I apologize for my post's lateness, but we've had the stomach bug awfully badly in our house the past few days. I'm thankful to report that I have not been vomited upon in twenty four hours (a significant victory), and that everyone seems to be on the mend. Other than being sick as a dog, there actually have been a few lovely things that have happened this past week. My parents moved to the same city where we currently live, marking the first time since my husband and I have been married that I will live in the same time zone, let alone city, as my mother and father. I am elated that they are here, that they will get to have a more hands-on and intimate relationship with their grandchildren, that we will gain the benefit of their love and wisdom, and that my husband and I will at long last get to establish and enjoy the mythical weekly date night.
But something else wonderful has transpired as a direct result of their move; I've gotten all my stuff from their now-sold home. As all good and thoughtful children, I'd used their house across the country as a sort of free storage unit, leaving behind in their guest room all manner of junk accumulated over the past two decades. But there are a few gems buried in the midst of all that clutter destined for the Salvation Army: fourth grade book reports and art projects, a set of really nice dishes, ski equipment, and best of all, my books.
Yes, my books. They are with me at long last, and as I unpacked each one and placed it on the shelf, I was flooded with a warm happiness, an almost giddiness, at holding them all again and remembering how each had made such an impression upon me. It's weird, I know. And I only share this because I know you, too, are book lovers. Several of them, I have read more times than I can count--The Great Gatsby, The Portrait of a Lady, Jane Eyre, Beloved, Moby Dick, Another Country, Love in the Time of Cholera, The Sound and the Fury, Middlemarch, The Song of the Lark, Gilead--all written by authors gifted beyond measure, all filled with beauty. These are the books that made me want to write, and they are the authors against which I measure my own writing (and so, will always fall starkly short!). And the poetry, the poetry! I've missed my poetry! Walt Whitman, Mary Oliver, Edna St. Vincent Millay, T.S. Elliot, Gerard Manly Hopkins, Yeats, Keats!
Somehow, these books returning to me and their proper space on my bookshelf has been a sort of homecoming. I don't know how else to describe it. When I was born again eight years ago, the Lord did something with me He seems to do with a lot of people who surrender to Him later in life; He turned me away from all those things in the world in which I had found my identity, in which I had put my trust and filled me with such pride, and He turned me towards Himself--towards His Word. I didn't hear some audible voice telling me not to read secular fiction and poetry anymore, but He seemed to point my heart in a different direction and make it only satisfied when reading His story and the theological work of Godly authors. Tozer, Lloyd-Jones, Murray, Schaeffer, Stott, Packer, Zacharias, Spurgeon, Owen, Bonhoeffer, Lewis, Edwards--they knocked my favorite authors off their idolatrous pedestal. And that's the thing; books were so important to me before I knew the Lord, obnoxiously and pretentiously foundational. Knowing about books was so important to me. Discussing them, writing about them, using them as my source of wisdom and as guideposts in my life--literature and not Christ was my cornerstone.
Of course, I had no idea about all this when I stopped reading anything that wasn't the Bible or theology, but the Lord knew what I needed and how my entire world view needed reorienting. And so He saturated my mind with His life-giving, life-changing, illuminating, and might I add, often gorgeously written Word. And there is nothing like it. The most profound, exquisitely written poetry or prose does not even begin to approach the same universe as scripture. But I have to smile at God, because He took something that, in my sin and unreconciled relationship with Him, I had allowed to take an unholy place in my life, and He turned it to good. He took that love of words and made me love His Word. And He fed and satisfied me with it in a way that I had never been fed and satisfied.
We have a second bookcase in our office, and it is filled with my "after Christ" books. The difference speaks volumes (ha! no pun intended). How odd that my conversion can be illustrated by two bookcases. Do I try and integrate the two together, placing Mrs. Dalloway next to The Cost of Discipleship? Or do I leave them separate, a reminder of from where the Lord has led me out and the new creation I am in Him? What do I do now with all these stories and poems that once held such meaning to me? Well, I'm not sure that I'll read any of them again that do not touch upon God in some fashion--not out of legalism or some strange shunning of all things of this world--but because I don't have any desire to spend hours engrossed in a world that denies the existence of my Lord. Why would I seek that as entertainment, when He is the sweetest, best part of my existence? Thankfully, so many of the great classics indeed dealt with God and faith, and so many of the great poets, too (Narnia awaits Izzy and Joey, and I cannot wait to share it with them). There are yet still modern day authors in whose fictional world the Lord is not dead or irrelevant or a joke. I will read these, I think, instead, because I always want to be brought closer to Jesus and not drawn further away. My wandering, drifting heart needs no encouragement in that arena.
I still love these books for the skill with which they were penned, for the craft of writing on marvelous display on their pages, but they simply do not hold the same place in my heart that they once did. They are old friends, once dearly loved, with whom I no longer have much in common. I still have mostly fond memories of our time together, but an actual conversation or meeting would now be stilted and awkward. Looking at these novels is like looking at a picture of myself from a long time ago. Yes, I suppose there's some semblance there, but I can scarcely recognize the person in the photograph. I will always love stories. I will always love poetry. I will always love writing. But man and his experience apart from His Creator, his philosophy and Godless wisdom and self-importance, have lost their allurement. They will have to stay on the shelf.