Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Libraries

"Literature enlarges our being by admitting us to experiences not our own. They may be beautiful, terrible, awe-inspiring, exhilarating, pathetic, comic or merely piquant. Those of us who have been true readers all our life seldom realize the enormous extension of our being that we owe to authors. We realize it best when we talk to an unliterary friend. He may be full of goodness and good sense but he inhabits a tiny world. In it, we should be suffocated. My own eyes are not enough for me. Even the eyes of all humanity are not enough. Very gladly would I learn what face things present to a mouse or a bee.
In reading great literature I become a thousand men and yet remain myself. Like the night sky in a Greek poem, I see with a thousand eyes, but it is still I who see. Here, as in worship, in love, in moral action, and in knowing, I transcend myself: and am never more myself than when I do."
CS Lewis

One of my favorite places in the world is the library--any library. It's all about free pleasure. I know, I know, our tax dollars pay for it, but moment by moment, when I enter it, it feels free. It feels like a treasure chest of free jewels just there for the borrowing. You know, like all those million dollar diamonds and rubies celebrities wear to the Oscars and have to return the next day? That's what a library is for me. I've been a frequenter of libraries long before I can remember--certainly even in utero. Every Saturday morning, rain or shine, my mom loaded us up in our Carry-all (they're called Suburbans now), each of us carrying our stacks of books, and we went to the library where we picked out another stack for the week. I read lots of horse books when I was a kid--my all-time favorite was a book called Taffy's Foal, though I read all the Misty books, too. We read the Little House books, the Betsy-Tacy books, lots of biographies. We read and read and read. A big treat at our house was getting to read books at the dinner table--which only happened when Dad was away for an evening or weekend.

There was always this kind of hope associated with entering the door of the library. What great new book would I discover? What new world would open up for me? I remember first walking into the library at the University of Oregon, an old stone building that looks like a castle, and having that same feeling--hope and joy, and longing. Something new is possible here. Some new discovery awaits me. A world not my own.

Over the years I've gone to Africa--many times, actually. But not just the Africa of today, but the Africa of Karen Blixon, David Livingston, and others of the early 1900s. I've raced to the South Pole with Robert Scott--whose doomed trip made me read everything else I could about Antarctica. I've traveled across this continent with Lewis and Clarke and their men (and Sacajawea), looking for the northwest passage. And I've read of places on this earth that only exist in the minds of those who created them.

Today I came across these titles in my walk through the stacks: How Not to Be Afraid of Your Own Life, Perfect Madness, Luminous Emptiness--all of these were on the same shelf, which tells you I'd stumbled onto a new-age pop psychology shelf. I moved quickly on. A row over, I saw The Soul of Politics, which really made me chuckle, next to a book by George McGovern (remember him?) called The Third Freedom, Ending Hunger in Our Time.
I brought home a book called Strong in the Broken Places, among others, about people who are living with chronic or terminal illnesses. And one that had a phrase in the blurb that I'd honestly--on the way to the library--just been thinking about with God, "sometimes the strongest revenge is forgiveness." I couldn't leave the book on the shelf there after that, could I?

But there are libraries, and then there's THE library of scripture. And it hits me that of all the worlds I've visited, all the people I've become as I read, where it starts and ends with me is the world I inhabit when I dwell in the Word. After all, the words we create come from what John says about Jesus in John 1.
"The Word became flesh."
So, here's my favorite Words from the Word (subject to change, though some of these have lasted for 36 years):

1 Corinthian 1: 27--the first scripture I read when I became a Christian at 14
Romans 1 : 16-17--the first verses I memorized
Ephesians 3: 14-21--my favorite of Paul's amazing prayers--we should pray this for each other daily!
Isaiah 54--the entire chapter, meaningful since YWAM days
2 Corinthians 4--very important for anyone with chronic pain (like me)
Romans 5:1-8 (especially 8, which I think is the gospel in a nutshell)
Hebrews 12: 1-2 My goal
Exodus 33: 12-17--I LOVE THIS PASSAGE. It's my heart's desire
Psalm 84
Philippians Yes, the book of Philippians. If I had to pick out a single book to carry with me into captivity, this would be it. I memorized it first of the books I memorized in college, and still know it best. It never ceases to get to me--the Christ hymn in two, his declaration of 'count it all rubbish compared to Christ' of three, the exhortation to pray in four, and the amazing words, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain," of 1:21. I breathe this in and pray they are my words as well.

So what's your list?


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