Monday, August 15, 2011

Books revealing

With admirable help at the weekend, I find myself in a virtually coherent living room with shelves assembled and slowly organizing books. Reassembling them gives you an opportunity to linger over titles - either remembering the contents or expecting them or both.

Looking at them as a whole, I ponder what is the thread that flows through them - given their immediate eclectic appearance - and the answer to that question I find has to be ' the sacred'. This is not exactly 'religion' (though once in conversation with a Dominican friend I admitted that 'religion [if anything] was 'my thing') because that expresses (to most minds) an organized reality or belief system. 

The best I can do is a bundle of core intuitions bundled with the thread that each person has (to quote George Fox) that which is of God in him or her - and every him or her live in a living world that is an expression of divine grace.

It was Martin Buber who gave thanks that the word 'religion' does not belong to either the Hebrew Bible or tradition. The 'sacred' is (as Buber might say) an existential stance towards what is that hallows it, sees it as holy: the dynamic reflection of transcendence. 'Everything that lives is holy' to quote Blake (notably represented). This exploration is explicitly apparent in the books that thematically are on religion but implicitly virtually everywhere - in the novels of Patrick White, in the poems of Robert Lax or in orientation of the books on art. There is little that is obviously secular - even George Eliot formidably agnostic as she is, remains an articulate describer of the tangent of faith in the direction of lives (and a firm believer in moral realism).

I expect a second strand is the seriousness of the books. There is not much by way of light reading! No detective stories or comic fiction or biographies of celebrities. Am I truly that serious? The answer is no but if my mind wants to 'veg out', it does not read. It goes to the screen and does not watch documentaries!

I find myself playing 'Desert Island Discs' and wondering which volume I would ask to accompany the Bible and Shakespeare. This undoubtedly shifts according to one's mood (and the length of expected stay)! But broadly it oscillates between a desire for the encyclopaedic - so a complete set of the Dictionary of National Biography or Joseph Needham's monumental 'Science and Civilization in China' lest I find myself deprived of sheer text or poetic depth. Here I think it is between Patrick White's 'Riders in the Chariot' whose regular re-reading reveals new depths and whose four principle characters each reveals an aspect of the mystery of being human and becomes a combining picture of wholeness or Edwin Muir's Collected Poems whose unfolding vision is the closest accounting of my seeing of the world: of Eden and the Fall and the long journey back, accompanied by transfiguring light.

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