In our consumer driven everything culture, we often treat reading as just another thing to conquer, to finish, to master. In seminary, we marked our progress by how many textbook were on our shelves. Colleagues ask me at conferences, “How many books have you read lately?” Congregants ask me: “What books can you teach us more about?” I’ve often fallen into the trap of reading just to be done with something or just to teach something. And then, that is it. I cast the book aside.
Not all words written down on a page are meant to be treasured (fluff beach reading, for example). However, sometimes words do hold lasting power. And just need us to pick them up again to find the gems.
I’ve found myself doing a lot of re-reading lately instead of picking up new texts. Books can be like old friends, coming back into our lives to provide comfort or simply reminding us who we are. And I think this is true of fiction and non-fiction alike.
Several years ago, I picked up at a fall DC library book sale a copy of Renita J. Weems’s memoir, Listening for God: A Minister’s Journey Through Silence and Doubt. How surprized I was to find this book! Though I was not going through a season of doubt at the time, the title sucked me in. Seemed like an honest text (I’m always looking for these) worth the dollar price tag (what a steal!).
I was familar with the author’s name. Weems, a preacher, scholar and formerly a professor at Vanderbilt University, also wrote, Battered Love which I read in my Women, Theology and the Church class at Duke Divinity.
That September, I remember speed reading through it, feeling so happy as if I’d found a long-lost soul sister. Weems, coming out of a conservative tradition that didn’t necessarily affirm her gifts for ministry, writes about her struggle to stay connected to spiritual wisdom, even as her well ran dry and her faith shifted. After finishing it, I was quick to recommend it to friends (as I usually do when a treasure is found) and put it on my shelf again in the “has read section.” I didn’t touch it for years.
However, in picking it up again this summer, I’ve read slower. I’ve stopped myself to process some of her nuggets of truth in short chunks. I haven’t rushed. And, yesterday, I came across this reflection about the meaning of dreams which was perfectly instructive to my life right now. I keep having the most vivid dreams in color and in details that I can actually recount in the morning. And, I hoped for some wisdom to begin to make sense of them. And so how perfect that Weems wrote:
Wherever dreams come from, and I don’t pretend to know where that is, it’s a place within each of us, down within our souls, a place that won’t take no, shut up, not now, you again? for an answer. It’s a place that demands our attention and resolves to get it, whether with laughter or terror. It’s a place within which insists that we remember the lives we have lived, says Frederic Beuchner. It calls us to remember memories emotions, remember moments, remember things we’ve tried furiously to avoid or to forget. Dreams beckon us into a still room within us where it is safe to remember where our journeys have brought us. It’s safe because it is safe because it’s a place where we can face our fears, anger, and dread and see them for what they were and are: feelings that needn’t last forever. It is safe because no one , God is has access to that room, save you and God. And there in that room filled with our greatest anxieties, God meets us and beckons, “Come, it is time to be healed.”
Each time a dream has enough current in it to awaken us, God is speaking to us through some chamber within us, beckoning us to come in. It’s time. It’s time to remember. It’s time to lighten up. It’s time to sort through. It’s time to heal. It’s time to let go. It’s time to learn how to laugh at ourselves.
Thank you Renita Weems. I’m thinking more about some recent dreams of mine as I ponder your words, hoping that as you say they might lead to more healing in me and others too.
You see, sometimes, reading can be the gift that keeps on giving.