After spending much of my summer immersed in both images and words I have been contemplating the relationship between them.  In my lettering class, the teacher began by saying that words are “bearers of meaning.”  I like the image the poem offers, that we come to know things more deeply in naming them.  And while words can feel ethereal or disembodied, it is true that there is something much more intimate about jasper, rather than red stone.  The words help to root us in the beauty of the particular which is what an incarnational spirituality is about.

My life is filled with words.  When I was growing up, my parents had rows of bookcases lining our walls filled with books–mostly about political science as they both earned their PhD’s in that field, but also cookbooks, books about Austrian history, art books, a German-language encyclopedia set.  As a little girl I swore I would never be like them and promised myself to grow up and have a home free of piles of books.  It wasn’t that I didn’t love to read, but these were books of an adult world and didn’t mean very much to me at the time.  Of course my adult homes have again been lined with books upon books.  Sometimes I try to weed some out in an effort to simplify, but really it means making space for new books.  Many of my books are on religion and spirituality, but you’ll also find books on art and craft, poetry, cookbooks, dream work, Northwest native art, travel, grief, and books filled with beautiful photos as well as my husband’s science fiction books.  Books represent to me worlds of meaning and possibility.

And yet, as I was sharing with a friend yesterday, books have a shadow side as well.  Sometimes they can take the place of practice, especially in the case of books on spirituality or art. It is easier to read about praying than to engage in it directly, it is easier to read about new art techniques than to engage in the act of art-making and the risky places it takes me.  Or sometimes my hunger for books touches a need to feel current, to have read all of the given material on a subject, the impact of my academic training.  Sometimes it is pure gluttony, wanting more and more.

But mostly books for me are sacred objects — invitations to wonder, discovery, and encounter.  Currently I am reading Secret Life of Trees by Colin Tudge, recommended to me by my spiritual director because of my love affair with trees and I am finding it to be perfectly delightful. And I am thrilled to have just received my copy of Trees of Seattle.

What books are making your heart sing these late summer days?

-Christine Valters Paintner @ Abbey of the Arts

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