"Every happening, great and small, is a parable whereby God speaks to us, and the art of life is to get the message."
— Malcolm Muggeridge
A postcard of the above quote is available to view as a JPG.
Imagine what it would be like to be illiterate, unable to read a sign on the highway, a menu at a restaurant, a warning label on a bottle, or a story to a child. Every day you would have to engage in tricks and evasions just to get through all the ordinary activities that require reading skills. You would know that words — whether in a book or on a screen — open the door to the information and inspiration you need for independence and fulfillment, but you would not have access to them.
Now imagine you were spiritually illiterate, unable to read the signs of Spirit in your daily life. You would not see the web which connects you with other people, your community, and the natural world. You would miss those intimations of "something more" that are possible in your work, your creative efforts, and your leisure activities. The world would appear fragmented, lacking in substance and meaning. And very likely, like other illiterates, you would find yourself trying to compensate and cover up for a real void in your life.
You would know that everything around you contains signs and wisdom, but you would not get the message.
Spiritually literate people from all times assure us that this need not be our reality. Life is a sacred adventure. Every day we encounter signs written in the texts of our own experience that point to the active presence of Spirit in the world around us. And we can learn to read these signs; we can become spiritually literate. Whether viewed as a gift from God or a skill to be cultivated, this facility enables us to discern and decipher a world full of meaning.
Spiritual literacy is practiced in all the world's wisdom traditions. Medieval Catholic monks called it "reading the book of the world." Muslims suggest that everything that happens outside and inside us is a letter to be read. Native Americans find their way through the wilderness by "reading sign." From ancient times to today, spiritually literate people have been able to locate within their daily life points of connection with the sacred. To learn how to do this ourselves, sometimes all we need to do is see how others have done it. We have a book and a film series packed with examples.
Spiritual Literacy — The Book
In 1996, we (Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat) published a book of more than 650 short readings, gathered from spiritual books, novels, poetry, music, and films, that are good examples of how to read the world spiritually. We included passages about discovering the presence of Spirit through encounters with things, places, nature, and animals. We found spiritual understandings of eating and cooking, chores, hobbies, the arts, work, service, and more. We discovered spiritual perspectives on relationships, our bodies, and community life. In one chapter, we ran through "A Day in the Spiritual Life" where everything from picking up a spoon and playing with the dog to throwing out the garbage and getting a late-night snack are infused with spiritual significance.
Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat is available in both and hardcover; we recommend the hardcover edition — very good used and even new copies can be purchased through Amazon's used books section. In addition to the readings, the book contains quote-filled explanations of The Alphabet of Spiritual Literacy, 37 "letters" you need to read the world spiritually from attention to zeal. All the content on SpiritualityandPractice.com is related to one of those 37 key practices of the world's religions and spiritual orientations, and they are the focus of our second book, Spiritual Rx: Prescriptions for Living a Meaningful Life.
Spiritual Literacy — The Film Series
Spiritual Literacy is also on film, both as a six-volume DVD series and as Videos-on-Demand. Award-winning Canadian filmmaker David Cherniack took more than 400 excerpts from the book and married them to sense-luscious visuals and emotionally vibrant music to create 26 meditative and soul-stirring half-hour films. Pilot projects in a variety of settings — churches, prisons, retirement communities, women's groups, and living room circles — then created models for how the series could be effectively used for spiritual growth. Discussion guides and lists of the authors and readings on each DVD are posted in the Spiritual Literacy Project area of the website.
The entire six-volume series can be purchased at a special discounted rate (less than $10 per hour) or you can buy individual volumes.
To rent or purchase downloads of individual episodes, visit the Spiritual Literacy Media Vimeo site.
They are just a few examples of the more than 400 scenes in the 13-hour series that illustrate how you can read the world from a spiritual perspective.
- Mary Hayes-Grieco — God in Onions (Beauty - Vol. 1)
- Rick Bass — Skating Under the Stars (Play - Vol. 4)
- Frederick Buechner — The License Plate Epiphany (Wonder - Vol. 6)
- Angeles Arrien — The Woman and the Skateboader (Justness - Vol. 3)
- Rami Shapiro — The Jigsaw Puzzle (Unity - Vol. 5)
- Ram Dass — Good Morning, Casper (Forgiveness - Vol. 2)
- Terry Tempest Williams — Mimi's Sea Shells (Meaning - Vol. 3)
- John R. Aurelio — An Emil Sunset (Enthusiasm - Vol. 2)
- Joseph Bruchac — Grampa Rescues Toads (Kindness - Vol. 3)
- John V. Chervokas — Intimacy through Popcorn (Nurturing - Vol. 4)
- Mary Oliver — Sleeping in the Forest (Transformation - Vol. 5)
- William Guion — Meditation on a Leaning Oak (Vision - Vol. 6)
- Dawna Markova — The Woman with the Broom (You - Vol. 6
- John Shea — The Wolf of Gubbio (Shadow - Vol. 5)
- Annie Dillard — Imaginative Play with Mother's Hands (Imagination - Vol. 3)
- Lynne Sharon Schwartz — The Exhilaration of Riding Bikes (Zeal - Vol. 6)
- Gunilla Norris — Putnam's Joyful Wag (Enthusiasm - Vol. 2)
- Fran Peavey — Holding the Globe (Compassion - Vol. 1)
- Thich Nhat Hanh — Please Call Me by My True Names (You - Vol. 6)
- Margaret Guenther — Expanding the Circle of Our Prayer (Devotion - Vol. 1)
- Shaun McNiff — My Beloved Slippers (Gratitude - Vol. 2)
- Bettina Vitell — The Kitchen Wakes Us Up (Attention - Vol. 1)
- Jean Houston — The Artichoke as Metaphor (Meaning - Vol. 3)
- Ram Dass — Good Morning, Caspar (Forgiveness - Vol. 2)
- Megan McKenna — The Messiah Is One of Us (You - Vol. 6)
- Sue Monk Kidd — The Bird Who Needs to Be Still (Openness - Vol. 4)
- Frederick Franck — The Bee, the Snowflake, and the Fat Man (X - The Mystery - Vol. 6)
- Denise Levertov — All-Surrounding Grace (Openness - Vol. 4)
- Joan Chittister — Questing for Enlightenment (Questing - Vol. 4)
- Anthony de Mello — The Temple Bells (Openness - Vol. 4)
- Soozi Holbeche — Making the World Whole Again (Vision - Vol. 6)