Walking a Literary Labyrinth

Walking a Literary Labyrinth

by Nancy M. Malone

Hardcover

$17.95

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781573222464
Publisher: Penguin Publishing Group
Publication date: 06/19/2003
Pages: 224
Product dimensions: 5.44(w) x 8.34(h) x 0.89(d)
Age Range: 14 Years

About the Author

Nancy M. Malone, OSU, who holds a degree in theology from Harvard Divinity School, has been an editor at Religion and Intellectual Life and a coeditor of Cross Currents. She lives on City Island in New York City.

Read an Excerpt

Prologue

Has it ever occurred to you that the acts of reading and meditation resemble each other in many ways? Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves-body, mind, and heart-engaged. Both can draw us deeply into ourselves, all the while taking us out of ourselves. Our consciousness shifts. We are not our everyday selves with various roles to play in our families, our jobs, society, with our concerns, major and minor, about the people we love, the things we have to do, our needs and wants, the state of the world. We become centered, our energy concentrated, with no purpose served by what we are doing other than the act itself. We are, at the moment, only the reader, or the contemplative.

These moments of wholeness, experienced sometimes in reading, sometimes in prayer, give us hints at what can be said about spirituality and reading, about a spirituality of reading. Such is the human condition, however, that even when we devote ourselves entirely to a book (or to prayer) we don't bring a completed, finished self to it. Think, for instance, of the novels that spoke to you when you were eighteen, that you regard as superficial or exaggerated now. Or think of revisiting one of the classics, only to discover a different, deeper book than the one you read decades ago. It's not the books that have changed. It is you yourself.

And some of the changes in you have been brought about by the books that you have read in the meantime. In fact, you may credit significant turns that you have taken in life to a certain book, or certain books. Less noticed by us, however, are the many more subtle ways that our reading has influenced the works-in-progress that we are, or how our reading has led us, one way or another, on the journey we've made to become who we are now. And we can be sure that, as long as we live and read, other books will accompany us, like wise and honest friends on the quest to become who we are meant to be.

It is this journey that I mean when I use the word spirituality. For me spirituality encompasses not only our search for a personal relationship with the divine, a Higher Power, with God-the Transcendent Other, omnipotent, eternal, in heaven, or somewhere "out there." I understand it at the same time and necessarily as the quest for "the God within," spoken of in most of the great world religions. The quest for "God in you, as you," the startling phrase I encountered in the writings of theologian John Dunne years ago. For the "true self," as Thomas Merton so often termed it.

From your own life experience, you know that the path we follow in this search doesn't lead us in straight lines directly to our goal, from A to B, or Q, or Z. It is more like the path of a labyrinth, laid out in circuits, with abrupt about-face turns and wide swings, bringing us now nearer to, now farther from the center as we move into it, now nearer to and farther from the outermost rim as we leave it. I see the labyrinth, itself a metaphor for our journey through life, as offering us a way of reflecting on the role of reading in that journey, a symbol of the part reading can play in the search for the true self.

At least that has been the pattern, the story, of my life. For me, reading-and I don't mean just inspirational, devotional reading-has been and is a spiritual practice. It is my partner in the conversation we are always having with ourselves (our interiority), influencing who I've thought I was, who I wanted to be, who I am and am called to be. As in the lives of Augustine and Ignatius of Loyola-though not so immediately-it has been a midwife at rebirths I have undergone (conversion), and it has, at times, taught me lessons about who I am not. I have found a kind of intimacy-an exchange of selves-in reading, and have been helped by it toward intimacy with myself and with God.

In one interpretation of the labyrinth, when you reach its center, you reach your true self, and then proceed outward again to communion with God and with others. Paradoxically, I have found that the deeper the journey into the self, the wider its embrace, or so it has been in my life and in my reading, in my reading life. When you find your true self and God, you find everybody. "Here comes everybody," as James Joyce said of the Catholic (catholic at its best) church. Or to put it another way, in the labyrinth, as I came to understand it, it is not the small circle at the center that symbolizes the self but the whole grand design, every experience and everyone you meet and every book that you read making you who you are-your self-the given, the goal, and with you every step along the way. And that sends you, every time you walk it, right out into the world again.

Inescapably, I have written as the Roman Catholic nun that I am. But I invite you as readers from all religious traditions, or from none, to join me, and to consider the influence of reading in your own life: on your interiority, on the turning points in your journey, on your desires for intimacy, for union and communion. And I hope that, however roundabout the path we take, I will be able to convey something of what I mean by a spirituality of reading-the search for the true self in reading, for the self that sees the world with the faith that Jesuit Bernard Lonergan calls "the eye of love."

Now, as the priest used to say at the beginning of a liturgical procession, "Procedamus in pace," together. Let us proceed in peace, as we walk a literary labyrinth in this book, and, when we leave it, in the world.

—from Walking the Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone, copyright © 2003 Nancy M. Malone, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

First Chapter

Prologue

Has it ever occurred to you that the acts of reading and meditation resemble each other in many ways? Both are usually done alone, in silence and physical stillness, our attention focused, our whole selves-body, mind, and heart-engaged. Both can draw us deeply into ourselves, all the while taking us out of ourselves. Our consciousness shifts. We are not our everyday selves with various roles to play in our families, our jobs, society, with our concerns, major and minor, about the people we love, the things we have to do, our needs and wants, the state of the world. We become centered, our energy concentrated, with no purpose served by what we are doing other than the act itself. We are, at the moment, only the reader, or the contemplative.

These moments of wholeness, experienced sometimes in reading, sometimes in prayer, give us hints at what can be said about spirituality and reading, about a spirituality of reading. Such is the human condition, however, that even when we devote ourselves entirely to a book (or to prayer) we don't bring a completed, finished self to it. Think, for instance, of the novels that spoke to you when you were eighteen, that you regard as superficial or exaggerated now. Or think of revisiting one of the classics, only to discover a different, deeper book than the one you read decades ago. It's not the books that have changed. It is you yourself.

And some of the changes in you have been brought about by the books that you have read in the meantime. In fact, you may credit significant turns that you have taken in life to a certain book, or certain books. Less noticed by us, however, are the many more subtle ways that our reading has influenced the works-in-progress that we are, or how our reading has led us, one way or another, on the journey we've made to become who we are now. And we can be sure that, as long as we live and read, other books will accompany us, like wise and honest friends on the quest to become who we are meant to be.

It is this journey that I mean when I use the word spirituality. For me spirituality encompasses not only our search for a personal relationship with the divine, a Higher Power, with God-the Transcendent Other, omnipotent, eternal, in heaven, or somewhere "out there." I understand it at the same time and necessarily as the quest for "the God within," spoken of in most of the great world religions. The quest for "God in you, as you," the startling phrase I encountered in the writings of theologian John Dunne years ago. For the "true self," as Thomas Merton so often termed it.

From your own life experience, you know that the path we follow in this search doesn't lead us in straight lines directly to our goal, from A to B, or Q, or Z. It is more like the path of a labyrinth, laid out in circuits, with abrupt about-face turns and wide swings, bringing us now nearer to, now farther from the center as we move into it, now nearer to and farther from the outermost rim as we leave it. I see the labyrinth, itself a metaphor for our journey through life, as offering us a way of reflecting on the role of reading in that journey, a symbol of the part reading can play in the search for the true self.

At least that has been the pattern, the story, of my life. For me, reading-and I don't mean just inspirational, devotional reading-has been and is a spiritual practice. It is my partner in the conversation we are always having with ourselves (our interiority), influencing who I've thought I was, who I wanted to be, who I am and am called to be. As in the lives of Augustine and Ignatius of Loyola-though not so immediately-it has been a midwife at rebirths I have undergone (conversion), and it has, at times, taught me lessons about who I am not. I have found a kind of intimacy-an exchange of selves-in reading, and have been helped by it toward intimacy with myself and with God.

In one interpretation of the labyrinth, when you reach its center, you reach your true self, and then proceed outward again to communion with God and with others. Paradoxically, I have found that the deeper the journey into the self, the wider its embrace, or so it has been in my life and in my reading, in my reading life. When you find your true self and God, you find everybody. "Here comes everybody," as James Joyce said of the Catholic (catholic at its best) church. Or to put it another way, in the labyrinth, as I came to understand it, it is not the small circle at the center that symbolizes the self but the whole grand design, every experience and everyone you meet and every book that you read making you who you are-your self-the given, the goal, and with you every step along the way. And that sends you, every time you walk it, right out into the world again.

Inescapably, I have written as the Roman Catholic nun that I am. But I invite you as readers from all religious traditions, or from none, to join me, and to consider the influence of reading in your own life: on your interiority, on the turning points in your journey, on your desires for intimacy, for union and communion. And I hope that, however roundabout the path we take, I will be able to convey something of what I mean by a spirituality of reading-the search for the true self in reading, for the self that sees the world with the faith that Jesuit Bernard Lonergan calls "the eye of love."

Now, as the priest used to say at the beginning of a liturgical procession, "Procedamus in pace," together. Let us proceed in peace, as we walk a literary labyrinth in this book, and, when we leave it, in the world.

—from Walking the Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading by Nancy M. Malone, copyright © 2003 Nancy M. Malone, Riverhead Books, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., all rights reserved, reprinted with permission from the publisher.

Table of Contents

Prologue1
The ABCs of the Self: First Steps to Interiority7
Reflection: Take and Eat: The Act of Reading31
"Take and Read" A Turning Point37
Reflection: Sacramentality: The Book and the World49
"Not by Bread Alone" Spiritual Reading in a Literary Desert55
Reflection: Pilgrims and Monks: Reading and Praying72
The Circle Widens: Theology as Spiritual Reading?79
Reflection: Pleasure: Wasting Time for the Sake of God91
Recovering the Self: Stories: Fact and Fiction101
Reflection: The Grammar of the Spirit120
Alone at the Center? Intimacy in Reading and Prayer125
Reflection: Poetry: A Deeper Intimacy138
Our Bodies, Our Selves: The Erotic in Spirituality and in Literature149
A Literary Contemplatio ad Amorem: Imagination: Faith, Hope, and Love163
Epilogue: "Give Beauty Back": An Apologia179
Recommended Reading183
Fiction184
Short Pieces That Have Made Me Laugh190
Nonfiction190
Biography and Autobiography193
Spiritual Reading and Theology195
For the Theologically Minded197
Index199

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