A Young Man Builds His Library in Hope

A young man builds his library in hope. Each paperback treasure is acquired as an act of aspiration. A library is an image of the man he hopes to be: the canon he constructs is a standard of what he thinks he ought to know. It grows quickly, in unexpected ways, exceeding his attention. But there will always be more time to read, right?
A middle-aged man tends his library with a more sombre aspect. Reshelving a book unfinished is one more failure, a door one closes perhaps never to return. When I put The Noise of Time back on the shelf, I recall all the places Barnes has accompanied me on this adventure. But I see some of his novels still unread and wonder if I’ll ever get back to this corner of the library. In fact, it was Barnes who gave me a word for this: le réveil mortel—the wake-up call of mortality. Who knew tidying your library could be such an existential risk?
At some point you realize: I will die with books unread on my shelf. So be it. The grass withers, the flowers fade, the pages become mildewed and musty. So too will I.   Even those unread books are a sign of aspiration, ambition, hope. I’ll die reading. I trust there are libraries in the kingdom.
~James K.A. Smith, in a lovely post- Mortality and My Library. It reminds me of a similar statement Lewis gave in an address to students:
If I say to you that no one has time to finish, that the longest human life leaves a man, in any branch of learning, a beginner, I shall seem to you to be saying something quite academic and theoretical. You would be surprised if you knew how soon one begins to feel the shortness of the tether: of how many things, even in middle life, we have to say “No time for that,” “Too late now,” and “Not for me.”
This talk was published as Learning in Wartime. Do you feel the shortness of the tether? Like Smith, with God’s help, I will die reading. I’m also going to raise four readers. There is some measure of comfort in knowing that the quest will continue.

Love

In loving thou dost well, in passion not,
Wherein true Love consists not; love refines
The thoughts, and heart enlarges, hath his seat 
In Reason, and is judicious, is the scale
By which to heav’nly Love thou maist ascend,
Not sunk in carnal pleasure, for which cause
Among the Beasts no Mate for thee was found.

~ Milton, Paradise Lost. Book 8 (588-594).

 

 

To read

Since I tend to avoid book lists, this short list of my own probably requires justification. There are a small handful of authors that I try to read faithfully and studiously pursue their recommendations. I was delighted to find several of these authors publishing one after another during the last year.

Eden

This guest post is written by Matt Bulman. Matt works construction, spends time with his wife and three boys, and follows Jesus with the people at Harvest Bible Chapel in Winston Salem, North Carolina.

“And they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the Garden.”  Genesis 3:8

We hear the sound of him walking in the cool of the day. He is searching for us, wanting to walk and talk. Wanting us to be near him and know that he is God, to know that he is for us. To show us there is none like him. But we stay hidden. We hide because I am ashamed in front of you and you are ashamed to be seen by me. What’s more terrifying is the thought of him seeing us.

Why do we hide? Of course he knows about us, knows what we’ve done. He has known the whole time, and now you know about me and I know about you. We found out that both of us have power to destroy what is supposed to be good. With two quick bites, innocence is dead. Guilt and distrust now live in its place.  Yesterday we walked with him in the garden, the two of us in perfect unity with him. We sang for him and he sang over us while we all laughed and danced. Didn’t it feel good? Wasn’t it perfect? Why won’t we come out from these bushes?

I didn’t know then what I know about me now. Or what I know about you. He is calling to us, looking for that communion again. Maybe it is best to hide here, stay in these shadows, close to you but somehow still far away.  I can’t go out there because he will see me, and see you. If we walk out into that light he won’t love me anymore, and if you really see me, neither will you. I don’t want to be alone, don’t want to lose these last little pieces of what he made that was so good. The terror of losing it all keeps my feet planted behind these scrubby shrubs.

I want to look at you, to feel what we felt this morning, to feel the world whirl when I look into your eyes. But I can’t lift my eyes to meet your gaze. I’m scared of what is there now, scared of the blame, the hurt, and the pain. I’m afraid you will see it in my eyes too. How do we get there? Back to when it was good, back when this tangled mess was Eden. Let’s just hide here and maybe he will go and we can work it out later. I can hide this hurt inside, I can fix Eden, and next week when he comes back he will be happy with us.  He is still out there calling my name; why doesn’t he leave?

There is something in his voice that wasn’t there yesterday, something new I haven’t heard before. His voice is permeated with notes of hurt and anger, and hints of longing and love. Like your voice a few minutes ago. It sounds like he really wants us to come out of the dark and into the light. Every time we slither back a little further into the weeds he seems a little closer. Each thorn-prick induced gasp, every stone-bruised muffled curse is echoed with another step from our Father. He is gaining ground and his voice is more insistent than ever.

I pull back a limb so we can see more clearly, and there he is. Nose to nose, eye to eye, tear to tear. God himself, looking into my soul through my eyes, and asking questions that I don’t want to answer. I can blame you, you can blame me, maybe we can blame the devil. This shame won’t hide from him anymore though. It’s right out front, easy for him to see. Why does he look at us like that? Can’t he see what we have done? We ruined it all. Why won’t he just leave us alone?

His anger seemed to melt as soon as our eyes met, but that love and longing is still there. It’s mingled with tears and something else. He knows. I can see it in those eyes. He knows it all but he still loves. We can walk out now. Out of the dark and into the marvelous light. I can lay down my shame, you can lay down yours. The breeze is blowing and I catch the scent of the tree of life’s tantalizing blossoms, overpowering the aftertaste of the knowledge of good and evil. Come on baby, let’s go out there. He is waiting, calling us by name, and we’ve got nothing left to lose.