Monday, March 05, 2012

Flowers and Ribbons (The Practice of Spiritual Reading)

I was up very late last night working. I won't tell you what hour I finally got to bed, but it was only three hours later that I was awakened out of a restless sleep by a rather violent stomach virus/bug. I've still only had a couple of dry crackers and a small amount of fluids. Suffice it to say, I am dragging -- and this isn't quite how I expected to kick off Monday.

So in the place of the post I might have normally written on a Monday (more of the Wrinkle re-read, a gratitude post, a week in review...) you're getting this impromptu one instead.

Fortunately, the sweet girl has been a trooper. She's cheerfully taken care of all she needs to do plus a few extras, doing her school work and checking in on mom when I need to rest (she even read to me for a while and didn't mind when I dozed off in the middle of things). Even more fortunately, I had some work related things I could read and re-visit while resting on the couch. One of them was a brief essay on Reading Medieval Texts, penned by the seminary prof I'm assisting this term. I'm about to go into a huge round of paper grading, and wanted to refresh my mind on some of the initial course documents before I did.

And I stumbled head-first, in my tired haze, into this delightful quote from Francis deSales, on the joys of meditative/prayerful reading:

"Those who have been walking in a beautiful garden do not leave it willingly without taking away with them in their hands four or five flowers, in order to inhale their fragrance and carry them about during the day. Even so, when we have considered some mystery in meditation, we should choose one or two or three points which we have found particularly to our taste, and which are particularly appropriate to our advancement, so that we may remember them during the day, and inhale their fragrance spiritually."

It's lovely, wise counsel. And it makes my heart sing because I came up with a similar metaphor many years ago (during my own seminary years, to be exact) when I was taking a spiritual formation course. I called it "carrying a ribbon." I reflected on the beauty of the image of a ribbon -- how simple it is, and yet how festive. A ribbon can tie up a package or gift, it can adorn someone's hair, it can be woven into a bird's nest, it can be woven in and out among dancers on a pole or flung into the air while one person holds it or another catches it. The idea I came up with lo so many years ago was that, when we spiritually read (or read for formation) we often find a beautiful ribbon or two we can carry with us. We revisit those ribbons later and use them for all sorts of things (including sharing and celebration).

I think I like deSales' organic image as much or even better, but we seem to be getting at the same idea. We don't just walk into a text and leave without taking something with us. (Of course the beauty is, unlike taking a flower from a garden or a ribbon from a gift, we don't actually strip anything from the text in question -- it's all still there for the next visitor/recipient to find.) We take it with us, and we continue to carry it throughout the day. And sometimes throughout a week, month, year, or even a lifetime.

You may have noticed that I have a little sidebar on the left-hand side of my blog. Long ago, I labeled it "A Ribbon to Carry With You" and it was with that idea in mind -- that I would share colorful ribbons, small snippets of things I was reading, in the Scriptures or elsewhere, that other people might also want to carry onward with them. I haven't changed the ribbon in a long, long while. It just may be a practice I want to reinvigorate.

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