“If Wordsworth had gone back to those moments in the past, he would not have found the thing iself, but ony the reminder of it; what he remembered would turn out to be itself a remembering. The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers. For they are not the thing itself; they are only the scent of a flower we have not found, the echo of a tune we have not yet heard, news from a country we have never yet visited. ” from The Weight of Glory
Liza Hamilton: immigrated with her husband to the Salinas Valley of California from Ireland, bore a huge family, the epitome of the “no nonsense” woman. She pursues her life with militant regularity: cooking, cleaning, reading her Bible.
Samuel Hamilton: a thinker. Cheerful. An animated storyteller with a listening ear. Samuel laughs loudly and feels the life in his bones deeply. The only regularity in Samuel is that neither his land or his brilliant, patented ideas are fruitful.
When one of their daughters dies, each one reacts in a completely different way. To Liza, death is a part of life. She feels no true attachment to anything on earth. Though naturally sad, she continues her life the way she always had: people still must eat, and they still make messes. Samuel is completely wrecked. He has no idea how to handle or comprehend the loss. From this time on, he is a little less himself. Though an old man, he starts to “seem” old. He laughs only for others’ sake.
At my book club, we were discussing our initial hatred of Eliza and how cold her laughless, practical life seemed to us. But at the end of the conversation, it turned to admiration and a declaration of her amazing strength, in light of her daughter’s death. My friend asked, “well, isn’t that what great faith is? Not having any attachment to this world?” We all slowly nodded our heads. Walking down the street afterward, though, I couldn’t get Eliza as the model for great faith out of my head. All I want is faith that runs deep, but I want nothing to do with her passionless life!
In “Mere Christianity” C.S. Lewis wrote: “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” This concept changed my life. The deep longings that I feel to be—quite literally—a part of the beauty I find in front of me or to draw the depth out of some piece of music or to live inside a great story I’ve read show me that I am longing for things unattainable in this world. I learned I am not longing for the travel or the sunset or trees—not the thing itself, but for eternity: all its beauty and fullness and depth that are completely satisfying. This alone completely reordered my life. So, yes, Liza. Heaven is home.
Why, then, am I so drawn to Samuel? I think it’s because he exemplifies what Jesus meant when he said “Thy Kingdom come.” Samuel brings Life (with a capital “L,” my dear Springboro ladies) into his corner of the world. Samuel draws out the laughter. He draws people into the story. People walk away different. Samuel listens. He calls people out to be better versions of themselves. Yes, hope in eternity. But listen. It on the wind here.
I want faith that incorporates both of the Hamiltons.
I want to place my hope in heaven. I don’t want to be completely wrecked when the world breaks my heart.
But at the same time I believe that the story of redemption starts here.
I want to be a part of that.
I want to see more of the Kingdom in my corner of the world.
I am the kind of person who is never without a book, and my worst nightmare is getting stuck on a line or train without something to read. The teaching of reading is my profession. Living in a New York City apartment is not made any easier with the amount of books that occupy my small space. On the bookshelf next to my bed, I have 8 books “on deck,” just waiting for me to open their pages. And yet, I still find myself browsing through each bookstore I pass and having to pry myself away from titles calling my name.
But what I have found most recently is that in my voracious pursuit of the written word, I have forgotten to stop and really think about the literature that I have in front of me. I become lost and consumed by many imaginary lands and people, but I want to take them out of that moment of just reading. I want them to affect my thinking and the way I go about the world. Not that there isn’t value in those moments of reading; in fact, I think that is often the most beautiful part about reading. But at the same time, I believe that it is possible to take them with me as I step out of line, off the train, drift off to sleep or walk to make tea.
“A Kind of Library” is my attempt to respond. It might be to fiction or essays, poetry or scripture, whatever written words happen to be haunting my space. There are a thousand or more ways of looking at literature…most are intensely personal. I cannot pretend that this will not be. We all have our own lenses with which we examine what is going on about us. I will do my best to be clear and honest about my own.
C.S. Lewis wrote in his essay “An Experiement in Criticism:” “What then is the good of–what is even the defense for–occupying our hearts with stories of what never happened and entering vicariously into feelings which we should try to avoid having in our own person? Or of fixing our inner eye earnestly on things that can never exist..? The nearest I have yet got to an answer is that we seek an enlargement of our being. We want to be more than ourselves. Each of us by nature sees the whole world from one point of view with a perspective and a selectiveness peculiar to himself…We want to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts, as well as with our own…We demand windows.”
When I look through those windows, I really am able to feel the way another has felt and by doing so, understand humanity a little bit more. The more I realize this, the more I see how important it is to glimpse into other lives; to move away from the self and truly see. C.S. Lewis is my literary hero, and his idea that “we want to be more than ourselves,” that we have a longind deep inside of us for a deeper, truer version of this world has been foundational in developing my own thoughts not just as a reader, but as a person. This will most likely be the thread that I try to unravel most often.
This blog is mostly for self-accountability purposes–I want to actively think about what I am reading in light of how I am living and what I believe. Talking about books, though, is the next best thing to reading. If you ever do want to share your thoughts, I would love to hear them.
One closing thought–
“Why are we reading, if not in the hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed?”
-Annie Dillard, The Writing Life