Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Take Up And Read

My annual week at the beach is now just a warm hum in my memory and a faint umber in my flesh.  Beyond the playing in sand and surf, the beach has always meant one thing to me: reading.

This year, my seven days at the beach involved reading, and a blessed break from the march of churchy books I've been reading for my doctorate.  It five novels, around 1,500 pages or so of storytelling goodness.  

Three of the novels were recent offerings from the publisher that, God willin' and the crick don't rise, will soon be working with me on getting my own novel to print.

Those were intimidating, at first, serious books written by clearly gifted authors.  I'm going to be in the company of these folks?  Sure, I've self-published and ePublished.  But looking at that stack of books, hardbacks one and all, was peculiar.  They bore the labels from the library, that place of deep magic remembered from childhood.  I felt a bit like a clueless, as-yet-unsorted muggle-born, wandering into Hogwarts and gawking at the towering, godlike seventh-years as they bent reality to their whims.  

It took me four days to read them, and then I moved to one I'd loaded onto my Kindle.  It was by Stephen King, just because, well, it had been a while.  Darned fine yarn, as it so happened.  And the last was one my wife had read on my Kindle, and came with her recommendation.  It did not disappoint.

I inhaled them, as I do with books, as I always have.  I breathe them in, and whole days disappear as I lose myself in the worlds they create.

What struck me, as I packed up my books from a week of intense, blissful reading, was the book that I had brought and not read.  I'd brought my study bible, as I do, everywhere I go.  But I'd not cracked it, nor had I been tempted to crack it.

It's not that I haven't read it recently, of course, or that I don't read it as part of my usual weekly discipline.  Reading and studying scripture is a part of my every week, as I first meditate over the selected readings, seeking one that seems to resonate or harmonize with my soul and the things of the world.  I refresh my understanding of a text, reading through commentaries in preparation for interpreting it in worship.   I find that fascinating, because the text--as the Spirit moves in it--is always different in different contexts.  It's why, after over ten years of interpreting from the many and various books of the Bible, I still find the process of preparing the Sunday sermon a life-giving place.  It is a task I enjoy, like the good feel of a well-made tool in your hand, or the good sweat that comes from working the earth when preparing for a planting.

But what struck me, in that week of reading other stories, was just how important it is to know other tales.  Bringing the ancient and sacred texts of our tradition alive requires an immersion in other stories--in books, in film, in the stories shared by those around us.  Relating those living stories to that life-giving story, understanding that dance, that exchange?

It makes that One Story--the one we know, and in which we are free to participate--more meaningful, more filled with purpose.