Daniel Coleman, In Bed with the Word: Reading, Spirituality, and Cultural Politics (Edmonton, AB: The University of Alberta Press, 2009).
In this fascinating book, Coleman offers reflections on reading and the spiritual life.
In ‘Reading and Longing’, he understands reading as ‘erotic’ in that, ‘like all eros, it leaps with energy and passion; it compels our focus; it reaches out toward an Other’ (p. 13). It leads to an experience of fusion, of being inhabited by another, which frees us from the confines of our own perceptions, opening us to those of others, thus facilitating growth and an intimate connection with the larger world.
‘Reading as Counterculture’ explores reading as quiet time, as a form of solitude, as ‘private and politically relevant contemplation’, as an ‘imaginative and dialogical’ practice that is slow, active and reflective – all of which is countercultural in a society that is ‘increasingly drawn away from silence, slowness, reflection, and internally generated imagination’ (p. 31).
In ‘Posture’, Coleman emphasises that, ‘if we are to rediscover a spiritually nourishing experience of reading, we need to rediscover … a posture of openness and expectation, … an intention … to connect with something larger than and outside of our own sphere of experience’ (p. 59).
‘The Structure of Absence’ includes reflections on how kenotic, self-emptying, reading that is imaginative and responsive leads to and indeed is in itself ekstasis, the transcending of ourselves by ‘paying fierce and generous attention to others as others’ (p. 70), which can lead to an experience of intimacy that is both erotic and profoundly spiritual.
Finally, in ‘Eating the Book’, Coleman explores how the book we read becomes us in that it shapes what we see, how we hear and what we perceive. Taking his cue from Ezekiel 2:8–3:3, where the prophet is told to eat a scroll of grief that tastes sweet as honey to him, Coleman also reflects on the transformative power of books of pain, sorrow and grief, on the pleasures of devastation, confirmation and surprise, all of which are equally important to a spirituality of reading, and on the empowering potential of books, which can lead to profound personal, social and political change.