My choice for Lenten reading this year is the book The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris. When I walked to the library a couple of weeks ago, I borrowed the large print edition of the book. I thought that I would be re-reading it, because I remembered having read it years ago.
As soon as I began reading the book, I knew that I had made a mistake. Even though I could have sworn that I had read this book, nothing seemed familiar. John says that he read it and he thinks that we may even own this book. What a happy surprise this book has turned out to be. Everything Kathleen Norris is saying in this book resonates with my spirit. As I was reading today, I came across this quote:
Negative capability…is being capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts without any irritable reaching after fact and reason. ~John Keats
When I read these words, I felt so happy. These words seem to describe the journey I am on – a journey to increase my negative capability. Through my low vision journey, I am learning to grow in my comfort with mystery and unknowing. Questions that I used to obsess over are losing their significance – questions like “why” things happen. I am able to sit in uncertainty longer without needing answers. I am sometimes even able to embrace the mystery without trying to make sense of it.
As I was reading today, I sat with this quote for a few minutes. I let the quote find its matching truth in my heart. I hesitated to move on and read any more before exploring what these words might mean to me. This is not the way I normally read, but it is becoming my new normal. I think that I am learning to read differently because my vision problems force me to read much more slowly. Instead of flying through a book in a day or a weekend, it takes me weeks to finish even the most interesting book.
I am reading the large print version of The Cloister Walk. Still, it is slow going. The words swim around on the page. It is difficult to bring them into focus. Because of my blind spots, I have to turn my head to see parts of the page with peripheral vision. I have to read in bright light because it is impossible for me to see the letters in dim light. I can not focus on reading for very long in one sitting because my eyes get too tired. All of these circumstances have forced me to change the way I digest a book. Before, while reading, my eyes would race my mind to finish a book as quickly as possible. I would skim through a book, absorbing the important concepts. Now, my mind wants to race ahead but my eyes can not keep up. So, to give my eyes time to read, my mind goes deep into the meaning of the words. I am reading on a different level now.
This new, deeper method of reading works well with a book like The Cloister Walk. I have time to think about the author’s journey, the Scripture quotes she uses, the Benedictine lifestyle, the lives of saints, and how all of these things touch on my own experience and theology. I am loving this book, but I wonder how I would have liked it with my former speedreading style. I can’t help but think I would have missed the whole point, or at least a lot of the important points. Maybe I wouldn’t even remember reading it. And that would be a shame. Because it seems that, in Kathleen Norris, I have found a kindred spirit. I think I can learn a lot from her, not by skimming the surface, but by diving deep into her writing and letting her words dive deep into my spirit.