To hold an old book, feel it give under my squeeze of affection, to smell it’s pages, and it’s age-scented letters; this my friend is like breath in my lungs.
Church libraries entice me to enter their hallowed narrow isles. There I touch dewy decimal spines, looking for familiar authors. Most often though, I come across long forgotten ones.
For instance, Kept for the Master’s Use, by Francis Ridley Havergal. When I first pulled it down it tasted dry, like I imagine sanded spackle might, the language old, foreign to my ears. But something kept me reading. One lonely night, while waiting for a long delayed flight out of Boston, I found myself curled up on the floor, talking long into the night with Mr. Havergal. That evening, in his formal King James style, he built a theology for the cross, then revealed to me that the secret to love is in fact the crucified life. Page after page brought me closer to understanding. As I scribbled in my journal, dust had turned into a savored and satisfying morsel.
In Francis’ own words: “We have a sealed treasure of love, which either remains sealed, then dries up, and wastes away, or is unsealed and poured out, and yet is the fuller and not the emptier for the outpouring.” Then this: “So, set the tiny torch of your best love in the great sunshine of the love of God, and though full fed and fanned, it casts no shadow and dazzles not, over flowed with mightier light.” While I read, I kept saying to myself, ‘these words seem weightier, denser than contemporary prose. It didn’t matter that my plane sat idle, I was caught in a space created by a man who must have prayed much, before he penned.
Many of these library shelves have titles by Andrew Murray, the South African, who wrote often on the subject of prayer. In my opinion, his best is called, Living a Prayerful Life. The first chapter, ‘the sin of prayerlessness,’ is good enough reason to put it down! Yes, it’s dangerous. When I read it the first time, God ‘pinned back my wings.’ It hurt to realize that I had drifted away from one of the most important disciplines for building devotion to God. These kinds of books are what I like to call, cross- saturated, and there’s no better fragrance than a crucified life.
Recently, I picked up again, The Return of The Prodigal Son, by Henry Nouwen. He’s in heaven now, too. There were underlined sections, and words of exclamation written in the margins from past readings. Somewhere in the first third of the book, Nouwen explains how he had taught about love all his ministry life, and done quite well at it. Selling books, and finding audiences round the world who had fawned over his profound insights. But now, he explained heading into his twilight, he felt like he was being loved by God, for the very first time. I put the book down, and prayed. I rose that day more aware of my ugly pride, and more in touch with God’s unfailing love.
Sitting on shelves in libraries far and wide, authors whose pens have long been silenced, offer serious prose for serious seekers of God. They want to draw us into musty pages, to let us ease drop on spiritual truths as relevant to our crazy world, as when they were first written. They are wending and winding spiritual testimonies of men and women who fought bravely, and finished well. Of course, nothing rivals the Word of God, and these authors were flawed, like you and me, yet still their legacy endures. They wait for another generation to discover them, to sit awhile and listen to mysteries culled from the heart of God. For me finding a good book feels like finding a stray dollar on the street. The heart says thank you, a free gift with no strings, sometimes dirty, smudged, used and worn, but still worth a buck. Long forgotten authors are worth picking up. Break the spine, thumb the contents, and let the Holy Spirit turn a dry crumb into a succulent morsel.
Let me know your favorite volume written by someone already in heaven.