Chaplain's Corner: Spiritual Reading

  • Published
  • By Capt. Jason Gilleland
  • Special Warfare Training Wing/ Chaplain Office


Spiritual Disciplines: Spiritual Reading


In the last article, I introduced the idea of spiritual disciplines and noted that we develop our souls through spiritual disciplines in the same way we lift weights to develop our bodies. The purpose behind spiritual disciplines is to develop as people of spiritual maturity and character. As we look at the first spiritual discipline in this article, it is important to note at the outset that many of the spiritual disciplines I mention are common in most religions, as well as in philosophical schools like Stoicism. They can be practiced by people of any faith tradition, and even by those who do not claim any faith at all.


The first spiritual discipline I want to introduce is spiritual reading. Regardless of your faith background, the most fundamental part of spiritual and character development is an understanding of your faith and values. While much of spiritual reading and studies come from religious texts, there are other philosophical or classical books that people use for inspiration and guidance. Some examples are the stoic writings of Epictetus and Marcus Aurelius, the works of Indian author Vishnu Sarma, and the English dramas of Shakespeare.


Regardless of which text you use, the first step in spiritual development is reading. Through reading, we get a sweep of information which helps us better understand what we are seeking to learn.  However, we can take our reading to deeper levels. In fact, there are three common practices which can make our spiritual reading more fruitful.


The first is studying. Studying is different from reading in that it requires going deeper in the text. Studying, which often involves note taking and annotation, forces us to slow down and truly absorb what we are reading. Instead of just gathering information, when studying, we begin to consider how the text applies to us. The goal is to analyze the texts, in order to pull out insights and apply them to our lives.


Second is mediation. Sometimes when people hear the word mediation, they think of the eastern tradition of clearing the mind and trying to rid oneself of all distractions. However, there is another method of mediation which actually involves filling the mind. In this form of mediation, we focus on something that stands out to us in our reading, pause, and mediate on it. It could be a single word, phrase, or concept, and meditating on it requires that you pause and genuinely think of the implications of what you are reading.


Third is memorization. This is probably the hardest and most often neglected aspect of spiritual reading primarily because it is difficult. We live in an age in which our attention span is short and we rarely need to memorize anything because information is readily available at our fingertips via Google or YouTube. However, you may not always have your phone or spiritual text with you, so it is beneficial to have some things memorized so they are readily available for recall when you need them. When we memorize foundational spiritual text, it becomes a part of who we are, and we can bring it to mind at any moment. It does not have to be an entire chapter or paragraph, even memorizing a single sentence such as “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil 4:13) can be uplifting in the most challenging of moments. 


Regardless of how you approach spiritual reading, having a source of inspiration and guidance is essential to the development and edification of your soul and character. As a Christian Chaplain the source of my spiritual reading is the Bible, and through my time in scripture I get a spiritual recharge and am challenged to grow both spiritually and as a man. What about you? What text is most important in your life and when was the last time you read it? Could you recall it in a moment of despair, challenge or struggle?

One of the means by which we develop the soul is through spiritual disciplines. What are spiritual disciplines? Think of them as weightlifting for your soul. Just as you would go to the gym to lift weights and get stronger, so you can use different spiritual disciplines to strengthen your soul. (U.S. Air Force Graphic by Alejandra Zier)