I built a Christmas tree out of books.
This is not as crazy as it sounds. I work (at least part of the time) in a library.
Deeply rooted in theological knowledge, I built my tree out of old National Union Catalogues, Anchor Bible Commentaries, and dusty volumes of Luther’s Works. A novel here, a dictionary there, a little liturgics, a little pastoral care, some lights, and voila – a veritable tree of wisdom!
It took about 300 books. Hardbacks work best. And literally every branch of the tree sprouted from someone else’s library: read, marked, inwardly digested, discarded from or donated to Bishop Payne Library.
When clergy retire, downsize, or go to their greater glory, their books often are bequeathed to the seminary. Sorting through boxes of old musty books might seem like a pain in the ass, but for me it is a rare privilege. It is a labor of love.
As I pull books out of boxes, it’s like pulling up a chair in the pastor’s study. Running my fingers across the spines, I inventory their interests and note their passions. Counting the volumes, I calculate the year of their graduation and the years of their career. Dating the collection, I witness their ministry both rise and fall.
It is deeply personal.
Handling the books one by one, sometimes a little something will fall out: a letter, a photograph, a Christmas card — a little intimate window into the mind of another.
A library speaks volumes on the state of one’s soul.
So what does my library say about me?
My library occupies every room in my house – except the bathrooms! Even my hallways are lined with bookshelves. (I have a Kindle too, but that really doesn’t count.)
Just this past week, my daughter Colleen asked me to choose my seven favorite books. She said to take pictures of the spines and send them to her. It has something to do with my Christmas present, I think, but I am not allowed to ask.:)
How can I possibly choose just seven? And OMG how long is this going to take? Well, somehow the Spirit moved and within fifteen minutes, I had selected them all.
Seven books are listed below. Each one represents approximately a seventh of my brain: its moods, its appetites; its insatiable curiosities.
So here we go.
The Book of Common Prayer
You saw this one coming, right? Lex orendi, lex credendi. We pray what we believe. For 500 years, these prayers have been shared across both time and space. Even when I believe in nothing, I continue to pray.
Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
I read this childhood classic in college. There I fell in love with John Tenniel’s inky drawings and Lewis Carroll’s marvelous play on words. It became something of an obsession, which became my “Alice collection”. Visit my house and you will see, it obsesses me still.
An Unquiet Mind: A Memoir of Moods and Madness
A no brainer (pun intended!) This is Kay Redfield Jamison’s eloquent and elegiac story of her own bipolar life – both personal and professional. She is my manic-depressive hero.
Literally translated, it means Gaelic Songs. This is Alexander Carmichael’s 19th century compendium of Celtic charms, prayers, and invocations. A civil servant, he collected them in the Outer Hebrides while auditing books. Divine music to soothe my pagan soul.
Joan of Arc, a History
Helen Castor’s masterful book tells the tale of the Maid of Orleans – my saintly namesake, Joan. Like her, I do confess that I have heard voices from time to time.
A Gentle Madness: Bibliophiles, Bibliomanes, and the Eternal Passion for Books
My nerdiest passion is reading books about books. There is nothing more delicious and decadent than reading a book about books – this one in particular. Be still my heart, Nicholas Basbanes!
Origins: Fourteen Billion Years of Cosmic Evolution
In the beginning was the Big Bang. In the beginning was the Word. Science is this theology student’s final frontier. Thanks to great translators, like Neil deGrasse Tyson, reading science has become my Lectio Divina.
Seven is a very revelatory number. Seven little books to reveal my soul. Possibly they say more than could be said in ten years of therapy – bibliographically speaking!
(Thank you, Colleen!)
This little spiritual exercise has been healing, hopeful, fruitful and fun — all very good things at this time of the year.
So go ahead and choose your seven!
Select seven books that speak your mind and sing to your soul. Mix them and match them. Run your fingers along their spines, recall their pages, and hold them close. Take them and build a little tree of wisdom – a Christmas tree of knowledge.
Inhale their aroma as incense rising to the heavens.
And may The Word that resides in the words of your seven — bless you seventy-times-seven this Holy Yuletide!