The following is one of four essays that appeared in the Jubilate Deo, the newspaper of the Diocese of South Carolina, in 2006 and 2007. The publication of these pieces launched my desire and need to write about my spiritual journey.
Confessions of a Bibliophile
By Amy Watson Smith, Department of Christian Faith Formation, Diocese of SC
I confess that I have always loved books. I love the sound of the spine cracking on a new book when it is opened for the first time. I love to feel the weight and crispness of the paper. I love to press the pages to my face breathing in the smell of the freshly printed words.
Holding an unread book in my hands always makes my heart race a little—excited by the possibilities of new ideas, adventure, drama. However, I think what I have treasured most about reading is that all of life’s possibilities were confined to the safety of the page, and they allowed me to “feel” without the risk of being hurt.
So I started reading a great deal early on. When I was in need of comfort or reassurance, I often resorted to the safety and predictability of a favorite book reading the familiar words over and over time and again. Some rather unfortunate (though not uncommon) events of my adolescence confirmed for me that the world of books was a much safer place than that of many of the relationships I had developed.
As time passed it seemed only natural that my love of books and the safety of their created worlds would lead me to a degree in English literature in college and then to a job as a bookseller in a dangerously well-stocked bookstore. While graduate school did not exactly quell my biblio-obsession, it did refine my tastes and limit the subject matter that I pursued. My graduate degree in material culture and my subsequent career as a museum curator opened an even more protected dimension to the safe world I cherished—historical objects and art work.
Working in and for museums for almost fifteen years, I found myself surrounded by a host of very safe companions—thousands of beautiful and interesting objects that stayed nicely on the walls and in the exhibit cases in which they were placed. The security and reliability of these relationships couldn’t be beat! Furthermore when I was called to the Department of Christian Faith Formation in the diocese (now almost 1 ½ years ago), I couldn’t believe how blessed I was. God may have taken me out of the world of museums and objects, but he had placed me in a position where I was surrounded by hundreds of books and resources in the Diocesan Resource Center. I couldn’t believe it—I was and am actually getting paid to read and evaluate books and resources in order to be able to tell other people about them. What a blessing! I have loved the opportunity to read many of these wonderful resources and relish the idea of sharing them with others. Currently I must have at least twelve partially read books on my nightstand, and, as I look around me now, I am literally encircled by pages and pages of words and ideas. What a joy! Hmmm…let me see…this one looks interesting….
What really surprises me about all of this is that God has been doing something new in me over this time at the diocese and, in retrospect, over all these years. He placed a confessed bibliophile—a down-right biblio-idolator—right in the middle of my ideal setting. And then He reawakened a desire for real relationship in my heart. While I was trying to fill my head with knowledge from my “safe” companions (i.e., books), He has been transforming my heart and preparing me to risk relationship in ways that I never thought possible. As I sit surrounded by the books that I once believed gave me the kind of world I wanted—one that let me experience relationships without any of the danger—I realize now that my heart longs for relationships that are worth the risk. And these relationships come in the form of the loving, mixed-up, sane, messy, unpredictable, wonderful, sometimes uncomfortable, grace-filled people that are the body of Christ. Safety, my friends, is highly overrated. Thanks be to God!