Reading, in general, gathers the mind from its wandering and leads it to concentrate on the subject of the reading. When the topic of reading changes, the kind of thoughts will change also. St. Mar Isaac said, “Remembering virtuous people renews in us the desire of virtue. Therefore, spiritual reading does not gather the mind from wandering in material and carnal things, but it lifts it up to the world of the spirit and opens before it the door of divinities to taste how good the Lord is. Therefore, spiritual reading has two benefits: one is passive and the other is active.
The Passive Aspect: is to avoid evil or vain thoughts, hence spiritual reading is used as a sword for chastity to attack evil thoughts, and thoughts of anger and to calm the soul.
The Active Aspects: is to lift the thoughts to the divine matters. This aspect has many gradual steps which may allow the person to have his thoughts to be continuously in unity with God.
Spiritual reading is a door through which the person may enter to be fervent in the soul. The soul which became very cold spiritually due to its concern with materialism, or its influence with bad company, may remember God and the saints and its pure nature and may desire to return to that state. Spiritual reading may inflame God’s love in the hearts and may instill the desire to imitate the saints and to apply the virtues mentioned in the Bible or the lives of the saints.
Moreover, spiritual reading kills monotony and laziness and facilitates the virtues in the eyes of the reader and puts in his heart readiness to start working. Hence, the person feels as if fire is pushing him to obtain all the virtues, and all carnal desires become trifles in his eyes. He despises them and does not remember them any more.
Spiritual reading which creates the desire to imitate the righteous people becomes the material for spiritual readings. Whenever a person reads about a certain virtue in the lives of the saints and he wants to imitate it, he starts training himself in it. Hence, virtue is transferred, through reading, from the book to the notebook of spiritual exercises and becomes part of his life. It is said that the door of virtues is opened to whoever starts spiritual reading.
Whoever reads about God’s commandments and the virtues finds in them a true mirror where he can see himself, or finds a scale where he can evaluate his actions and personality. Therefore, reading becomes a means of examining one’s self and that it may lead him to repentance.
Whenever a person reads the biographies of the saints and apostles and looks at the high level of spirituality which they have attained after hard labor, patience and struggle, whenever he puts all these virtues on one side of the scale and puts himself on the other side, he feels how trifle he is and that he is still a beginner. Hence, reading leads him to true humility, which is built on true knowledge of one’s self. The more he reads, the more he becomes humble, for he remembers God’s saying, “He who knows more, more is required of him.”
Spiritual reading is also a subject matter for prayer. The kind of prayer varies according to the kind of reading. One kind of reading may let the person feel the burden of his sins and weaknesses. Then he bows down in sorrow and with contrite heart, confessing his sins to God, asking His mercy and forgiveness. Another kind of reading may stir in a person the love of virtues so he prays with persistence asking God for grace and help so that he may follow the road of our Fathers. Another kind of reading may stir in the reader the love of others so he lifts up his hands praying for them. Another kind of reading may reveal God’s beautiful qualities and unlimited greatness so he kneels down glorifying God for these qualities, feeling his unworthiness to talk with such a Great God, then one starts praising God with expressions of gratitude. Reading is an incentive to prayer. Moreover, it is a subject for prayer. St. Mar Isaac said, ” One’s soul is enlightened in prayer from reading.” He explained this by saying, “When one approaches prayer, the memory of what he has read will guide him to what to say.”
As reading is a subject for prayer, it is also a subject for meditation. You may read a verse from a chapter from the Bible and meditate on it, or you may read a story of the Church Fathers and meditate on the greatness of the grace which God has granted this father, or you may meditate on how much that father has loved the Lord. Also, you may reflect on the ladder of virtues which that saint has climbed step by step toward God. You may read a chapter from the Bible and store it in your mind for future contemplation. As evil proceeds from an evil heart in an evil person, remembering all what he has read from dirty topics or magazines or stories, also the righteous person reads spiritual topics and stores them in his mind. The memory of these readings will nourish his spirit. He finds a subject for meditation in his prayers and quiet time. As a result of these readings, his thoughts will overflow like a good spring of spiritualities.