One of the byproducts of my recently completed seminary education, at least for me, was a large stack of books at my bedside that I found while studying but did not have time to read. Maybe I encountered a title while researching a paper, a title that was interesting but not on point for the work at hand. Or maybe we read a chapter in a class but the complete work called me to read it. Or maybe I read another work by an author and wanted to explore that author’s work more deeply by reading yet another work. Whatever the reason, the stack grew and grew as the months passed. And now I have some time to begin to reduce that stack.
Richard J. Foster, in his work Celebration of Discipline: the Path to Spiritual Growth includes study or learning as one of the five “inward” disciplines:
The purpose of the Spiritual Disciplines is the total transformation of the person. They aim at replacing old destructive habits of thought with new life-giving habits. No where is this purpose more clearly seen than in the Discipline of study. The apostle Paul tells us that we are transformed through the renewal of the mind (Rom. 12:2). The mind is renewed by applying it to those things that will transform it. ‘Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things’ (Phil. 4:8). The Discipline of study is the primary vehicle to bring us to “think about these things.” (pg. 62)
While Foster goes on to point out that we must study both life and knowledge, he also points out that books are an important part of that discipline. And I couldn’t agree more — it is often the random book that clarifies for me some question of faith that has troubled me. It is often a book that solidifies some thought that has lingered on without shape in my soul. It is often a book that connects me to others who see their faith from a similar vantage point. It is often a book that moves me closer to God in some small (or some gigantic) way…all at once, in a moment of study. A book, for me, is a conversation — a conversation with myself, with the author, or with an idea.
Lately, I have come to understand that it is through learning and study that I see God…more than worship, more than any other “faith-oriented” activity, it is the act of learning that brings me into the mystery of God’s presence in my life and in the world. For me, learning is the critical pathway needed to maintain what H. Emilie Cady called “the inflow and outflow of God” in our lives. I suspect that I am not alone in this need.
And so, a book blog…a blog not about the latest and greatest books, necessarily, but a blog about what I am studying NOW, what is moving me NOW, what little volume took me the next step towards God today. And it is to be a blog about books at that most personal level — a discussion of books from the perspective of how they feed and change our souls and our lives. And my dream is that others will write here too…about what they are reading that moves them along the path of their journey.
With that explanation, I dedicate this blog to all of my fellow disciples, all of you out there looking for that thread to follow along this path of life. May you find just a little inspiration in the books we share through these words.
June 18, 2014