Discover more from Once A Week
Reading in Formational Space and Sacred Time
The external conditions of transformational reading
We are formed by our environments at least as much as we shape them. Formational space fosters formational prayer and meditation. This does not require a sparse monastic cell, but that image might help us envision space conducive to reading for transformation.
The primary conditions, at least in my potentially biased opinion as an introvert with ADHD, are silence and solitude. I would love to hear from my more extroverted sisters and brothers, but these conditions have a strong heritage in Christian spirituality. I particularly love these recommendations from French Catholic A.D. Sertillanges:
“It is important, during the hours sacred to work [reading], not only that you should not be disturbed, but that you should know that you will not be disturbed; let perfect security on that score protect you, so that you can apply yourself intensely and fruitfully. You cannot take too many precautions about this. Keep a Cerberus at your door. Every demand on you from outside is a loss of inner power and may cost your mind some precious discovery: ‘when half-gods go, the gods arrive.’”1
If he was right in 1948 that we “cannot take too many precautions” about freedom from distractions, how much more today! T.S. Eliot’s famous phrase has never been more true: we are “distracted from distraction by distraction.” In our age of distraction and attention deficit, a Cerberus might not be a very extreme idea.
Cerberus was the three-headed hound of Hades that guarded the gates of the Underworld. If that’s a strange image for spiritual formation, a more virtuous example might be Fluffy from Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone whom Dumbledore and Hagrid placed to protect the philosopher’s stone created by Nicolas Flamel. What internal conditions of silence and solitude might be created if this was at the door of your mind and heart while reading:
"They were looking straight into the eyes of a monstrous dog, a dog that filled the whole space between ceiling and floor. It had three heads. Three pairs of rolling, mad eyes; three noses, twitching and quivering in their direction; three drooling mouths, saliva hanging in slippery ropes from yellowish fangs. It was standing quite still, all six eyes staring at them, and Harry knew that the only reason they weren't already dead was that their sudden appearance had taken it by surprise, but it was quickly getting over that, there was no mistaking what those thunderous growls meant."2
What does a spiritually formative Fluffy look like?
A space without reminders of tasks and to-dos (e.g. full laundry basket, unopened mail, etc.)
A space where others will not enter or even knock.
A space free of alerts from phone calls, text messages, and social media posts.
A time that others know is devoted to God and growing in godliness.
A time that is not subject (as much as possible) to the needs of others, which are certainly real but must wait their appointed hours.
Quote from C.S. Lewis
“We live, in fact, in a world starved for solitude, silence, and private: and therefore starved for meditation and true friendship.”
Please share your wisdom! What external conditions would you add for your time of formational reading?
Once A Week is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
The Intellectual Life: Its Spirit, Conditions, Methods, translated by Mary Ryan (Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1960), p. 98, and quoting Ralph Waldo Emerson.
J. K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. New York: Scholastic Inc., 1997.