I love op shops and Sunday markets. They inspire me with the hidden possibilities of someone’s once-upon- a- time treasures and must-haves. The piles of books particularly draw me and I go home with yet more for my overstocked bookcase, as well as a crick in my neck from trying to read titles sideways. books-in-home-library
I’m a reader from way back. In fact I was conceived in the residence behind the little lending library that my parents bought soon after they were married. As soon as I could read my dad took me to the municipal library for a borrower’s ticket. Week by week I read my way through a shelf length of Enid Blyton titles before moving on to something with a little more substance. Christmas presents always featured a brand new Annual, full of stories that I would gobble up, like ice cream on a hot day.
Several years of unrestricted reading came to an end when I entered religious life. There would be no more reading in bed or losing myself in the English novels I was discovering. For the next six years all fiction was out of bounds. I ploughed through lives of saintly people, stories of Marian apparitions and wordy spirituality written by elderly male clerics a lifetime away from my young adult understanding of life, let alone my self-knowledge.
Then I swapped city living for the Australian Top End, and in my Mission convent I discovered a collection of Georgette Heyer romances and Agatha Christie whodunits. Bliss! But convent discipline was entrenched in me by now and for the next twelve years I restricted my fiction reading to the thirty minute midday siesta. Through the years of parenting and full time employment that followed and into retirement I have continued to treat time to read as a kind of reward – a bit like allowing myself a couple of squares of chocolate with a suppertime cup of coffee.
Maybe it’s a Catholic thing, guilt that is. If it feels good then it can’t be good for your soul. Lent with its buzz words of prayer, fasting and alms-giving so often turns what can be a positive time, into a negative. It’s the kind of attitude that restricts my reading time. All the dishes must be done, the benches sparkling, the furniture dusted, the ironing basket empty and the dinner planned – and so on. Only then do I allow myself some unrestricted reading time – that rarely happens.
For me, books are like chocolate. I love chocolate and I love the written word – modern fiction, poetry, essays, scripture, spirituality and theology. I skim websites and read my Kindle on the train, but nothing can replace the feel and smell of a printed book. I read to escape from my everyday and into someone else’s, to find out what I’m thinking and what it means to me. Tucked away in other people’s words are insights and motivations that lead me deep into personal and unexpected possibilities and connections.
Reading opens up spaces in me, spaces where God waits in blessing and sometimes challenge. It puts me in touch with my God-given uniqueness and sometimes jolts me into recognising the compulsions that block my way to living out my God relationship. My reading, in all its variety, has become contemplative.
My Lenten practice this year is to spend more time, a lot more, re- reading books that have nurtured my spirit in the past and reading quite a few more that will inspire, nourish and free me to find God in the material of my own life. As I write these words I remember Lazarus moving stiffly out of his burial cave and Jesus saying, “Unbind him.” I’m looking forward to doing a little unbinding of myself – accompanied by the odd piece of chocolate.
Judith P Lynch and tarellaspirituality.com.