I’ve always enjoyed reading books aloud and being read to; I suppose this is due to the emotional and spiritual calm I experienced when my parents gathered us together and read to us when we were very young. There were no screens dividing us into isolated units of humanity in those days, just radios, and the huge televisions reserved for parental or supervised viewing, so listening to stories has always made me feel safe, loved, and highly entertained. Maybe there’s something about the voice telling us stories that awakens ancient cells, reminding us of our connections, our need to gather near the fire’s warmth to listen and imagine together, to remember who we are, where we have been, and to ponder what is asked of us as humans beholden to the rest of life on earth.
We were read to in the morning, at lunchtime, and before bed, often falling asleep to the soothing or repetitive story we favored. There’s something more intimate about the reader and listener sharing space than a narrated book on tape, but NPR’s “A Chapter a Day” was my mother’s daily treat as she completed tasks that kept her from devouring her always-present stack of books.
The written word, spoken, was modeled as ritual and offered as spirit food, and so it has always been, for me.
Later, I read to my middle school students, long past the age some colleagues thought it appropriate. My students loved it. It calmed them and gave them a bit of that peace and security I had felt as a child, a time of stillness that required listening, and offered the gift of being together, hearing stories. No academic expectations existed for this little time in the middle of our busy days, and if it lulled a few into needed naps, then the words were twice-blessed medicine. I read to my hospital and hospice patients frequently, too. There are a million ways to pray and awaken to Spirit.
On our long drives to my parents’ home for holidays, Phillip and I read books to each other, making the miles fly, and very early in our relationship, the practice spilled over into our daily morning rituals. At lunchtime and bedtime, we usually turn to separate books we’re reading, but it’s not uncommon for one of us to stop and share a paragraph or two that we’ve found especially startling, musical, or enlightening.
During this time of year, as our bodies and spirits journey into darkness towards the solstice that signals the light will rise again, we have always chosen books that are especially nourishing food for our spirits. In the early hours of morning, Phillip walks the dogs; I feed the cats, make our coffee and tea, and light the Christmas tree and candles. Then, we sit and read to each other, a blessed time for all of us. I think of it as reading ourselves awake rather than to sleep.
This Advent, I’ve chosen Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and Phillip has chosen Malidoma Patrice Somé’s The Healing Wisdom of Africa. While neither is new to us, reading them aloud, in small bites, has created a beautiful synchronous chorus of ideas echoing and underscoring themes that resonate with who we are, what we believe, and what we need to hear again during this time. These sacred hours and books seem to clarify and enhance our dreams for all the ways the world might work to solve the problems facing our Earth and all living beings. What else is the darkness for but to listen and to examine what we will become in the light?
I highly recommend both books and authors we’re reading this year. In past years, our Advent reading has been wide-ranging, including poetry collections, The Secret Garden by Frances Hodgson Burnett; The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame; writers like Rumer Godden; Wallace Stegner; Richard Rohr; Aldo Leopold; Wendell Berry; Parker Palmer; Annie Dillard; Joan Chittister; Loren Cruden (we traveled with her book, Spirit of Place for one entire year) and so many more. We’ve shared a very eclectic mix and genre of books, whether the authors were famous and the books old friends or newcomers with fresh stories, wisdom, insights, and beauty to share. It’s always interesting to hear how our chosen pieces augment each other’s melodies and ideas. We sometimes pause just to allow the gifts to bless our spirits and settle.
Living alone requires amendments to the practice, but a little creativity can help. Most phones have speakers, so friends can read to each other; there are many ways to video chat; there are books on tape; and simply reading aloud to oneself and pausing to reflect, or perhaps incorporating a lectio divina practice (meditating on small bits of any text that touches your heart and spirit) can deepen the season’s meaning.
You may discover this is a practice you’d like to follow every day. Perhaps you already do, and might share some of your favorite titles and authors in the comments. And please share any other rituals and practices that feed your spirit this time of year.
There are, of course, many ways to waken ourselves to the deep needs of our spirit and the world. In this dark season during this darkest of years, consider reading aloud and allowing the sacred magic of words to create light for your spirit and the way ahead.
All the blessings of the season to you. Be well and safe, and gentle peace.
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8 thoughts on “Reading Ourselves Awake”
I love your blog, Kitty. I have been an avid reader since childhood and always read to my children, and then to my grandchildren. A special memory I have is of the teacher who often read to my class in middle school. My niece reads regularly to her mother, my sister, who is in an aged care facility, on her mobile phone. And that is real joy to both of them, especially during the lockdown.
Oh, Patricia, what a beautiful story about your niece and sister. I just love picturing that: what a holy, perfect use of a phone. Thank you for this precious image.
It sounds like you’re a read-aloud soulmate. I’m glad you remember your middle school teacher’s reading so fondly. Do you know, I think even our dogs and cats enjoy our morning read-aloud time; they settle on the couch (and the back of the couch!) so quietly. It’s lovely.
Be well and safe, Patricia, and gentle peace (and good books).
Thank you for the reminder to take advantage of the time I have to read to my youngest. I really need to consciously make time for it to build not only the love of reading in her, but also the memories of our time together in that practice.
You’re so right, Yacoob: those memories of my parents reading to us with the stillness all around our cozy “nest,” are very precious. A love of books and reading, but also of the goodness and security of a loving home, yes. 🙂 Bless you, and be safe and well! Kitty
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Just reading this was sooo relaxing. How wonderful that you read aloud to each other, what a beautiful thing to do. I always had books on tape when on long journeys and would always end up sitting in the car for an hour to get a few more chapters in, hubs was the same. The Secret Garden and The Lord of the Rings are probably my favourite books, goodness knows how often I’ve read them. A beautiful post. Huge love and hugs to all.xxxxx
How well I know that “one chapter more” syndrome! The Secret Garden is very, very special to me. It has all my favorite metaphors re: healing ourselves and others, and loving ourselves and others into and through transformation…it’s just sooo special. 🙂 And now that I know it’s one of your favorites, too, it’s even dearer. Thank you, and many hugs flowing back to you and yours. xoxoxo
Your post reminds me of a time, many years ago, when I taught neurologically-impaired and emotionally disturbed teenagers. Some were street kids, others just couldn’t keep up with the demands of public school. Most had behavior problems. I loved working with them. Sometimes towards the end of the day, I would read to them before their buses would come. (Sometimes I did it during English class.) They always calmed down and gave me their rapt attention. I doubt anyone had ever read to them before. Not only did they settle down, but it stirred their curiosity and they asked questions. I wasn’t a teacher then. I was a sharer of words and meaning. I agree – reading aloud is magical. Jazzy, my “kitty”, likes to be sung to … perhaps she’d like to be read to as well.
I am happy to finally catch up a little with you, Kitty. Take care, Jeanne.
Thank you for your instinctive goodness in the world, Jeanne. Your light shines in your words here, as I’m certain it flowed from the words you read those children. I will look forward to your lucky cat’s response! 😻