The Sacred Act of Reading

Reading is a sacred act for me. It’s a time that I disconnect from the exoteric world and envelop myself into the words on the page. Books are so important to my well-being that I consider it one of my values and responsibilities to spread that same love for reading to others.

As a reading teacher, I intentionally engage my students in a multitude of texts in hopes of expanding and exciting their minds and hearts. I show my students stories where the main characters are Hispanic, African-American and Asian-American, knowing that this representation gives them confirmation of their existence in this world. I carefully weave in stories about refugees, discrimination, religious persecution, and gender inequality in hopes of enlightening my students about the world around them. I do this because from reading I have learned some of life’s largest lessons and the words on a page have sometimes known me better than I’ve known myself.

One evening, I stumbled upon my now favorite podcast, Harry Potter and the Sacred Text, where I learned about the sacred practice of “lectio divina” (Latin for divine reading).

Lectio divina is a practice where one reads Scriptures in a slow and meaningful way with the hopes of understanding oneself better and becoming closer to God. In this podcast, however, lectio divina is redefined and used with the Harry Potter series, where one line is pulled from the text at random and dissected in four distinct stages to uncover insightful learnings. When I heard lectio divina for the first time, I knew I had to practice it with my 5th graders. So I did, almost immediately, with my Friday after-school book club, The Bookworms. And the outcome was amazing.

The Bookworms, a group of five fifth graders and myself, modeled the same process with Posted, by John David Anderson. We pulled the following line from the text, at random, and optimistically embarked on the journey of sacred reading.

“He reluctantly fished out his ten-sided dragon die and stealthily slid it across the table.” Posted, pg. 130

Stage 1: The Literal Meaning (where does the line take place narratively?)

When we landed on this quote, my students looked at me skeptically, their raised brows saying, “You sure about this, Ms. K-Mo?” “Trust me,” I said, with feigned confidence, as this would be my first stab at lectio divina as well.

We conferred that this line took place when the characters in the story, a group of friends in middle school, were about to play a game of truth. They would roll the ten-sided die and take turns sharing secrets.

Stage 2: The Inferential Meaning (what inferences can you draw from this line?)

“Okay, so what inferences can you draw from this line?” I probed.

“Just from this line?” Cris pushed back, unsure about how to make an inference with such little information.

Nathan, one of my high-fliers, really enjoys a challenge. He jumped right in.

“Well, what stands out to me is ‘ten-sided dragon die’. That’s a lot of sides and I haven’t ever seen a die with ten sides.”

More conversation took place about the weirdness of the ten-sided die and the quirky qualities of the characters in our book. We discussed how Deedee, the owner of the die, felt embarrassed to show his die to anyone outside of his crew, even though it was something he loved that stayed in his pocket everywhere he went. We inferred Deedee’s fear of others not understanding him and making fun of him. We talked about how the die brought the friends closer and pushed them to share their inner truths. We talked about how sometimes we feared sharing our own inner truths, worried about the judgment that would inevitably come our way.

“Hm, so why do you think the ten-sided die is important to the text?” I asked.

And then it happened.

Juliet, free-spirited and wildly introspective, said, “It reminds me of the many sides that people have. Sometimes people will only show one side of themselves, like a die, and avoid showing other sides.”

And there it was. The complex meaning behind a seemingly simple situation.

Stage 3: The Reflection (what does this line remind you of in your own life?)

The reflection stage is where my students began sharing their own life stories. One student was reminded of how he often gets made fun of for his love of Power Rangers and how this pains him. Another shared that he was a huge fan of Dungeons and Dragons… what that is, I still do not know.

Ayrion, a young African-American girl who represents the minority in my school’s demographic of predominantly Hispanic students, hesitantly shared that she gets picked on a lot for the side of her she cannot hide: the color of her skin. She talked about how sometimes she wishes she could yell at the top of her lungs that there’s more to her than being black, for example, that she loves making and playing with slime or that she really misses her mother. Ayrion, on the other side of the spectrum, is dying to share her more hidden sides. Her classmates looked at her, as if for the first time, surprised by her honesty.

Stage 4: The Call-to-Action (what are you called to do moving forward?)

The fourth and final stage of lectio divina is the call-to-action. I asked the scholars what they were called to do moving forward. The boys with the secret passions were called to embrace their hobbies with rigor and pride.

Juliet, unable to take her eyes off Ayrion after her confession, said, “I am going to stand up for Ayrion and be a more responsible friend to her. I hear some of the mean things kids say, but I never participate. I just go play somewhere else. I also never say anything to fix it. Ayrion doesn’t deserve to be treated that way and so I am called to take care of you, Ayrion.”

Ayrion looked at her and nodded her thanks.

As I was wrapping up book club, my mind was thinking at a million thoughts per second. I was floored by the revelations these magical 10-year olds shared and honored to have facilitated the process. One sentence brought a group of very different kids together to better understand themselves and their world.

“Reading fiction doesn’t help us escape the world, it helps us live in it.”

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Filed under First Love: Books, Teacher Tips

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