I’ve been thinking about books a lot lately. Maybe it’s because I’m writing my own and as the chapters take shape, I think of what this story will become. I think of the hopes I have for it in the world.
My mother is a book lover and I am every bit her daughter. I am also my father’s girl and he was a storyteller all of his days, and in those ways of nature and nurture, writing came as naturally as turning a page or gathering a small group to listen to a tale. I was writing before I learned to ride my first bike or hold my breath under water or do a cartwheel (which I actually never learned to do.)
Writing is the way I give language to my days, offer a legacy for my children, and set reminders like breadcrumbs to find my way home. It is the art I practice to create space in my soul for rest, for worship, for lament, for glory. I write the reminders.
On Easter I thought of my dad’s death and what resurrection and new life really means. I felt the loss in the celebration. I sat in the tension of joy and grief and knew that experiencing both is not a contradiction but the most honest reaction we have to living a life of here and not yet. Kingdom Come longings.
I wish my dad were still here to read my stories. That’s what I’ve thought about lately as I write. These are the thoughts I return to on days when it seems book writing is silly or selfish or stupid. When it seems more like girl-hood dreams than a tangible thing. My dad would have been so proud of me. That’s what I think when I wonder if early mornings or late nights or time spent on a keyboard are as important as time spent doing more important things.
He believed in the power of a good story.
My father was what you would call a self-taught man. He left formal schooling ‘round about seventh grade. He was born into oppressive poverty of the physical, emotional, and spiritual nature, but his mind was a wealthy and fertile place despite his circumstances.
His mama was illiterate, and she carried shame-filled words inside her, scrambled up letters blurring the hard edges of her life. Those words claimed her and named her and kept her hopeless.
She had no tools to rewrite what she’d been taught.
I can’t imagine living in a world where words couldn’t speak to me and rewrite my truth, and I suppose my dad couldn’t either. I don’t know what causes some souls to hunger and ache to know, but he surely did. He wanted to know, or maybe to be known. Don’t we all want that just a little bit? Don’t we all want to understand ourselves and to be understood? So, my dad found solace in books. He read himself out of his seventh grade skills and into a world born new. He devoured books as if they could nourish the lost parts of his childhood; as if they could mentor him to manhood—educate the poor right out of his life. And in so many ways, they did.
That’s the thing about books. They are worlds unto themselves. Bound and covered, the pages unbind us, uncover the hidden things we all hold. They can be revelatory, showing us our shared humanity or lack thereof. They are markers of commonality, like broken bread or a meal shared; words open up a place at the table and a spot in the conversation of the ages.
Books show us our history, our transgressions, our victories. They instruct us patiently, waiting on our night table to be picked up again, ingested, processed, harnessed, to bring about clarity and skill. They lighten the mood and enchant us with stories of a thousand lives lived. Books are a gathering of words that become companion and commissioner, sending us out into the world with an extra measure of empathy, grace, hope, and knowledge. Our minds sharpened, our hearts opened, our souls a bit freer with each page.
Books help alleviate the poverty of soul we’re all born with, because although each of us is born into a singular story, we were made for an anthology.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Do you think stories and books are markers of commonality in the same way a shared meal could be? In what ways are they similar or different? Do you think we’re made for an anthology? In what ways can we engage other people’s stories beyond the page?
PRAYER: Dear Lord Jesus, we thank you that you are the grand storyteller. The narrative you’ve woven throughout all time constantly and consistently reveals you. Remind us of the power of words, and specifically of your Word to nourish our souls and strengthen our minds. Help us be a living anthology of praise. Let us be people who make space for others and who are hungry to know and to be known. Amen.