I was sitting in my chair at home and mindlessly looking around. Sometimes I have the television on and, while that focuses me, I am not sure it gives me much for my attention. It is like eating cotton candy at a county fair. The fluffy stuff looks good and sometimes even smells inviting. But then you take a big bite of it and suddenly there is almost nothing in your mouth. What seemed like so much turns out to be so little!
I am not one for many possessions. Quakers have a thing for simplicity. That always made sense to me. As a middle-class American, I know I cannot claim to be that simple. But as Americans go, I probably do live more simply than many. It always seemed to me that simplicity is a good corollary to poverty. I appreciate how the monks and friars, like the Franciscans, take vows to that end. Most of us “normal people” won’t take a vow of poverty. But most of us can live with less stuff than we actually have. That does include me, too. So I work on simplifying.
As I looked around my room, one thing I noticed that I don’t pay too much attention is the array of books on the shelves. I have always enjoyed reading. And of course, when you have as much education as I have, books have been a significant part of my life. And I am old enough to have spent a substantial part of life in the pre-technological age. When I was in college, technological advance meant that I finally used an electric typewriter!
I have books here at home. And I have many more books in my study at the university. No doubt, I have collected books in a way people don’t do it today. Rather I have friends who have nearly all their books on their electronic readers---their iPad, Kindle or some other brand. But they still are books in the sense that I want to develop some thoughts in this inspirational piece.
It began to dawn on me, as it never did before. I began to see my books as amazing possessions. I don’t mean it in the sense that I own them. They could be library books for all that matters. It is not the book, per se, that I see as amazing possession. It is not the material possession. It is the content of the books---the magnificent range of books. I began to think about this in more depth. I know it is not novel to me, but it hit me in a way I have never given thought.
A book on the floor beside my chair is the last book my favorite dead monk, Thomas Merton, wrote. He worked on it shortly before he died at the end of the year, 1968. I smiled to myself. Merton may have died in ’68, but for me he still lives and is present in my living room in this book. He won’t literally speak to me, but he still speaks to me. Of course, that prompted me to think more broadly.
Across from me is a shelf of books. There is a string of books, which are the works of Shakespeare. Shakespeare died in 1616, so none of us alive today could have known him. And yet, we have a ton of thoughts, words and insights from him. I wish I had spent more time reading the Bard of Avon. I can only cite a few lines that I like. One of my favorites is Shakespeare telling us, “A fool thinks himself to be wise, but a wise man knows himself to be a fool.” I must be making progress; I know how foolish I can be!
The seventeenth century seems like along time ago. But when I look at other books on my shelf, some ancient authors make Shakespeare seem like a contemporary. I have a Christian Bible there. That means I actually have people like Jesus and Paul in my house! I can open it to the Old Testament and have the prophets speak: Isaiah, Jeremiah and the others. I have an incredible amount of knowledge and wisdom in this place! It makes Wheel of Fortune seem pretty ridiculous!
I am literally and spiritually a very rich guy. I have some amazing possessions. The knowledge, insight and wisdom I possess can be a life-changer for me. With these riches I have acquired meaning in my life. They have provided me with a deep purpose in life. I have heard Jesus say to me: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” It may be foolish, to recall Shakespeare, but I want to be a child---a child of God.
On my own I likely would have no clue how to become a child of God. In fact, without my amazing possessions, it would not even occur to me to want to be a child again. Most of us are glad to got past our childhood, so the thought of going back seems crazy. But again, unless we are willing to become foolish to the world’s ways and desire to regain that child-like quality, we probably are not going to get the truth and power of the spiritual life.
I leaned back in my chair and was struck by the irony of my life. I have spent time and money accumulating some amazing possessions. Ironically and sadly, I often choose to ignore them and chase the flashy fools’ gold of my culture. Eternal truths and, potentially, eternal life are present in my room and I am tempted by the insanity of the instant moment. I am rich and don’t want to forget it.