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Personal Correspondence (or My Story of Why I Write Letters)

I had a good friend as a young child. She and I would do everything together. We would play Ghostbusters and imagine catching ghosts in our respective house. We would play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and fight off Shredder and the foot with the most deft of karate moves untrained 5 year olds could muster. She was unequivocally my best friend, as 5 year old friendships went. Then her father was transferred to the mysterious place called Iowa. Even at our young age, we promised to keep in touch by writing each other (texting and social media were not an option). We probably wrote 3-4 letters to each other over the course of a year. Then, we stopped writing, for no relational reason; we didn’t have a letter fight, we just fell in with our lives without each other.

I really enjoyed the process of letter writing. Writing from the heart, sharing the most mundane but important things, signing your name, then sending it off. After that, the wait started. When will she respond? What will she say? What will be attached? Excitement would build until one day a letter addressed in children’s handwriting would arrive. Such an arrival was usually greeting with jumping in excitement.

Fast forward twenty years, not a personal letter had been sent by me to anyone. I began to into the world of fountain pens. I found a community of fellow pen geeks on Instagram. One of them asked if I would be open to a pen pal. At first I was wary, responding in the untrustful logic of an adult. Eventually, after some thought, I acquiesced, sending him my address. A letter arrived a week later and I was taken back twenty years to the joy of receiving a letter (I nearly jumped for joy). This time, though, the letter was from a stranger, a mere avatar and photostream. I enjoyed reading his ramblings and though and seeing the different pens and inks he used. So I responded. One pen pal turned into ten from all around the world, from Los Angeles to Australia, from Canada to South Africa.

I have found letter writing is a much more personal way to communicate than the way in which I met all of my pen pals, social media. It removes the coldness of typeface and adds the warmth of a unique handwriting, whether scribble scratch or Spencerian. We communicate person to person not avatar to avatar. The avatar has a greater tendency to allow the person to hide behind good moments and the beauty of human life. A scratched letter can’t hide behind Futura typeface or filtered photographs. One communicates person to person faults and joys, quirks and triumphs.

Writing letters also gives new insight into the lives of our ancestors who used writing as THE main means of communication across distance. Children would write letter home from school. Soldiers would write home from the battlefront. Friends would keep in touch through correspondence. The written word becomes more than just something to be read but becomes the revelation of someone’s humanity, that he or she is in need of community, established, fostered, and maintained, in reality. Technology reveals man’s reason. The written word can reveal the soul that is reasonable. With each loop of the “l” and cross of the “t,” more is revealed about a certain individual well beyond his/her likes, dislikes, job, and particular cultural niche. So contact an old friend or make a new one, solicit an address and get writing. Let the relationships begin.

Over the next few posts I will share some stories with you about thing that have happend to me due to my taking up regular correspondence.

Christianity in a Post Religious Culture

Many scholars speak of the “Post Christian” world and ask how “religion” and “faith” should fit into this world. I think that these designations reveal the prejudices of such scholars. As a Christian myself, I think it much less provincial, and much more vital, to ask “what place does Christianity have in a Post Religious culture?” For the last century-and-a-half, culture has chosen to ignore religion in general. It is not the first time in human history that the gods have been thus ignored. Nor do I think that it is attributable to any doctrine besides that of the Fall. The more humanity gains knowledge of evil, the more it is aware of its own nakedness in a sea of threats. So, as in Genesis 3, it becomes afraid and it hides from God.

This “hiding from God” is what most characterizes the present circumstances. It is not, as far as I can tell, that humanity is any more optimistic about its fate. If that were the case, the argument could be made (and some sociologists do maintain this argument), that humanity has “progressed” or “advanced” beyond its need for reliance on the uncertain spiritual myths of ages past. This bland answer fails to take into account the extreme angst of the two world wars, the nuclear age, the digital age and the socio-economic unrest of the last 100 years. It does not seem that humanity has any reason to be more optimistic than she was just prior to the beginning of the 1914. In fact, hindsight being 20/20, it is a wonder that she has any optimism left at all.

I do not think that we can blame this “flight from God,” this fugo Dei, on mere secularism. Mere secularism has always been around. There has always been an element of culture and society that has looked at God, religion and prayer as a waste of time. Quite often, it has been a large element. It has always been a rich and influential element. Many of the aristocrats of the late middle ages & early Enlightenment were just as “worldly” as the present day upper-lower-middle class first-worlder. The difference, I believe, lies not in what a secularist believes (or claims not to believe), but rather in how a secularist lives. It is the lived-contradiction of the old aristocrats that makes them different from the contemporary secularist. The old secularist still gave lip service to God, faith and the like, even if they were an utter Philistine behind closed doors. Contemporary secularists is of a much less duplicitous mind. They will proudly proclaim their agnosticism. They go out of their way to make it clear that they could are less about the existence of an Eternal Truth.

The new skeptics cannot forgot about God, but desperately desire to seem like the whole question of His existence is somehow “beneath” them. Here, I believe is the significant point of departure between the Old and New secularist and what makes the new secularist truly “post religious.” The new secularists are determined
to remain undetermined. If told they had to reveal their naked conscience, they would rather walk through the streets naked (and most explicitly choose this latter option…at least, they do here in New Orleans). Their logic: in order to “do business” in this society, they must be perceived as a tolerant, open-minded, quasi-educated 21st century person. Religious conviction of any sort gets in the way this goal. Therefore, they pretend not to care about truth, faith and the question of God’s existence. Their posture, or pose, allows the secularist to meet with the least social friction as possible. It is “cool” to be a slightly sympathetic agnostic skeptic. It gives you access to the most wealth and opportunity with the least resistance.

The funny thing about this state of affairs is that these new secularists do NOT disavow sin. They are just as keen on “social justice” as ever, even if they ignore Divine Mercy. They might act as if Heaven is empty, but they still seem quite frightened at the prospect of Hell. This is why it is best to refer to this period, not simply as “post Christian” but “post religious.” It lacks that most vital quality of any religion: hope. The secularists of this age know quite well that the world might be going to Hell in a hand basket. They can be just as scathing a social critic as any Christian preacher or Jewish prophet ever was, and have just as dire predictions about the fate of humanity. The difference between the secularist and the believer, however, is that the believer still looks to heaven on the horizon.

All this to say, there seems to me no need to be intimidated by the dreams of the contemporary secularist attitude. It is a ghastly depressing thing that says that humanity’s greatest hope revolves around comfort and convenience. They imagine we live in a paradise of spas and smartphones…and nothing more. It is their despair that should shock us and move us, not to fear, but to a strong and persistent pity. Therefore we must, as Pope Francis has said, be the field hospital. We must make hope our banner. Yes, these are depressing times, but not for the Christian or religious person. Rather, the post religious period is most depressing for the secularist. Their hope has been extinguished and they pray not for dawn. Its a good thing, then, that we are the light of the world…

Let Men Their Songs Employ? (Or, What to Do About Bad Christmas Music)

Music is the breath of culture, just as cuisine is it’s body and worship it’s soul. A civilization is judged as weak or strong according to how well it engages in art, cooking and prayer. These are the three things that human beings do at their own prompting, the three things that, unlike any other activities, we perform not simply because we have to, but because we want to. And while it is true that there is certain necessity involved in each, that without food we could not live, without creative we could not communicate and without praise we could not commune, it is likewise true that humanity always uses these things to transcend the raw utility of life. I have seen men starve themselves because the purely-utilitarian meal prepared for them failed to feed their humanity. We have seen revolutions overthrow governments when people are prevented from praying.

Likewise, when song is reduced to mere ceremony, men abandon hope, women abandon compassion and culture begins to asphyxiate. That is why bad Christmas music does more than simply annoy. When a culture fails to robustly celebrate a holiday, when artists neglect rigorous writing, it is symptomatic of decline. The artists of our day seem to care more about fulfilling contractual obligations than celebrating even a secular Christmas. For those that are Christians, all I can say is that their devotion and artistry have, in large part, failed to produce anything other than watered-down versions of the rich hymns produced by older believers who now sleep in Christ.

I do not believe that this is because we have given up on Christmas. Nor do I question the sincerity of the faith of those artists honestly trying to tell the Christmas story in verse. What I do question is the amount of care and attention our culture puts into deeply communicating it’s true message, the “Christmas ‘kerygma’.” It is not impossible to produce profoundly moving art based upon this age old story of the God-man born in Bethlehem. In different cultures, and in other mediums within our own culture, there have been wonderful examples of good Christmas art. Yet, in the realm of music (as also in the realms of decoration, preparation and gift-giving) we have surrendered our sacred heritage in favor of a quicker, more consumeristic approach. Like I stated at the beginning, this demonstrates a decline in the life-breath of our culture.

The fact of the matter is that the Christmas story remains as radical as it ever has. God becomes man. King Herod persecutes the King of Kings. A star rises in the east, like a newer, smaller dawn, and sages travel by its light to be taught at the feet of a baby. The God who created the universe is born underground, into the heart of the earth. A silent father listens to the inspiration of angels and a holy mother ponders all these things in her heart. The story lacks none of the necessary ingredients for poetry. Yet, our musicians consistently fail to communicate the drama, the passion and the amazing grace. Or, they simply choose to sing about snowmen, ringing bells or yuletide romance. The back of their album cover boasts a glossy picture of our artists smiling in green and red, claiming to be able to bring us in touch with the true meaning of Christmas. Pop the album into the stereo, however, and the best you can hope for is an electronic remix of an old song that you could have sung more meaningfully all by yourself.

We simply must not settle for this! Christmas is deeper, simpler and stranger than any amount of dime-store Christmas CD’s would lead us to believe. And I do believe that there are artists out there trying to communicate this Christmas mystery with greater acumen. I will leave you with one example of what I mean. At first, it will not sound like a Christmas song at all, but I think that its merit lies precisely in that fact. It breaks from the idea that Christmas music must be comforting and cliche. It reintroduces as sense of penance and praise. But most of all, it is a simple and good song:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8U0_OYCqHPM

Christianity As a Minority

I am told that, in the course of my short lifetime, Christians have become a minority in this nation. While it is true that many people still self-identity as “Christian” in censuses and opinion polls, the fact of the matter is that very few in our culture live out that Christian identity in their own lives.

I need not cite any particular data. Almost all of the reports agree: attendance at Sunday worship is down, knowledge of Scripture has diminished and efforts at both Evangelization and (Christian) Social Justice simply do not bear the sort of fruit they once did. In contrast, secular alternatives to these Christian responsibilities are gaining significant ground every day. Instead of going to church on the weekend, most people go to the mall. Sales of Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey and any number of other neo-pagan novellas are up. Most Americans spend more time at the ubiquitous fundraisers, demonstrations and campaign rallies than they do preaching Christ or feeding the poor. In short, we have lost ground, much of it irrecoverable at this point.

It would be easy to look at these facts (that is what they are: facts) and miss the important truth they signify. The keys of the kingdom were given to the Apostles. The task of evangelization and catechesis were entrusted to us. If fewer and fewer people are choosing Christ, it is not that it is because He is less attractive now than He was centuries ago. Nor is it simply thay our culture offers more distractions than any other in history (though this is a major factor). No, the problem lies with us. If people are not choosing Christ, it is because we are failing to consistently offer the inviation.

Many other men better than myself have already noticed this. Men like Billy Graham, JP II and now Pope Francis have been quick to give us both advice and example on how to preach the gospel to this rapidly Paganizing world. Read their works and study their lives for lessons. To their words and works I can only add this: I find that the current situation is an interesting novelty. And Novelty, for me, has always been closely attached to Opportunity.

Allow me to explain. Now is not the time for some dreary message about how all hope is lost, how souls are daily plunging irrevocably into the great abyss, that culture is retrogressing and that the end of western civilization is nigh. All that may be true (and, if it is, it most certainly is tragic). Yet, deep down inside of me there is both a natural and a supernatural hope that I cannot shake. The natural hope is born of that strange human instinct for adventure and innovation. Christians today have an opportunity that many of our brethren in the past would envy: we have a Church that is, day by day, ever freer from confusions of society. Every reformer has noted that the ties between the Body of Christ and the body of the world, between the City of God and the city of man, are usually so blurred as to be indistinguishable. Not in our age, however. I feel that, at this moment, never has the line between “the Church” and “the world” been so sharply discernable. That is not to say that it is clear enough for us to judge what side of the line our neighbor is on. But I do believe, that perhaps for the first time since the founding of our country, the individual Christian finds herself in a climate where she can be certain of her own allegiance to Christ. If you put a political, economic or social agenda ahead of Him, it is very difficult to be blind to it. Consider the fact that, in our day, almost every political, economic and social force in this land has eventually stood at odds with the Gospel. That makes the pilgrim Church one of adventurers surrounded by hostile eyes and dangerous pitfalls. Such a fate is an exciting one, if nothing else.

I also spoke of a supernatural hope. It is this: following Christ will soon require of us a virtue that none of us has yet the opportunity to exercise. We will be rejected, spurned, “hated by all because of My Name.” We will be excommunicated from “good’ society. We will be delivered over to courts. Make no mistake: some of us will soon have the chance to be the first confessors and maybe even martyrs in the history of the United States. This is a chance to love unlike any other that can be offered the Christian. I cannot say on what issue the point will turn. Will we suffer for the unborn, or for our right to practice our religion according to conscience instead of government regulation? Will we die defending the immigrant or the infirm, both shunted away from their families by bureaucracy? Will our efforts to find peace in the world lead to destruction at home? I cannot say. I have not the vision. But I can say that this society, this culture, is close to losing patience with us entirely.

It require patience for an individual to endure the Gospel: any Christian knows that. To be constantly bombarded by its Truth, yet to live outside its grace, is an intolerable and annoying situation. To renounce its Love but to go on hearing its invitation is difficult. Soon, the members of this society might rise up against us. What form their anger will take is a mystery. But when the hour comes, we hope in Christ, who wanted so badly to find faith on earth while also bringing her the sword. Let us pray to Him for this faith, for the faith to remain true to the Love of His teaching, to reject all ethical shortcuts that would have us settle for “tolerance.” We are now being called to be adventurers and lovers of the highest order. Lets not dilute the water by wishing things were easier on ourselves.

Passionate Repeat Viewing

I’m watching “The Passion of the Christ” 5 times through this week. Maybe six. It’s what comes of being a high school religion teacher and wanting each of your classes to be exposed to one of the most historically accurate depictions of the crucifixion and death of Our Lord.

I do believe that it is historically accurate but, even if it weren’t, it is psychologically and spiritually accurate. The way the torturers treat Jesus, the way Pilate tries to worm his way out of the act, the way the crowds persecute and the way that the Sanhedrin prosecutes: it is all real to human life. As for spiritual accuracy, the fact that the script only departs from Scripture when showing extra-Biblical events is a testament to its depth and sublimity.

In any event, I’m not writing to argue the accuracy of the movie. I am confident that most anyone who has stumbled upon these words will agree. What I do want to reflect on is, in general, the sheer power of remembering the Passion event. When I was young, before I put aside childish things, I used to reason thus; “Why go to the Stations of the Cross? Why read the Passion readings twice during Holy Week? Why pray the Sorrowful Mysteries so much during Lent? I get it: Jesus died for me. Looking at it again and again and again: isn’t that just a bit over-indulgent? Why not have one big Passion liturgy every year and then have done with it?” It wasn’t just the Catholic guilt that intimidated me: it was the Catholic logic. It wasn’t just the shame and disgrace: it was the theology. Over and over again being hit with the Crucifixion, I felt like there was nothing more to see or learn. I knew that I should accept the Crucifixion as true and salvific, or I was a bad person. Once convinced of its power and meaning, was there any real reason to keep witnessing it, meditating on it, praying over it, etc?

All this I thought while still a child. Then I became a man and learned about love. I learned that love is not a matter of being ‘satisfied’ or doing something ‘enough.’ (It is interesting that the Latin word satis occurs so often in “The Passion.” So frequent is its use that my students even asked me “Why do they keep saying satis and what does it really mean?”) I am slowly learning that love, Christian love, is a matter of never drawing a line. It is a matter of seeing things through regardless of personal consequences.  It is about giving to the other at not just great, but total, risk to the self. It cares not for what is “necessary” but about what is best for the beloved.

As I watch Jesus die again and again and again over this week, culminating in the Liturgy of the Lord’s Passion on Friday, I feel that this is really what I need to remember. God’s Infinite generosity is what we see modeled in the Crucifixion. Given the status of the world and, more importantly, the status of my heart, I do not think I can look on this model often enough:

Concupiscence, True Communion, and ‘Friends’

I decided to repost my first thoughts posted on blog format. This post originally was written on Monday, June 30, 2008.

It does not correspond to the personal union or ‘communion’ to which man and woman have been reciprocally called ‘from the beginning,’ in fact, it is contrary to it, that one of the two persons should exist only as a subject of satisfaction of sexual urge and that the other should become exclusively the object for such satisfaction. Further, it does not correspond to this unity of ‘communion’–in fact, it is contrary to it–that both the man and the woman should mutually exist as objects for the satisfaction of sexual urge, and that each of them on his or her own part should be a subject of such satisfaction. Such a ‘reduction’ of the rich content of reciprocal and perennial attraction among human persons in their masculinity and femininity does not correspond to the ‘nature’ of the attraction in question. Such a ‘reduction,’ in fact, extinguishes the meaning proper to man and woman, a meaning that is person and ‘of communion,’ through which ‘the man will… unite with his wife and the two will be one flesh’ (Gen 2:4). ‘Concupiscence’ removes the intentional dimension of the reciprocal existence of man and woman from the personal perspective ‘of communion,’ which are proper to their perennial and reciprocal attraction, reducing this attraction and, so to speak, driving it toward utilitarian dimension, in whose sphere of influence one human being ‘makes use’ of another human being, ‘using her’ only to satisfy his own ‘urges.’
Man and Woman He Created Them: A Theology of the Body by Blessed John Paul II

Friends was one of the big sitcoms in the 90’s (you can hear the claps from the theme clap-clap-clap-clap). It had a lot of influence on my generation. Yet, this quote from John Paul II puts forward the basic weakness of the series.

There is a total reduction of the relationship between man and woman to one of sexual satisfaction. The two friends who ended up marrying each other began their intimate relationship with sex. When they hid the ‘relationship’ from the other friends, they where hiding the fact that they were having sex. To my knowledge, which is limited and finite, and possibly wrong, they didn’t go out on a ‘date’ until it was public knowledge that they were dating.

A relationship which ended in marriage was based and grounded upon a sexual relationship, i.e. sand. This is what my generation saw each week, and it is what John Paul II called the utilitarian dimension, wherein the person of the opposite sex is an object for sexual gratification. The ideal in this dimension is mutual sexual gratification, which, to many nowadays, means a basis for a solid marriage.

Friday Thoughts – Reflections on Mexico City, Part 1

Photograph by Jan Zatko courtesy of
Wikimedia Commons

Mexico City is just so big. It’s sheer size is overwhelming. Whereas most metropolitan cities went up into skyscrapers, Mexico City spread out like a dog taking a nap using much more space than it need to. Despite this, I also enjoy the city because there is so much mystery in it. It has hidden delights and history that is one of the oldest in this hemisphere. It contains within it the contradiction of the Mexican people: ardent faith and a tendency toward socialism. It holds a government riddled with communists and la Basilica de la Virgen de Guadalupe. They seem at peace but are indeed in a silent war in the hearts of the Mexican people.

I’ve also noticed a certain Epicurean attitude within the people of Mexico City. The colors of houses, clothes, and care are bold, bright, and pleasurable to look at. Public displays of affection are much more numerous and much more intimate than in the US. Advertisements border on pornography putting the strip club advertisements in New Orleans to sensual shame. It is a very different place, and yet the same time very similar. The similarity lies in the people. No matter the culture, no matter the sins, man is still striving for God.

From right to left: My sister, Katie, my father, me,
and my Mameré

I entered the city not to experience its vice, although it wears it on its sleeve, bur rather for its virtues. I came for the same reasons millions of people go to D.F. (as the Mexicans call it), La Señora de Guadalupe. La Señora had been active my life in a very particular way. She had walked with me through my entire vocational journey. Her intercession began when I was child. My Mameré  (French for grandmother) made pilgrimage there when I was young. When she returned she gave me a stone statue (which I brought with me and TSA thought it was a weapon) of La Señora. She sat in my room my entire childhood, through my tumultuous teenage years, and throughout my seminary career. She stood as a sentinel to intercede for me in time of difficulty and great despair. It is also important that my Mameré gave me this. The only Catholic in my four grandparents, she was the bulwark of faith in my family. When she wasn’t with the family, she was in the parish doing this or that. Her prayer life was solid and worthy of imitation. A few years after she died and I had already started seminary, my father showed me her daily prayer book. In it was a prayer for vocations. Although it is only speculation, she was praying for one of her three grandsons to become a priest. When all my family came in from all parts of the US for my ordination, there was a unified chorus telling me my Mameré was rejoicing in heaven watching the fruit of her prayer and suffering. Her prayers, connected with the prayers of my heavenly mother, fostered in me an openness to hear the Lord’s call.

I will continue this story next Friday …

Friday Thoughts – Sacred Heart Fruit Pizza

Sorry for the lag in posts. I was ordained a priest. Yay! I’m still getting used to what is required of me now as a father. I have been writing just haven’t published much as of late. So, being the Feast of the Sacred Heart, I thought I’d throw up this picture of a pizza a friend of mine’s wife made.
Gotta love creative food ideas. 

Friday Thoughts – The Basketball and the Cross, an Ankler Adventure

 It has been a great and difficult journey since February 6th. I have experienced great grace from the Lord, some of which I have shared with you. Jesus Christ is none more active than in the suffering of His children. He makes Himself Incarnate in our lives, revealing to us His great love, mercy, and justice. In each moment of our lives, in the most ordinary things, He is revealing Himself to us. That has been my journey as the Ankler.

This latest revelation brings me back to that fateful night two and a half months ago. I was playing a game that I love with people whom I loved. Psychologically I felt safe, unafraid of any harm coming to me. Warming up shooting jumpers, I was working off the rust in my game missing right, left, hitting the rim or the backboard, rarely hearing the sweet sound of swoosh.

Then, my experience of basketball was forever altered. Psychologically I will never feel safe. The rotation of my ankle in a direction the good Lord did not intend marred my hoops experience.

Granted I still enjoy watching the game, especially my New Orleans Hornets. Will I get up and play another day? Probably, but I will be going about things differently. This injury is for me a paradigm shift, an event identified by before and after.

Last night, I was given a gift, a symbol for of this event. No, not the pins that were in my foot. Rather, it was a basketball signed by my fellow hoopsters. It is a symbol that will forever hold this event in my memory.

As I began to reflect on this, the Lord’s revelation to me became apparent. Symbols have meaning. They are not empty; nor are they false prophets. This basketball bring me back to that moment of deep pain. It would seem that I am a masochist to graciously and excitedly receive such a gift that will contains memories such as this. It is not just a symbol though of pain; it is also a symbol of the great grace of God that has been poured out to me over these last months.

It is no different for us with regard to the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is a symbol of extraordinary pain, suffering, hatred, anger, malice and evil. However, it’s power lies not in such things, but, rather, in the grace flowing forth from that sacrifice of the High Priest of the Father. The cross is a symbol of our redemption, a reminder of the saving events our lives. It is a scandal for some. It is foolishness for others, but, for those who have received the gift of faith, it is glory and joy, hope and happiness.

Dear reader do not let this symbol pass you by.

Friday Thoughts – Reading Fiction is a Spiritual Exercise

I was going through my day as normal: preparing things for ordination, dealing with schoolwork when I clicked over, vainly of course, to my blog tab on Chrome to see its views for today and realized, “It’s Friday!”

Life has gotten out of control for me right now. Lots of things are going on in my life, and I can barely balance them all. The formation staff here has tried to instill in us a rule of life (sort of like a self-imposed Rule like St. Benedict had for his monks without of course the monastic aspects). About a month and a half ago, I made an addition to my rule of life, read a chapter of fiction each day.

Now being in the Utilitarian culture that had formed us this sounds impractical. If I have stuff to do and not enough time to do it, why spend time reading fiction, going off into fiery lands and imagination and stuff. The same could be said of prayer, and indeed, my reason is this. Reading fiction, for me is human formation (buzz word for seminarians, if you don’t understand ask you’re favorite seminarian, which I understand might very well be me … cue vanity music).

Fiction helps form and activate the imagination. St. Thomas Aquinas spends part of the Summa Theologiae speaking about the imagination (I q.78 and on from there). He elucidates how it is operative within the union of body and soul. St. Ignatius of Loyola speaks of it with regard to spiritual warfare. It is the battleground where the Holy Spirit insights great gifts of prayer and evil spirits tempt.

Watching film doesn’t necessarily activate the imagination. All the images I need are right there in front of me, but with a book, my imagination is hard at work building the words on the page into images in my mind. I will explain with a excerpt from a novella, by Alexander McCall Smith, I just finished called The Perils of Morning Coffee:

She seated herself at the only free table, under one of the large windows, and looked out. The view was of Candlemaker Row, a narrow street that descended sharply towards the Grassmarket. There were angled slate roofs, chimney pots, stone gables, and towering above them, like the set of some improbable opera, the Castle. For a few moments she stared at the scene. The fragility of the city touched her, as it always did; made her catch her breath. And she lived in this: that was what never failed to astonish here. I live in the midst of this beauty.

This is Edinburgh Castle, the “Castle” of
which the character above is referring 

McCall Smith lets the reader in on the beauty of Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s ancientness captures the mind, the heart, and the imagination. That street used to house candlemakers. I can imagine people coming from all over the city to get their candles only to head down the hill to the open-field market to purchase the food for that day. Now, not only do I have an image implanted in my mind of Scotland, but a better appreciation of the history of my own city.

Now that my imagination is activated through this simple reading I am more aware when the Holy Spirit introduces Himself and when the evil spirits force themselves in. To read fiction, in some sense, is a spiritual exercise.