Sunday, January 27, 2013

Old Books

You'll notice my new background. I took the picture this morning in my living room of my dusty bookcase full of dusty, broken-down books (and I didn't notice how dusty the shelves were until I began playing with the picture...sigh!). Once read so often that now they're falling apart at the seams. Among these books are two very old Bibles, with names of children born, children wed, children and spouses dying. Family histories on the front and back flaps of the Word of God. I wonder at this practice as I trace my hand over the names. Perhaps the Bible was the only book in the house, the only place to keep such a record. Or maybe the record of those lives was revered enough to be set down in the Book of Life, like He suggested it should be.

One of these Bibles belongs to my great-great aunt Carrie, whose name I share, at least in root. The other belongs to Beve's great-great grandfather's family, though I cannot quite make out the connection, for though it has many names, there is no 'owner' listed. So right in our home, right on my dusty old bookcase of dusty old books are our family geneologies, at least in part.

But these are only two of the treasures on my bookcase. I began collecting old books thirty-five years ago, when I was in college and found a whole collection of 19th century leather bound American novels at a garage sale going for a song. I was as poor as you can imagine in those days, but books came before eating for me, so I bought them. And have added to the collection ever since. An early, broken-down Thesarus is on the shelf along with some of my great-grandfather's engineering reference books. And part of his father-in-law's voluminous collection resides there as well, books I'd really love to read, if I wasn't afraid of hurting them. They are old and fragile, but so comely in form.

There's something about old books. Something about knowing they've been loved well by people I will never know: it gets me right in the heart. Even when I've bought the books from a used book store (and gotten a bargain price for something the proprietor had little idea was so valuable) I'm awed by the history. By the hands that have held it before me. I'm not talking about value for its own sake, though I know some of my books have more value than others, and, according to a few antiquarians I've talked to, really should be insured. No, it's the value of the words within and the stories that are related to those words that fascinate me. I see names inside the covers of these old books and wonder about them.

For instance, I have a very old copy of Streams in the Desert, published in 1929. The author is Mrs. Chas. E Cowman. That's telling, isn't it? She was only known in relation to her husband. But this isn't the most compelling thing to me. Inside there's an inscription. "Next to my Bible, this book has meant more to me than any other." Sister Galbraith. More than any other, now that's high praise. . I used a copy of Streams In the Desert a friend gave me in college, and I can understand how someone might think it so important as a spiritual help.

Still, it begs the question:  what book would I give to someone if that was my objective? The book that's meant more to me than any other...hmmm. I honestly can't imagine. There are so many. But here are five. Most of them I've written about other places/times on this blog, but they bear repeating as often as they've borne rereading.

Something by CS Lewis to start, of course.Weight of Glory, if I had to pick one. Find it, read it, keep it. I mean it!

Eugene Peterson's Leap Over the Wall. Vignettes from the life of David teach us about the life of the church. Nothing short of convicting for me.

Frederick Buechner's Listening to Your Life. This is a devotional, made up of his writings in other places. I am always being changed by it.

Celtic Daily Prayer--my favorite devotional, because it creates a monastic rhythm in a 21st century world.

Rilke's Book of Hours: Love Poems to God (translated from the German by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy). It's exactly what it claims to be: love poems. To and from God, actually. It sometimes breathes life into a rather dry spirit.

So there you have it, my bookshelf, and my old bookshelf. Now, I suppose I should go dust them.

But first, my favorite before-meal prayer, by Robert Farrar Capon. Feel free to use it. We heard it first from my dear seminary professor, before eating the most luscious meal we've ever had!

The poor shall eat and be satisfied.
They that seek after the Lord shall praise Him; your heart shall live forever.
O Lord, refresh our sensibilities. Give us this day our daily taste. Restore to us soups that spoons will not sink in, and sauces which are never the same twice. Raise up among us stews with more gravy than we have bread to blot it with, and casseroles that put starch and substance in our limp modernity. Take away our fear of fat, and make us glad of the oil that runs down Aaron's beard. Give us pasta with a hundred fillings, and rice in a thousand variations. Above all give us grace to live as true [people]--to fast until we come to a refreshed sense of what we have and then to dine gratefully on all that comes to hand. Drive far from us, O Most Bountiful, all creatures of air and darkness; cast out the demons that possess us; deliver us from the fear of calories and the bondage of nutrition; and set us free once more in our own land, where we shall serve Thee as Thou hast bless us--with the dew of heaven, the fatness of the earth, and the plenty of corn and wine. Amen.

1 comment:

Pamela M. Steiner said...

You are a girl after my own heart. I LOVE OLD BOOKS! And I have many,though I don't think as many as you. Mine are also dusty, but that just happens, you know? "Streams in the Desert" is one of my most favorites...copywrite 1925, and then 1950. My husband and I used that devotional book over and over again in the first years of our marriage..and always marvelled at how it's messages were alway appropriate for whatever we happened to be going through at that particular time each year! God works in mysterious ways. I too, love to read other people's old books that I've purchased from thrift stores, estate sales, etc., and love it when they have left their name inside, or other notes, bookmarks, etc. Yes, I too wonder about them and wonder if they enjoyed the same things I did about each book. Thank you for stirring up these thoughts/memories for me today. I may have to go pull an old book off the shelf and start reading! :)