Four years ago, with the encouragement of the pastor of my parish, St. Boniface Church in Cincinnati, I started a spiritual book club. My goals were few: provide another source of faith formation in the parish, share my love of books with others, meet some new people in the parish, and sell the books that I and my coworkers developed for St. Anthony Messenger Press and Servant Books. Nineteen books later, I can say that I’ve accomplished all four goals–and more.
Books ‘r’ us
St. Boniface Spiritual Book Club meets six times a year, after the noon Mass for about 90 to 120 minutes in the Parish Center (the former dining room of the rectory attached to the church). I select and purchase the books for our group, trying to choose books that appeal to a broad group of adults (some with high school education only; others with multiple doctorates). Subject matter includes Catholic identity, Scripture, saints and spiritual heroes, spirituality, and occasionally fiction. When possible, I invite the author of our featured book to join our discussion via telephone call. The chat with an author usually lasts about 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the author’s time. Our discussions have always been lively, enlightening, and fun.
St. Boniface Church, Cincinnati
Our book club members come from within the parish and also from several other area parishes. Some folks are cradle Catholics, others are new Catholics, some folks come from other faith traditions. Our core group now numbers 12 to 15 adults, including our pastor, Fr. Joe Robinson. Members come and go as they please, with no expectation that they attend every book club gathering.
Recently, a member of our book club who has great information technology skills hooked up a computer system to the large screen monitor in the Parish Center where we meet. The new setup gives us Internet access so we can surf the Internet during book club discussions to get answers to questions. It also gives us the capability to video conference with authors using Skype.
How to read a spiritual book
When the St. Boniface Spiritual Book Club met for the first time, I gave every person a goodie bag that included 10 blank index cards for writing down questions during a book discussion, a bookmark, a list of books to be discussed for the first year, a highlighter, a pack of Post-it notes to mark important places in a book, and a handout with 10 tips for reading a spiritual book.
I share here my 10 tips for reading a spiritual book:
- Prepare a place to read. Select a quiet place that is comfy and inviting with good lighting and a table to hold a notebook and pen and other resources. This will become your regular place to read and meditate on what you are reading.
- Determine a regular time for reading. Review your daily and weekly routines and carve out time for reading. Add “reading” or “book” to your day planner or calendar and make reading part of your routine. Then share your reading plan with your family and/or anyone in your immediate living situation. Tell people that you have joined a spiritual book club, and you are allotting time on a regular basis for reading and reflection. Ask people to respect your commitment.
- Gather your “reading stuff” and put it near your reading place or in a tote bag for easy portability. Your “reading stuff” could include: a pen, notebook or journal, dictionary, Bible, highlighter pen, Post-it notes, etc. Having these items within easy reach will help focus your reading and make your reading experience more enjoyable.
- Use the book’s structure to help you gauge how much to read and how fast. Spiritual books are meant to be read at a moderate pace and not in a rush. A book with short chapters might suggest reading a chapter at one sitting. A book with longer chapters might be best broken into several sections, each to be read at a different time.
- Read a spiritual book with the idea that you are in dialogue with the author. What is the author saying to you personally? What does the author say that you agree with? What does the author say that doesn’t ring true to you and your life experience? What does the author say that is fresh to you, that inspires you, that puzzles you or upsets or annoys you?
- Ask questions. Take notes. Use your notebook or journal or the margins of the book or index cards to jot down thoughts or to pose questions for which you want to seek answers or which you want to discuss or reflect on. Keep track of books mentioned that you want to add to your reading list.
- Mark significant passages. Use Post-it notes or a highlighter pen to mark passages that speak to you or that you want to return to. Use these passages for further reflection or exploration.
- Look up what you don’t know and use reference resources. Jot down words that are new to you and then look them up in a dictionary. Foreign words can be looked up online or at a library. Questions about Catholic teaching or practice or general history or geography or cultural references, etc., should also be noted and researched.
- Meditate on what you’ve read. When you’ve finished your day’s reading, take a few minutes to reflect on what you’ve just read. Use what you’ve just read to jumpstart or fuel your prayer.
- Enjoy the reading experience and share what you’ve read with others!
What spiritual books are you reading now?
What spiritual books are on your nightstand now or on the end table next to your favorite reading chair? What spiritual book have you read in the last year that you would recommend to friends or a spiritual book club? Why is this particular title so meaningful to you?
Featured photo by Ian Kahn