I’m excited to have Jessica Snell guest post at Always Orange. Jessica was my editor for Everywhere God. Her suggestions and observations made my book better. I love what she’s talking about in this piece and I think you will too.
I want to read more than I do. So do you, probably.
And this is true even though I already read a lot.
(So do you, probably. If you’re reading this—this lovely blog that is neither YouTube video nor cable news offering—you’re probably a reader by both inclination and training.)
In fact, I read enough that people laugh at me when I tell them how many books I have going at the same time. At minimum, it’s usually
1) A non-fiction book I should read (perhaps on parenting, or biology).
2) A novel or anthology I should read (I’m a writer, and so I have to keep up with my genre).
3) A novel I’m reading to my children.
4) A book that lives in the bathroom.
5) A book that lives on my nightstand.
6) A book of poetry, to be read a few pages a day.
(And, yes, it’s necessary to have at least a book a room—stop laughing at me.)
But, even though six-books-at-a-time-at-minimum served me well for a long time, I recently added an obligatory seventh:
7) A Sabbath book.
I added this last category because I needed to.
I found that I was reading more and more, and getting more and more discouraged. My heart was worn. The world kept looking uglier and uglier. And reading was…well, reading was becoming work.
And, actually, it was okay with me that reading was work! Some things are good to know, but hard to read about. Most of the books in the world that are worth reading still have hard parts, or ugly parts, or even downright disagreeable parts. You read them anyway, because it’s worth doing the work of panning away the sand in order to get to those flakes of gold.
But, friends, I had forgotten: Six days shall you labor, but on the seventh day you shall rest.
I needed to read books that were pure rest.
And I knew what that meant. For a book to be a book that gave me rest, it needed three things:
- It needed to be to my taste. No apologizing here. Some books are good books—in that they’re written with skill, or in that they’re of great moral worth—but they are not to my taste.
- It needed to be well-written. I’m a writer and an editor by trade, so poor writing pulls me out of the reading experience. I start editing in my head, and that’s not restful.
- It needs to be morally good. I don’t want to fight with my Sabbath books. I don’t want to have to be constantly filtering out the lovely from the unlovely.
In other words, Sabbath books tend to be old favorites. One of the first things I reread, when I realized that my heart needed rest and healing, was the entire Lord Peter Wimsey series by Dorothy Sayers. And I also dove back into Lewis’ Space Trilogy.
These were books I did not have to fight. I didn’t need to analyze them (though they’re hefty and well-woven and stand up to analysis). I didn’t need to argue with them (most of the good things already in my mind were formed by them, or by books like them).
And they’re beautiful. They brought me back into the land of well-watered gardens, of rivers glinting gold in the sun, and of old and graceful trees, whose green branches bow down to the ground.
This was the rest my heart needed.
I will note, just to close, that these books, in general, are written by authors who allowed their own minds to be formed and shaped by the best of books, by the Bible. The scriptures are the River of rivers, and the green lands of my Sabbath books were tended by people who had themselves been nurtured by the scriptures. That source was part of the shape I was looking for, part of the echo I want to hear. The Bible is, of course, the first and best Sabbath book.
The Bible is the first river I want to swim in, and I want to listen to it and read it often enough that my thoughts start to echo God’s thoughts, and that the shape of His sentences carve the shape of my own. I want the inside of my heart to show the mark of that river, as if my heart were a fertile valley that was shaped by that river’s constant flow.
But I also love reading the work of people who’ve listened longer, and listened better than I have. I want to read the work of people who have also loved this world God has made, and who teach me to look at it again, and to see the glory and the weight and the wonder of being alive in it.
I want to fight my way through hard books, and argue my way through bad books, and discern my way through normal books.
But I also want to be refreshed by good books.
And by taking one day out of seven to read only the very, very best of books, I have been.
Jessica Snell is a writer whose work has appeared in Christ and Pop Culture, Daily Science Fiction, The Lent Project, and more. She blogs about books, faith, and family at jessicasnell.com and you can follow her on Twitter @theJessicaSnell.
She’s also the editor of Let Us Keep the Feast, a book about celebrating the Christian church year at home. Need ideas for Advent, Easter, and more? Check it out!
What a ‘Sabbath article’ to read! I have been waffling around about whether to sign up for a weekly Bible study this fall or not, and Jessica’s observations prove a well-timed nudge! Scripture is ‘the first river I want to swim in’, too. I am also inspired to make some sort of (flexible) plan for reading as I consider the next ten months (concurrent with my daughter’s Grade 12 year). Although I don’t think I could manage 7 books simultaneously! As I reread this post a few times, it occurs to me that when we speak, and as we listen to others speak, we can hear what we’ve/they’ve been reading – the heart shape is revealed.