Too many books, so little time! What's a person to do? I have all these books piling up, and I cannot keep up with them all! I am a very fast reader, but with spiritual books I do not read quite as fast since I end up reflecting or praying with a lot of what I read. I admit that I while I do not have any vices I can think of, I am a “readophile”! (I just created a new term. I know a “bibliophile” is one who loves books, but the definition is of one who simply loves books for the sake of books. I love to read them, hence my new word.) I have been this way since I was a child, and I think I may have been born this way. (No intentional reference to Lady Gaga!) My mother would call me for dinner multiple times and I literally would not hear her because I was far away in my world of books. After she figured out what was going on, she stopped being annoyed with my lack of response, thank goodness.
When I was growing up, my favorite free time activity was to ride my bicycle to the local public library and sit all day in the stacks reading books. I would polish off a few and then take a stack home, only to need to go back a few days later to refresh the stack. I did not just read novels. I spent a lot of time in the 200's.... For the non-librarians in the crowd, that is the theological/spiritual section of the Dewey decimal system I grew up with. I would sit down on the floor, on the upper level of the library where the 200 section was located, and read all day. Oh my goodness, I would say I am a terminal case!
Today, I am aided and abetted in this love of books by a couple of friends who are constantly helping me to know what to read. They know me well and so they are rarely wrong in their suggestions to me. But just today a friend made an important observation: when I do get to eternity, will I have wanted to have spent time with this or that book? In other words, while there are a lot of good books out there, (and I do love to read novels, especially detective novels, I confess), it is important to be discerning about what we are spending our time with. I have no intention of taking on the role of book critic. But my friend's question bears some reflection. He asked: "How big, deep, tall should a pending-reading-book-pile be?"
I do not know the answer to that question, but I do think that it is important to call a moratorium on buying occasionally and actually start reading some of them. And it is a good idea to be discerning as to what we buy in the first place. But I do think each of us should do spiritual reading, (as well as entertainment reading). Spiritual reading is important because it often helps us to understand something about God or about discipleship better. It can also lead us to prayer. I never read a spiritual book without a notepad nearby, because often I want to spend time with a thought or idea that has moved me to prayer. It is important to pray first, and write later, so as not to lose the conversation with God. We do not want to be short-circuiting the gentle invitation to prayer by stopping to write. The inspiration to pray is from the Holy Spirit who is moving us to spend time with an insight. That is a grace.
The best spiritual reading is the Bible. The Scriptures are God's message to us; it is God’s Word. If you are unsure of what something means, maybe taking a course on Scripture can be helpful. The Bible is a book we really should know inside and out. If you cannot take a course, then start with the gospels and get a deeper sense of who Jesus is. He reveals to us who the Father and the Spirit are. Read a chapter of a gospel each day and spend time truly getting to know Jesus. If we call ourselves disciples, we really are falling short if we do not know the Master.
Lent is coming very soon. Maybe an idea for a Lenten practice is to give up a bit of time spent at the computer with social networking or games or whatever it is that eats up a lot of your time. Or maybe it might be to give up some TV time. In its place, read something spiritual. It can be the Bible or the life of a saint, or a book about prayer. I am not against novels; I love them especially because there are many good works of literature with Christian themes, such as the works of J.R.R. Tolkien or C.S. Lewis. And there are many excellent novels that are not religious but have thought provoking situations or ideas. But it is important to spend time with the Lord through the gift of books.
On the other hand if we spend too much time with our nose in a book and not enough time with the people around us, doing service or having conversation with family and friends, then it becomes a substitute for real interaction. The key is to take what we read and put it into action. Doing too much of anything is not a good thing. What we need most of all is a sense of balance. All authentic prayer always, (always!) leads us outward. That is, if we are really taking in the message of our spiritual reading and what we are praying about as a result, it will lead us outward in love and service of others. If not, either we did not truly let the message take root in us, or we are out of balance in how we apportion our time. Reading is good, becoming a recluse is not. Prayer is really good, but unless you are called to be a hermit, using it as an excuse to do nothing is not at all what God would want, (and by the way, hermits do not “do nothing”!) We can pray by our actions. That is, what we read and learn through our prayer should move us to love, and love moves us to service. When we love others, that is prayer! It is prayer in action. And when we act, we meet God in those we are with.
Let us ask the Lord to help us with the balance of reading, recreation, and prayer. May we be moved by the Holy Spirit to know when it is time to read and when it is time to act! May our prayer help us to discern what the Lord is calling us to do with our time and talent! May we be inspired by what we read in order to know, serve, and love our Lord better, that we may become truer in our discipleship! Let us meet in the heart of the Lord, where all true wisdom and love resides. Peace.
P.S. I have added a page to my website which lists recommended reading. It can be found as a tab called Michele's Book Corner or you can click here. These are books which I have enjoyed or think are good books, therefore the list is subjective. Please be patient while I spend time getting it together. Oh, I have to run; the UPS man is at the door with a new delivery of books.... (Just kidding!)