy tales, science fiction, and novels has done plenty to baptize my imagination, strengthen my faith, and inspire me to try to make a difference. Books and journals have a magical way of opening the doors to new worlds and different perspectives.

Reading can be for pleasure, but for some it is a way to encounter God, help define who we are called to be, and in some cases, to help us face difficult challenges. How many of us facing trauma or pain haven’t turned to a book for comfort and reassurance?

It is known that children who live in conflict-ridden households retreat to books hidden in their rooms to find solace. Child psychologist Bruno Bettelheim, in his book The Uses of Enchantment, believes that all children learn from fairy tales if we let them. Thus a wide range of books can be a means of recovery, escape, and consolation. People often ask me to recommend books which can help them find their way out of isolation, sorrow, or fear. Another discovery I’ve made along the way is that good readers make good pray-ers, good listeners for sermons, and worship generally is enhanced. Good habits of reading, we are told, prepare people for a better and richer reading of the Bible. One thinks also of that familiar phrase you are what you eat.

What we read does form us, shaping the way we perceive and interpret reality, identifying what we hope for and what we hold dear in making us who we are. Oscar Wilde observed, “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will read when you can’t help it.” Reading also helps us to live other lives and what it means to live in another’s shoes. C.S. Lewis wrote, “We want to see with other eyes – to feel with other hearts – as well as with our own.” Literature is a series of windows, even doors. One of the things we feel after reading a great work is a reconnection to the human family. James Baldwin put it this way, You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive. Thus it is books that can become companions, help us to have courage, direction, and hope.

The winter months are upon us and we will, by the weather, be driven indoors – time to read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest, surrounding yourself with resources for journey and encounter with God, your vocation as a Christian and the difference our Lord is calling you to make.