Tuesday, May 02, 2006

When reading takes the place of doing

Thanks to comfortable circumstances and the proliferation of used book sales through Half.com and its successors, I could own pretty much any book I wanted. It wasn't always so. When I was a teenager, each book I owned was precious. I remember watching my little library grow book by book to fill the top of my dresser and then the painted white bookshelf my dad and installed on the wall of my old bedroom (it's still there, but no longer full of my books).

Thomas Merton's Seven Story Mountain was an early acquisition. It belonged to my parents, but I appropriated it for my collection since they seemed to be done with it. It was a book that made a huge impression on me at the time, though I reread it when a fiftieth-anniversary edition was issued a few years ago and found it a little prissy. Then there was more Merton, which I purchased, in paperback form, whenever I could find anything he wrote. (Before Amazon, that wasn't always easy.) I enjoyed his reflective, journal-like writings. I remember asking for and receiving Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander in hard-cover--way beyond my budget--for Christmas. Later, I discovered Malcolm Boyd (Are You Running with me, Jesus). An Episcopal priest--interesting.

After a long time--I'm talking about years--it occurred to me that what I was doing was trying to find God in a book, and that books weren't really the right place to look. I realized that it was more important to experience God than to read about God; more important to pray than to think about praying. That's a hard lesson for someone who's been conditioned to answer every question by looking it up in a book (this was before the Internet, obviously).

So it seems ironic that now I have this little pile of religious titles sitting on my desk: The Anglican Understanding of the Church, The Anglican Spiritual Tradition, Welcome to the Episcopal Church. I justify these because they aren't really spiritual reading, just me trying to understand context.

Anyway, what I knew a long time ago, I sometimes still forget, so part of the point of the moratorium on thinking about religion (aside from the fact that I could see I was making myself crazy) was to relax and experience it. I knew I needed more time for prayer, too, real prayer, not just the hit-the-button-on-the-iPod-and-listen-to-someone-else- pray-while-I-concentrate-on-turning-left stuff, and I've been working on that.

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