Build a Family Lectionary

Who doesn’t love a good story time? Many adults delight in reading to their children or finding their child curled up with a good book. We know that there is so much for our children to learn and be inspired by, but we could never teach it all ourselves. Books are a magic portal to worlds, cultures, and values beyond what we’ve gotten to explore yet with our own life experiences.

Below, you’ll find some ideas for selecting books and reading with your children.

Historically speaking, a lectionary is a collection of scripture, studied and revisited in a cycle for various seasons or occasions. This traditional understanding of a lectionary isn’t common to Unitarian Universalist practices, but many UUs and UU leaders have their own version of a lectionary; a curated set of books or passages that they know they can return to again and again to fill their spiritual cup or be challenged anew. Revisiting a poem or book seasonally gives us an opportunity to dive deeper or to notice what has changed in us since our last reading. Highlighting or underlining in a different color each round can help you notice how the inner landscape of your life changes how you experience the same passages year after year. 

Curating a collection of meaningful reads is a great summer project to engage in with your children. Make a list of topics you’d like to dive into, and then hit the library and look for titles to bring home. Bring home more than you think you need, because you want to be able to put down a book that isn’t a good fit and still have more to explore.

Try expanding your exposure to age-appropriate reading materials that have a deeper layer of meaning, and spend time together reflecting on whether it’s worthy of revisiting and why. The process of adding to your list never had to end. Any time you find a book or poem or essay that feels rich with meaning, propose adding it to your family lectionary, and discuss where it fits. Do you want to come back to it every solstice? Is it one to reach for when you’re feeling lonely? How will it serve your spirit?

Finally, consider how you will organize your family lectionary. Will it be a book list by topic or occasion? Will you own a coy of each? Will you have a dedicated shelf in your home? There’s not right or wrong as long as the books that feel worthy of your family’s time and attention are organized in such a way that you can find the words you need with the time is right.

The idea of lectio divina dates back to the fourth century, and means sacred reading. It’s a way of diving deeper into sacred texts, with the idea being to spend time listening intently for what God (or the universe or your intuition) is trying to communicate with you. While this is traditionally practiced with scripture, this way of approaching a text with intention can be highly engaging for almost any kind of text. Okay, maybe it’s not gret for Captain Underpants, but it’s still fairly universal.

Lectio Divina has four parts that work for any age, but here’s a way to think about those four parts with your family.

  1. Read the passage you’ve selected several times. You and your child will mark or write down any words or phrases that jump out at them. No need to know why. Just notice which bits you notice and make note.

2. Reflect on the passage, and in particular, the bits that stood out. Ask yourself questions about what meaning or lessons it might have for your life. Look up the dictionary definition or root words of the key terms that stood out to you. Would you have worded it differently? How would you live differently if you took the possible lesson of the passage seriously?

3. Respond by inviting something bigger than yourself to give you guidance. This could look like prayer or talking to a mentor about your experience with the passage.

4. Rest for a while, living thoughtfully with the passage in mind, giving yourself time to process what you learned not only from the passage, but from your own reflections on it and from your prayer or mentoring experience. Don’t just set the passage aside and move on with your day. Give it time to sink in.

Good Choices for Lectio Divina with Kids

Zen Shorts and Zen Ties, by Jon J Muth

The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse, by Charlie Mackesy 

Hope for the Flowers, by Trina Paulus

Cry, Heart, But Never Break, by Glen Ringtved

The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

When God Was A Little Girl, by David Weiss


As a parent, creating my own core of useful, spiritually challenging reads has been invaluable in helping me squeeze more meaning out of the seasons and replenish my soul when enduring a period of great challenge. I look forward to gifting my children with a complete collection of my personal lectionary as they become adults. I remember being a teenager and listening to Des’ree sing “read the books your father read,” and wondering if my father read any books at all. I wanted to know what was important to him, what was shaping his ideas. 

Consider nourishing your own spirit by working on a separate lectionary for your caregiving heart. Ask people who inspire you which books they return to over and over again and start building your own list. As Rev. Jill turns our attention to the holy days and holidays that are important to us as individuals and as a community, consider what words you need to read over and over again to deepen your connection to the season and occasions that help you mark the passage of time. 

As always, if you want help finding inspiring books or anything else relating to your family’s faithful life, my door is always open!