Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Series of Epiphany Posts on Being Human: on reading

I am going to get this quote wrong. But let me try. Benjamin Franklin (now...it might have been him or someone in his category of person) said "the saddest man on earth is a man who is lonely, in the rain, and can not read."

The thought of being pitiable because I cannot read immediately connects with me. Someone said we read so we know we are not alone. True. I think that is true. But I also read because it is an invitation into a larger universe. Have you stopped to consider the wonder of being able to reap, not just your own thoughts and growth, but the thoughts and growth of other human persons? When I read I am living inside someones formation, their invisible self.

Reading has been essential in my own journey to me move beyond the weights in my soul. These weights take up psychological space (my unprocessed and sometimes even unknown hurts and wounds,) spiritual energy (practices to which I feel obliged that do not bring life,) and create theological lumpiness (images of God that are distorted and actually keep me from loving and being loved by Him.)

Transformation is foundational to spirituality. If we are not being transformed, we are not living a spiritual life. Reading has fueled my transformation on many levels. Think about it - novels show me how other people dance and stumble and choose - what the possibilities are. Written prayers school me on how to meet with God. Books train me, inspire me, discipline me, make me furious, comfort me in sorrow, fill me with beauty. Reading is faux silence, full of every possible sound.

I remember reading "The English Patient" when we were in Hungary leading a retreat. I read through the nights in an unheated cabin, a quilt pulled over my head, my nose peeking out for breath, cold and red. The story took over my reality, (it is quite different than the movie, my inspiration to read the book.) When I finally turned the last page, finished, I began to sob, deeply. I had no other way to let out the emotion and deep radiance of the story. Steve mumbled from his cot across the room, "Are you crying? Are you okay?" I couldn't stop, just sniffled out, "It is so beautiful."

Without shared meaning like this I would hardly be human.

4 comments:

Krissi said...

When I read Isabel Allende's The House of the Spirits, I was left literally and utterly speechless upon reading the last word. I remember distinctly sitting in an arm chair on the third floor lobby of my dorm, my legs thrown over one of the arm rests and I closed the book and just sat there. I didn't move for a good few minutes. I've never read anything like that book. I had never had that experience with finishing a book and I've never had it since, though I have read many amazing books. I really should read it again.

Karen said...

Some of my most rewarding duties at the Calgary Public Library are the behind-the-scenes things I do to support a program called Reading Advantage. We pair an adult volunteer with an adult learner. The learners qualify for this kind of one-on-one help because they have a literacy issue - maybe they can't read well, have trouble writing, perhaps it's numeracy - whatever the issue, they call the library in desperation because other avenues of help have already been exhausted and haven't worked. You should read some of the "graduation" comments we get. One single woman joined the program because she had always wanted to be able to read stories to her children - if she ever had them. Two years later, she is in a relationship, reading, and expecting her first baby. She expressed such joy in the anticipation of being able to read goodnight stories to her little one; it brought tears to my eyes. We had a volunteer retire recently - 78 years old and helping people read for years. V's last learner was an immigrant who spoke English fluently but couldn't read it. Verla isn't a religious woman but for the last two years she sat and helped E read her Bible - E's greatest desire. Reading brings such joy to my soul I cannot imagine a life without it. One of my deepest fears is blindness. (Yes, I know all about all the cool audio stuff available - we provide that to our customers, too.) I understand the power of words - to soothe, to challenge, to comfort, to educate, to empower, to validate, to clarify, to inspire, to amuse - I could go on. I have also seen a little of the terrible damage done in lives where illiteracy wreaks havoc. People with low literacy are usually undermployed, working at jobs that barely keep food on their tables and almost certainly don't fulfill or challenge them. Many times poor life choices (just try sorting out which is the chicken and which is the egg)further complicate the misery. Did you know that in Canada, a 1% rise in the literacy level would result in a corresponding $1 billion rise in the GDP that is PERMANENT? If you're reading this, honestly, you should say a prayer of fervent thanksgiving to the teachers who taught you, the parents who read with you, the library ladies who found you that great novel, and maybe, someday, you could find time to devote a couple of hours each week to volunteer with somebody who didn't have the great good fortune you have had.

Marilyn said...

Karen - love your comments. It is hard to over-state what literacy does for a person, and yet those of us with it take it so for granted. Thanks for writing.

And Krissi - I should borrow that book!

Lee Ann said...

"Reading is faux silence" I love that! I remember when I was in high school my best friend was over. She and my brother were playing "long distance spit" and they were roaring with laughter. I on the other hand was finishing Of Mice and Men. I was totally immersed in another world, sobbing so hard I could hardly talk. Well, they thought that was just hilarious too!