Spiritual Practice

We also need to develop a skillful understanding of how best to interact with a poem. Some poetry may call for a more resistant reading than others. For example, I may be able to "let my guard down" more with Denise Levertov than, say, with Wallace Stevens. Not all reading asks for us to willingly submit ourselves or suspend wariness.

It is also important that we consider how we are to approach the study and reading of any literature within the larger practice of our daily lives. The content of any one text or course can never be divorced from everything else we do to walk in what is good and true. Certainly we have to balance the time we reflect on matters of sin with the time we reflect on matters of righteousness. Sometimes, it is possible to overestimate our spiritual maturity. Being a careful student of literature includes learning to be more aware of our particular temptations. This suggests that at the very least we need a regular practice of bible study, worship, and scriptural meditation/memorization. We need to place our reflection on wickedness within the larger scheme of God’s teaching. In other words, as we read about evil, we should be seeking to understand its opposite – what is good, noble, pure, etc. We need to be sure that we do not separate our prayer life from our studies. We should be consistently seeking God to give us greater discernment, guide our practice of study, and to be present in our class discussions. Our study is not something we do without the Holy Spirit.

Granted, there may be times when a work has little or no redemptive value. This is something I often struggle with, and I do seek to chose texts that offer some kind of ethical and/or spiritual worth, even if only in the negative and by contrast.

After all this, there may still be a particular work that takes hold of you in a negative way. Perhaps it begins to even prey on your mind. I think we must keep in mind the essence of spiritual warfare here. Christians believe that sinful human society, personal patterns of ingrained sin, and even demonic forces work against our pursuit of holiness. If a particular text, scene, or image from literature happens to obsessively work on your mind, this mental state must be opposed with all that is right and good.

(One last word on this subject: as in all my classes, if you ever feel a particular work is actually tempting you to sin, please come talk to me and I will assign another text. Keep in mind of course that a work may offend you, disappoint you, or even prey on you and still not lead you to sin; however, I am not about causing anyone to fall. My continual prayer for each of us as that we might grow in the grace, wisdom, and love of God in all that we do.)

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"All manner of thing shall be well/ When the tongues of flame are in-folded/ Into the crowned knot of fire/ And the fire and the rose are one." -- T.S. Eliot, Little Gidding