Recently I was browsing through a work by St. Theophan the Recluse. In a letter he wrote to one of his correspondences he mentions how it is perfectly acceptable for the spiritual person to read non-spiritual books and literature, so long as they are not harmful to our faith and so long as they present truth and not lies. He mentions that the spiritual person can even find a great deal of spiritual insight from non-spiritual literature.
Bearing this in mind, I have recently been reading a lot of books on sales. Working as I do in the sales profession I figured it's best that I hone my skills in order to provide a better service to my clients and a better living for my family. Sales is both a science and an art. As such, good salesmanship can be learned. But I digress.
In the book that I am currently working my way through on the subject I stumbled across a great gem of insight. The book is The Accidental Salesperson by Chris Lytle. On page 120, in the midst of talking about the importance of pre-meeting planning and getting one's prospects involved, he throws out this great comment: "Education without action is entertainment. To know and not to do is not to know."
This got me to thinking, how much of our spiritual reading is done merely for entertainment. All the saints are unanimous that if we are going to do spiritual reading (which we ought to be doing), then we need to put what we read into practice. This does not mean that we do every little thing that we read. We have to use discernment and apply what the saints are talking about to our lives and our unique circumstances as non-monastics living in the world - or even as monastics living in monasteries. But we do have to act upon what we read, otherwise we will never come to know God through the deeper knowledge of experience and experiential relationship with Him. If we do not act upon what we read and discern what is best to apply in our lives, then our reading is nothing more than entertainment. God is not a necessity in our lives, but merely one more form of entertainment competing with other (potentially better) forms of entertainment.
The spiritual life, however, is not entertainment. Of course, it can be fun at times. I will be the first to admit that spirituality can be fun. And there should certainly be an element of fun and playfulness in our spiritual lives. Archbishop Joseph Raya is very adamant about this, as are other great spiritual masters. But there is also a great deal of struggle, suffering, pain, and hardship in the spiritual life. If we only approach the spiritual life and our relationship with God as a form of entertainment, then why would we persevere when the going gets tough?
The saints wrote what they did in order to give us a roadmap in the spiritual life, especially for when the going gets tough. Their writings give us the focus we need to keep our eye on the prize at the end of the journey and to encourage us along the way. They have made the journey and were kind enough to leave us a roadmap. In gratitude, let's put that map to use instead of just looking at it as an intriguing piece of archaic literature and an insight into ancient monastic culture. Practice what they preach! They sure did, and now they are reaping the eternal rewards. May heaven consume us.