I love books. Packed book shelves in my bedroom will attest to this fact. But, I don’t just collect books. I read books. Books are meant to be read, underlined. We are meant to draw in the margins. We are to tear them apart, lick them, chew on the corners. Books are meant to be used.
It’s all in the experience, really. I am not morally opposed to e-readers. They just…bother me. You can’t underline the words that seem to jump out at you from the page with a scratchy pen, slightly crooked. You can’t dog-ear pages. Cheese salsa stains never appear. The pages remain smugly free from defect – until an accidental finger punches a delete key and the precious book suddenly disappears from existence. Another reason I like physical books: with the exception of sneaky forever borrowers and house fires, they stay put.
Reading books is an anti-social, subversive, strangely still activity. Let’s just sit here, thin sheets of digested trees stacked in our hands, while our minds are whirling faster than the speed of light to interpret squiggles on said trees into ideas, people, stories, other worlds, emotions, life itself.
I sometimes wonder if I am in danger of worshipping books. I don’t think so. If I was a worshipper of books, I would consider e-readers a sin, not just a rather strange and non-pleasing proposition. I would fear the extinction of books like the plague. I would picket on street corners. I would hoard books and not lend them. It’s not the book, itself, in the form as we know it. There is nothing holy about a pile of paper bound with glue and filled with ink squiggles.
It’s the words. I worship the words. I worship the Word. “And the Word was God.”
In the beginning, not only the “word was with God,” but the “Word was God.”
“Let it be”
And it was.
The Spoken Word Reigned.
There was a time when books weren’t an everyday item. Before Gutenberg and the printing press (an invention that some book lovers decried as a trivialization, by the way) books were rare jewels. The everyday man relied on memory. He relied on the words out of his mouth. He sang songs. Stories were told around fires, at night. The spoken word reigned.
Words. Just sounds out of a person’s mouth. Just squiggles on a page. What can they do?
Mark 4: 35 – 41.
“Peace. Be still.”
And it was.
The spoken word reigned.
And I did.
The spoken word reigns.
James says that what we say matters. Of course, he knew that. Anyone who has ever written anything knows that. Words matter. But why?
“And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory.”
The medieval peasant who couldn’t read – he knew that words mattered. He knew when he heard the words of the priest speaking Mass, when he made his marriage vows, when he told his children a story, when his lord said “come into the castle walls because our neighbours over the hedge are going to try to kill you.”
Promises matter. Just try to break one.
Stories matter. N.D. Wilson says, “Stories are the closest our own words can ever come to being made flesh – gifts unwrapped in the imagination.” (From “Death by Living”)
I attend a wedding and good old single me smiles as the couples around me in the crowd of witnesses rub backs, hold hands, remembering vows made and recalling what came after: entwining of two lives into one. Years of making words flesh.
And me, I think back to other vows – membership vows, vows to the children of my church to help raise them. I said “yes” on those days. To make words flesh, I must say “yes” everyday. I look around on a Sunday morning at all the vow bound – we must say “yes” to each other everyday, not just the one time.
What does “I love you” mean without action?
Names matter. God told Adam to name all the animals, to name his wife. Did she ever curse him for his choice? Names identify us – they make us part of the here and now. There is no nameless one because the nameless one is “The Nameless One.”
The Jews asked, “Are you the Christ. Are you Elijah? Are you the Prophet?”
“I’m the voice of one crying out in the wilderness.”
“Well, glad we’ve got that straightened out. We had to name you. We had to put words to your flesh.”
Flesh to words (I read). Words to flesh (I write). Word become flesh (I worship). And we see his glory in the words.
John 1: 1 – 23.
N.D. Wilson, “Death by Living” page 31.