Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Books and the Joy of Reading: George Washington, Helen Keller, C.S. Lewis, and the Bible

I've been reading a few books lately, and rediscovering the joy of reading.  I'm sure many of these books were inspired by the very spirit of God.  

I was reading a biography of George Washington.  The author told of a battle during George Washington's early service in the British army in the 1700s.  It was during the French and Indian war.  Washington's commanding officer had been shot, and they were losing the battle badly.  Washington was riding from one line of the battle to another trying to rally the men.  His commanding officer had had five horses shot out from under him, and finally he had been injured. But Washington didn't have a scratch on him, and he suffered no injury during the battle.  It was recorded that a native american looked on at those moments, and said that Washington had some powerful force, some being divinely protecting him.  

I've also heard the story told of a certain foreign diplomat traveling in the United States, who suffered a brutal car accident.  By all rights, the man should've been killed in the accident.  Providentially, he was not.  His name was Winston Churchill, the man who would see Great Britain through the horror of World War II. 

History has always fascinated me, especially the history of the United States and of the great world wars.  Consider the situation in Europe during World War II after the fall of France.  The Nazis had conquered the whole of Europe and were encroaching on the Russians.  Great Britain alone stood against the German army.  They were outmanned, outgunned, and their technology was less advanced.  In fact the Royal army had been stomped in their first engagements.  

They were forced to retreat to the channel, and the only way they made it across the channel was from the help of civilians with skiffs and private craft to shuttle them across.  The United States at that time was determined to stay neutral in the whole affair.  During that time Churchill championed the cause of the British people, inspiring them to hold the line against the night.  Imagine it.  The battle of Britain rages.  British fighter craft go into battle often outnumber 3 to 1, 5 to 1 and even 10 to 1, striking in against Nazi bombers intent on destroying their country.  Still the British held out.  At that time there were two key men in Great Britain, speaking to the people.  Of course there was Winston Churchill, but there was also a certain C.S. Lewis, preaching some of the greatest sermons of his life (now recorded in a book titled The Weight of Glory.)  

The point I see in all these "coincidences" and "lucky breaks" is a divine providence to provide the right people, at the right times, and at the right places.  I'm sure at times it seemed hopeless to Winston Churchill, fighting alone against the Nazis.  I'm sure he was terrified for the fate of his nation when rumors were heard that the enemy was forcing Jews and Christians into extermination camps.  Can you think of a more terrifying scenario? Yet it wasn't over.  God had provided the right people to see Great Britain through the storm.  And in the end Great Britain received increasing help from the United States, until eventually the United States hit the shores of Normandy and changed the entire war.  Great Britain won out. 

Now we come to Helen Keller.  Have you ever read any of the writings of Helen Keller?  I personally haven't but I'm going to make a point of it.  I've been reading quotes from Helen Keller, the woman who was born deaf and blind, and they are astoundingly beautiful.  Did you know she was a devout Christian?  I didn't.  They never told me that in public school.  Such revisionist history.  Did you know George Washington was a devout Christian as well?  Yep, he was.  Anyway, Helen Keller said this about the Bible: "Just as all things upon earth represent and image forth all the realities of another world, so the Bible is one mighty representative of the whole spiritual life of humanity."  Yes I will definitely be reading some of her books.  Books are a real gift of life on Earth.  Don't you think?  

One of the first loves of my life was books.  My mother would read books to my sister and I before bed every night.  She read books in the Berenstein Bear series.  I always remember one called "Owl Moon."  It was a beautiful, and mysterious journey of a father and son walking into the woods in the middle of the night to go owl spotting.  It captured my imagination.  

I never thought I would be able to learn how to read.  I was very anxious about it.  It seemed impossible.  I can still recall being six years old and fearing I would never learn to read properly.  I was in 1st grade, trying to understand it.  Despite how complicated it seemed, I began learning how to read.  And I learned to love it dearly.  

C.S. Lewis wrote in his famous sermon "The Weight of Glory" that each of us has a longing within us that can't quite be placed. 

"I am trying to rip open the inconsolable secret in each one of you—the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that had settled the matter." -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, pg. 3

We try to ignore it, the world around us creates philosophies, sciences, and concepts to try to explain it away.  Yet it stubbornly refuses to be appropriately classified, marked, and boxed.  Some call it beauty and leave it at that.  Yet there is something within us, a longing for something we can't quite define.  Lewis related the experience of coming to that, and learning to know God as similar to a school child attempting to learn reading and writing.  At first it's a drudgery.  We begin down the road of the Christian life hardly knowing where we're even going, attempting for mindsets and positions of the heart that seem thankless, difficult, if not impossible, and stumble forward coming after a heaven we can't even imagine and a paradise we wonder if we even desire.  

Yet as we learn and grow, it slowly starts to fall into place.  We learn, we grow, we begin writing, reading, and creatively expanding our understanding.  In the same way, in the walk with God we can scarcely imagine a heaven, a time when we might understand and might be able to enjoy such a place, yet we proceed forward, awkwardly, stumbling toward the goal of eventual knowing, relating, and perhaps even truly loving.  

"If a transtemporal, transfinite good is our real destiny, then any other good on which our desire fixes must be in some degree fallacious, must bear at best only a symbolical relation to what will truly satisfy." -C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, pg. 3

I get a little taste of that journey when I pick up a book.  Or when I page through the Bible.  I understand a bit more clearly when I stare out my living room window and notice the sun shining down through the trees, droplets of water shimmering on the pine needles in the mid day sun.  

Even when I fell into sin, drugs, alcohol, and addiction I still read a great deal.  Though I often read rather dark and apocalyptic pieces.  I think during those years of addiction I read every book written by Hunter S. Thompson, the famed Gonzo journalist.  I also read people like Philip K. Dick, Henry Miller, Aldous Huxley, George Orwell, and H.G. Wells.  Did you know all of those authors save Thompson were atheists?  Anyway.  One of the gifts of Jesus, and recovery has been a renewal of my appreciation for books and readings.  

Given how much I need to read and study my college textbooks, when I engage in personal reading I usually do so with audiobooks.  That way I can put the books on my mp3 player and listen while I work out.  Or I can play the audiobooks on the CD player in my car.  It helps to switch things up like that.  

I'd like to highlight a free resource called Librivox.  It's a website full of free audiobooks, recordings made by volunteers of books in the public domain.  Definitely check it out!  They have thousands of books on there.  It's been a real blessing to my walk.  I recommend checking out the G.K. Chesterton books.  Also check out the biographies section, there are a lot of good ones.  

Recently I've been reading a book called "Lies the Government told You" by Judge Andrew Napilitano.  It's been a very eye opening read for me.  I'd highly recommend it to anyone who seeks to understand the problems in United States government and politics.  It's quite astounding.  I also just started "The Weight of Glory" by C.S. Lewis.  It's been excellent so far.  Just the first few pages, especially page three have really captivated my imagination.  I love books!  Others coming up on my reading list are: 

Seven Men: And the Secret of their Greatness by Eric Metaxas
1776 by David McCullough
The Sky is Not Falling: Living Fearlessly in these Turbulent Times by Charles Colson
Franklin and Winston by Jon Meacham
Boundaries by Dr. Henry Cloud
The Rise of Theodore Roosevelt by Edmund Morris
Liberty Defined: 50 Essential Issues that affect our Freedom by Ron Paul

Books are a wonderful thing.  In fact we receive the truth about God himself through a book we call "the Bible."  "Bible" actually simply means "book."  

 "The English word "Bible" comes from bíblia in Latin and bíblos in Greek. The term means book, or books, and may have originated from the ancient Egyptian port of Byblos (in modern-day Lebanon), where papyrus used for making books and scrolls was exported to Greece." -source: About Religion

What are some of the books that influenced you the most in life?
I compiled a list of some of my favorite books over past few years.  Definitely read these if you get the chance.  They are classics.  

My Top ten favorite books over the past 2 years...
10. The Great Divorce by C. S. Lewis
9. A Year of Living Prayerfully by Jared Brock
8. Revolution in World Missions by Dr. K.P. Yohannan
7. Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain
6. Christianity in Action by Henry Gariepy
5. Has Christianity failed You? by Ravi Zacharias
4. A Grief Observed by C. S. Lewis
3. Walking from East to West by Ravi Zacharias
2. Orthodoxy (book) by G.K. Chesterton
1. The Bible by various


Related Posts:
  1. Daybreak: Examining the Problem of Pain / CS Lewis
  2. Journey of the Christian through the Forest called Earth
  3. True Christianity vs. the Modern Culture
  4. The Search for Truth & Meaning
  5. Processing the Past and Being Restored
  6. The Philosophy of Jesus Christ
  7. Why is Jesus the perfect example to follow?
  8. Momentary Troubles & Eternal Glory
  9. Reading G.K. Chesterton and C.S. Lewis
  10. Rescue in the Labyrinth, Darkest Hour