by Cara Strickland
WHEN I WAS A LITTLE GIRL, I loved nothing better than reading. I often thought that the best job (one I didn’t think existed) would be one where I was paid to read books. Now a large part of my work is reading books to review them, reflect on them, or interview book authors. My younger self, I’m sure, would be delighted.
What I knew about books as a child remains true now: These written works have power. Books offer another perspective. They invite my empathy. They usher me into experiences I might never have otherwise. As a kid, I dove headfirst into novels, loving that feeling of losing yourself in a story. As an adult, I read a lot more nonfiction, which has a power all its own.
With reading as part of my daily work, I’m offered a great gift—the chance to do something good for me that I love, with time set aside to do it. But there’s been another, unexpected benefit: I’ll be reading, dutifully looking for the right questions to ask an author, when I come across something that feels written for me. Once, while reading a book on community and reconciliation, I stopped and reached out to someone to repair our relationship. A book on spiritual practices moved me to tears as I walked through an exercise. When I read something new about how God sees and loves women, I find my perspective changing, unlocking a door into how I view Scripture or the world.
I behold someone else’s perspective. Even though I’m often reading to deliver something useful to my readers, I frequently find myself receiving something I need to hear.
The spiritual practice of reading
Perhaps reading isn’t part of your working life. It may seem like a luxury, something you’re too busy to do. I can understand that. Still, the spiritual practice of interacting with someone else’s thoughts and dreams is one I can’t recommend enough. When I don’t have a reading project, I notice a difference. My mind doesn’t as easily make the connections I want it to make. My attention span is shorter. I’m less myself.
Reading opens up faithful conversations by making it possible to connect with words from all over the world. When a book grabs me, like Debbie Blue’s Consider the Women, or Amy Peterson’s Where Goodness Still Grows, I want to talk about it with the people in my life. Reading gets me beyond the surface with people, into discussing things that matter.
Sometimes it’s easier to hold these things loosely, making conversations freer because the ideas aren’t mine—even if I choose to adopt them.
Being a writer is about being a witness. It’s my job to be curious. Yet that is my work as a reader too. When I read, I ask for and receive insight beyond my own.
Sometimes I’m still drawn to fiction. Here, too, I find the Holy Spirit, just as I did as a child. Whether reading about the daily life of a retired priest (in Jan Karon’s Mitford series) or walking alongside several women on a spiritual direction journey (such as Sharon Garlough Brown’s Sensible Shoes series), I’m continually caught unaware by the power of a few words strung together and shared. When I’m looking, I almost always find spiritual treasure.