by Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J.
Kenneth J. Hughes, S.J. is a visiting spiritual director at Boston College.
He is a member of the New England Province and resides in the St. Peter Faber Jesuit Community, Brighton.
St. Bernard of Clairvaux, back in the 12th century, spoke of three books which God has given us to read: The Book of Nature, The Book of Scripture, and The Book of Personal Experience. For each person these three books are always available and wonderfully timeless. How enriched we would be if we read from each book daily -- now reading from Nature, now reading from Scripture, now reflecting on our Experience! Here are a few comments on each book.
The Book of Nature
Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in “God’s Grandeur,” notes that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God,” but complains that we have distanced ourselves from experiencing this grandeur: “nor can foot feel, being shod.” At this present time, with the advent of spring we can let our eyes casually spot the first snowdrops and daffodils, the first violets and tulip blossoms, smile for a brief moment, and move on, or, we can stop and linger a bit longer, really look at each flower’s beauty, glimpse the beauty of the One who created it, and so move to deeper joy and gratitude.
The mother of Spanish poet Antonio Machado said to him when he was a boy, “Antonio, what have you done with your eyes?” She was chiding him for not taking time to look lovingly at the world around him. She speaks to us too. Are we truly seeing? “Seeing,” of course, means using all our senses: listening, tasting, touching, smelling. For example, Norwegian poet Hans Boerli, in his poem, “Sunrain,” observes that,
“If you turn your ear to the wind
and listen with all your heart,
then you will hear distinctly
Am I seeing, listening …?
The Book of Scripture
How often do we read the word of God? Do we call ourselves Christian and not ponder God’s word, Christ’s word? Do we say that Jesus is our friend and not contemplate his personality and actions? How well do we know our way around in this most precious book? Do we know where to turn to celebrate joy, be consoled in sorrow, find strength in difficulties? What Scripture passage is your favorite? Mine is Jesus saying, “I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.” (Jn.14.6). I keep going back to that saying so as to be rooted in Jesus. I also underline with a thin red pen the passages which touch my spirit the most so that I can find them more easily when I need them for myself or for others. Would reading a prophet or a gospel or a few letters of St. Paul be a good Advent or Lenten project? In surprising ways, through Scripture, the Holy Spirit keeps meeting and stirring our spirit.
Do I have my Bible near me always?
The Book of Personal Experience
With every year of our life, this book of personal experience becomes thicker as we add pages and chapters of our encounters with God – if we pay attention! Are we noticing those moments when God is revealing something of Himself, his care and love for us? For example, coincidences and surprises which elicit wonder are sure signs of God’s presence. Are we noticing? There may be moments of great joy -- “transfiguration” moments -- and moments of great insight into mystery -- “epiphany” moments -- but, more often, we only catch glimpses of God out of the corner of our eye. Rainer Maria Rilke speaks for all of us, I think, when he wrote to God:
“We become so accustomed to you,
we no longer look up
when your shadow falls over the book we are reading
and makes it glow. For all things
sing you: at times
we just hear them more clearly.”
Am I alert and paying attention to the signs of God’s presence?
I suggest that reading these three books will make all the difference between living a vibrant, meaningful, peace-filled life and living a superficially successful but rather vapid life. The road less travelled still makes “all the difference!”