It’s been two weeks since village employees picked up our discarded Christmas Tree and delivered it to The Land of Mulch. The good news is that this relocation will allow that tree to be transformed and to continue to be of very good use. Over the past few weeks, I’ve tried to transform some of our no-longer-needed possessions into useful commodities as well. In the process, I’ve filled one box for the St. Vincent De Paul Store and I’ve started to fill another. Those extra dishes, cookware and flatware were easy to part with. I happily packed up the clothing I no longer need as well. It’s my book collection which encourages me to hold on with all of my might!
If a book has remained in my possession after a single reading, it’s something special. If a book remains after a second reading, it is counted among my lifelong friends. I have a set of mystery novels whose plots unfold in familiar Chicago neighborhoods. I met their author a few times at various book signings and when he visited a nearby parish. Because I share his perspective regarding God’s love for us, those encounters merited my effort. Yes, I’m keeping this collection. My Christmas-themed books and the story behind my favorite movie, It’s a Wonderful Life, are all keepers as well. I know I’ve mentioned my books regarding near-death experiences and the afterlife in previous reflections. Of course, they will remain on my bookshelf. Though my faith tells me what I need to know in this regard, those who have ventured into the hereafter and then returned to tell us what they encountered there never cease to amaze me. Who and what they encountered there provide additional evidence that God is indeed our most loving caretaker. I’ve also kept a few past copies of a daily devotional which I’ve read for almost thirty years. Several authors contribute to these annuals and I like to see how their thinking evolves over time. I also have copies of my own Advent and Lent devotionals. After all, I have to check up on my own evolving thoughts as well. Sometimes, I surprise myself!
I celebrate these written treasures today because each one brings good news into my life. Sometimes, the words these writers have strung together open me up to ideas I’ve never considered. Sometimes, their words give me reason to revisit the truths lying deep within me. Sometimes, they simply underscore the things I already know. Whatever the case, I find inspiration, grace and love in their work. On this Third Sunday in Ordinary Time, the scriptures invite us to celebrate the good news to be found in the written word on an even greater scale.
In the first reading (Nehemiah 8:2-6; 8-10), Nehemiah announces to Israel that the long-awaited end to the Babylonian exile has finally come. The people gather before their priest Ezra as he reads from the Book of The Law. This encounter with the written word is particularly moving to those present as they prepare themselves to live outside of the bonds of slavery. Finally, they reside on their own soil and enjoy the freedom to worship as they choose to. The words Ezra reads provide sustenance to their once starving souls. Paul shares good news as well through his prolific writing. In his letter to the Corinthians (1 Corinthians 12:12-30), Paul reminds the people that they haven’t been estranged from God’s word by an external enemy. Rather, the Corinthians have estranged themselves from one another through their jealousy regarding one another’s gifts. With carefully crafted words, Paul reminds his followers that each one of them is cherished by God, uniquely gifted by God, and called by God to follow in Jesus’ footsteps as only they can. Luke’s gospel (1:1-4; 4:14-21) underscores the power of the written word as well. Luke shares that Jesus revealed his mission through a deeply moving passage which he read from the Prophet Isaiah. Jesus used the prophet’s writing to assure the people that it is he who has come to bring comfort to all, even the most lowly among them. Though the people to whom Ezra, Paul and Jesus addressed had experienced seemingly insurmountable difficulties, they drew near to these three to find the nourishment God provided through the written word.
I contemplate the written word at every opportunity because it is one of the special places where God’s voice whispers to me. Today, as we celebrate the gift of God’s voice in scripture, we open ourselves to God’s inspiration, grace and love wherever we encounter them. You know, God speaks to us in many beautiful and unexpected ways. If your soul is hungry for a bit of peace or consolation, a taste of joy or comfort, open yourself up to God’s presence. Whether you turn to scripture writers or the written words of the many other wonderful people who reveal God through their insights and experiences, you will find what you need. Indeed, God uses all of creation, including my shelf full of books and us imperfect humans, to nurture us and to love us as only God can.
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