reaching towards infinity

“Who was it who said, ‘I hold the buying of more books than one can peradventure read, as nothing less than the soul’s reaching towards infinity; which is the only thing that raises us above the beasts that perish?’ Whoever it was, I agree with him.” 
– A. Edward Newton, A Magnificent Farce and Other Diversions of a Book Collector (1921)

My Dad used to say that 20% of the people bought 80% of the books.  He’d usually say this when he was in a bookstore with five or six books in his hands – often at the end of the month, when the rent was due.  Oh well.   Those of us who are part of the 20% know who we are and we justify our purchases with the thought that we are supporting an increasingly archaic art form: the written word, printed on paper, bound as a book, capable of being passed from hand to (subversive) hand, and read without benefit of wi-fi or even electricity.  Some might consider it an addiction to buy more books than one can read.  I prefer to think of it the way A. Edward Newton did:  as “the soul’s reaching towards infinity.”

Perhaps this would explain the suitcase of books that have accompanied me on my sabbatical.  (No, really, a suitcase.)  I decided that if I was going to use this sabbatical wisely, I was going to need my books.  So a whole suitcase of books came with me to Minnesota on the airplane, and whole suitcase of books rode with me in the car to Michigan!  And a whole suitcase of books is going with me to Tennessee.  Delicious decadence!  (My son would call it “wretched excess.”)

So that you know what I am reading now, I am taking this moment to ‘open my suitcase,’ and when I do one thing will become clear:  on this sabbatical leave I have allowed my ADD to run unchecked.

In preparation for the “Sabbath Reading for Preachers” retreat that Daniel Moser and I lead every fall, I am reading and re-reading the following:

  1. Rudolfo Anaya, “Bless Me, Ultima”
  2. Jonathan Safran Foer, “Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close”
  3. Laura Hillenbrand, “Unbroken”
  4. Harper Lee, “To Kill a Mockingbird”
  5. Gary Schmidt, “OK for Now”

And in preparation for the communities I have been visiting or will visit this summer, I have read or am reading the following:

  1. Shane Claiborne, “The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical”
  2. Thomas Merton, “Dialogues with Silence”
  3. Saint Benedict, “The Rule for Monasteries”
  4. John A. Weeks, “Beneath the Beeches: The Story of Bay View, Michigan”
  5. Mary Jane Doerr, “Bay View: An American Idea”
  6. Keith J. Fennimore, “The Heritage of Bay View: A Centennial History”
  7. J. Philip Newell, “Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality”
  8. May Cravath Wharton, “Doctor Woman”
  9. Ted Braun, “Mission Without Boundaries: the Remarkable Story of the Pleasant Hill Community Church (UCC)

And because there are always books I’ve meaning to read – books which have been sitting on my desk gathering dust, I have read or am reading:

  1.  Anne Lamott, “Bird by Bird: Some Thoughts on Writing and Life”
  2. Kathleen Norris, “The Cloister Walk”
  3. Barbara Brown Taylor, “An Altar in the World: a Geography of Faith”
  4. Wayne Muller, “A Life of Being, Having, and Doing Enough”
  5. Jon Kabat- Zinn, “Wherever You Go, There You Are: Mindfulness Meditation in Everyday Life”
  6. Brenda Peterson, “I Want to Be Left Behind: Finding Rapture Here on Earth”
  7. Lauren Winner, “Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis”

And because one thing always leads to another, I have purchased the following books since my sabbatical began and I am in the process of reading:

  1.  Macrina Wiederkehr, “Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day”
  2. Rumer Godden, “In This House of Brede”
  3. Mary Oliver, “New and Selected Poems, Volume One”
  4. Macrina Wiederkehr, “Abide: Keeping Vigil with the Word of God”
  5. Joan Chittister, “In Search of Belief”
  6. Abbot Christopher Jamison, “Finding Sanctuary: Monastic Steps for Everyday Life”

So there you have it: “reaching towards infinity.”  It puts such a noble spin on it!

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