I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Callie J. Smith’s reflection Pausing with Whatever.
The titles on my bookshelves don’t fully reveal what those shelves or their books actually hold. Because I have the habit of tucking notes into my books for safekeeping, I never quite know what will fall out when I open a book. Not a great organizational method for my correspondence, this tucking away of notes into books has no less developed into something quite meaningful for me. Opening books and pausing with whatever I find has become a sort of spiritual practice, a way my inner monk has found to receive unexpected gifts from her world.
I started this by accident in college. On difficult days, I began turning to the collection of favorite books that I kept in my dorm room. Browsing familiar books could sometimes ground and center me. It let me find pages where I could lose myself, revisiting beloved images or lingering with cherished possibilities.
One day I opened the copy of Walden that one of my high school teachers had given me, and an unexpected card dropped into my lap. I remembered it immediately. The giver of the book had also given me a high school graduation card – this card – and I’d tucked it into the front of Walden for safe keeping. Pausing now to reread my teacher’s words of praise and blessing, scrawled in cursive with bold black ink, I suddenly didn’t feel as alone as I’d been feeling. In fact, I felt way more resilient than I had two minutes before finding this unexpected moment with one of my encouragers. I haven’t forgotten that feeling of sudden companionship, not in all these years since.
It inspired me to continue tucking correspondence-like things inside the front covers of my books. Post cards from traveling friends, greetings cards, invitations, announcements of special occasions, even photos with loved ones – I stashed small, flat things into books whether or not the givers of those things had given me the book into which I stashed them. Sometimes I randomly chose books I knew I’d return to. Sometimes I’d use another logic of the moment to decide which book would get which item stashed inside. I didn’t mind if what was tucked inside would surprise me down the road. In fact, I sometimes found the surprises bringing part of the blessing.
One day, for instance, I picked up a book-length collection of prayers my grandmother had given me. The card that slipped out from between cover and flyleaf had not even been sent to me by my grandmother. Rather, it had been sent to my grandmother. It had come from her nephew in the Peace Corps. She’d saved that letter for years, and we found it among her important papers after she passed away. Because I remembered her showing me that very letter the week she’d received it, remembered her smile and her pride in her nephew glowing clearly in her face, I kept it. I wanted to remember that moment of seeing her joy in her family.
There are so many moments I’ve wanted to remember: ones of encouragement, ones that put things in perspective, ones giving me a glimpse of blessings I hadn’t noticed before. Pausing with books and with whatever they’ve been holding for me has often helped me to remember these things. On some level, it almost hasn’t mattered why I’ve turned to the bookshelves in the first place, whether seeking comfort and enjoyment or information and somebody’s opinion on something. Whatever the reason I went to my shelves, I’ve found myself reaching for any given book with a question in my mind as to what – if anything – I’d find tucked inside it. Sometimes it’s almost felt like the not knowing has left the discovery to chance and to the Spirit.
I’ve come to think of the notes I tuck into books as seeds planted for some future season. It may be that an awareness of love will sprout all over again, or a communion with my saints may open some new blossom. I find these quiet pauses with what I haven’t necessarily expected can nourish my spirit deeply. They remind me of a community of people across times and places who have touched me, teaching me along the way how we have been made to connect and bless. Much like the notes tucked away, often for years at a time, I suspect these blessings have a way of staying among us, ready and waiting for us to pause and notice them.
Callie J. Smith is a clergy person in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who resides in central Indiana. She blogs about everyday spirituality at www.calliejsmith.net and has recently published her first novel, Kat’s Dreams.