Wondrous Reading

From Praying with Saint Benedict:

Maryanne Wolf ’s remarkable book Proust and the Squid begins with these words: 

We were never born to read. Human beings invented reading only a few thousand years ago. And with this invention, we rearranged the very organization of our brain, which in turn expanded the ways we were able to think, which altered the intellectual evolution of our species. Reading is one of the single most remarkable inventions in history . . .[1]

In an age of wide-spread illiteracy, reading was an invention that Benedict embraced, and he required it of all his monks (RSB Ch. 48). Benedict was a well-educated man who, I suspect, believed that reading was as important to a brother’s spiritual development as it was to his intellectual development.

Only when someone would not or could not read would they be assigned another more menial task or a craft. In his epilogue to the Rule (Ch. 73), he challenges the reader to study the “divinely inspired books” of the Old and New Testaments and the extensive writings of the early fathers. 

I think about the impact of contemporary Christian writers and thinkers on my spiritual formation. After reading Esther de Waal’s Seeking Life [2], I will never look at baptism or the Easter Vigil the same way again. Michael Casey [3] taught me an appreciation for the “grace of discontinuity,” a sometimes disruptive change in life circumstances that leads to a spiritual transformation. We read to understand more about the “mystery of Christ.”


Wise and loving God, thank you for the enlightened men and women who have shared their insights through writing. Sustain in me a desire to learn and apply their wisdom. Amen. 


1. Maryanne Wolf, Proust and the Squid (New York: HarperCollins, 2007), 3. 

2. Esther de Waal, Seeking Life (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2009).

3. Michael Casey, Grace: On the Journey to God (Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2018).


Published by Stephen Isaacson

Stephen Isaacson is Prior of the Cornerstone Community, a lay Benedictine group within Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, Oregon. He has served in many other roles in the Cathedral and is currently the Co-coordinator of Outreach Ministries at the Cathedral. Prior to his involvement with Outreach or the Cornerstone Community, Steve was Professor of Special Education at Portland State University, where he also served as Associate Dean of the Graduate School of Education. During his career in academia, he authored a number of juried publications and instructional materials.

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