Walking a Literary Labyrinth

The labyrinth has served as symbol of the sacred in various cultures for four thousand years. In medieval Europe, it was placed in the floors of churches where would-be pilgrims trod its twisting paths instead of undertaking the dangerous journey to Jerusalem. Today Christians use the labyrinth as meditation tool to reach into the inner self, where psychological and spiritual metamorphosis originate. Ursuline nun Nancy Malone appropriates the labyrinth as a metaphor for her life’s pilgrimage, tracing the circuitous route to her spiritual center, or “true self,” and back out into the world in Walking a Literary Labyrinth: A Spirituality of Reading. She does not travel alone. Books accompany her, acting as agents of transformation at every turn.

For Malone, reading is a spiritual habit akin to prayer. In her view, both practices require solitude and elicit a response to God and to life. Just as prayer has provided Malone guidance on her journey, books have played a crucial role in helping her to either stay the course or redirect her steps. For example, Cardinal Suenens’s The Nun in the World (1963) motivated her to demand change in convent life—much to the chagrin of her superior. Arthur Waskow’s Godwrestling (1978) caused her, for the first time, to view Jesus within the context of his Jewish culture, instead of regarding him from a Catholic perspective. The slice-of-life stories in Alcoholics Anonymous guided her in overcoming her alcoholism.

Malone, however, reads primarily for pleasure and not counsel. Carolyn Keene, Tolstoy, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Patrick O’Brian, Annie Dillard, Nadine Gordimer, George Eliot, Virginia Wolfe, James Joyce, Sue Grafton, Saul Bellow, and a myriad of others have served as genial traveling companions in her quest to find her true self and God. In this gem of a book, Malone’s journey is the journey of all constant readers who appreciate the power of the written word to shape who we were, who we are, and who we will become as we walk our own literary labyrinths.