Have you ever looked closely at a recently exposed stump? Perhaps you saw the intricate rings pulling themselves closer and closer to the center, go on before our eyes into eternity. The smell of wood shavings, the coarseness of the bark all add to the picture in our minds. Rings upon rings building what was a towering accomplishment, a natural fete. Something beautiful.
Each human character is a good deal like a tree. Each influencing ring builds the character, the fete inside the mind. The environment of the tree is a great dictator of it’s durability, shape, and power to grow, as humans, one of the greatest gifts God has given us are words. Words specifically on pages, preserved for this generation and the next. Books.
What classical education crowd has known for centuries (probably before even Socrates’ day) is finally being “discovered.” The Boston Globe published an article recently about how to write better: simply read better. They conducted a study of college students. They polled them on what they read and how much and then sampled and judged a paragraph of their writing. And wonder of wonders. The students who spent their time reading reddit, or Huffington Post, or even Magazines had very poor quality writing.
The study briefly touched on how human nature mimics what is around us. Reading is one of the greatest sources of character, aside from day-to-day experiences, reading can expand our focus, our knowledge, and even the gnarled beauty inside: character.
I would like to make the case to you that it is fundamental that we read and that we read well.
Reading is crucial to the existence of knowledge, the development of the brain and of character. I am not going to source all the studies, or all the information about why it is crucial that we read. At the very least, as Christians, we are to love God with all our hearts and minds and strength, right? Well, you can only love someone by studying them, studying what God has revealed to us through divine revelation grows our love of God. On another level, writing and reading preserves knowledge for the generations to come and spreads it to the current generation. When books had first been able to be produced in mass amounts it was revolutional, it changed the world. Imagine if you were an astronomer…or you want to be. Your family can’t afford you to study as an apprentice, so you strike out with little to no previous knowledge of the stars. After spending a lifetime studying the heavens you have gained a little knowledge on their basic paths and dances in the sky and that is all. Now imagine you can pick up a book at the library on astronomy, knowledge but not in a firehose of information like the internet, but in controlled styled amounts.
Theologian, philosopher and author C.S. Lewis believed reading what people in centuries gone by helps us understand how our culture was formed, and not just reading, but reading well.
“We may be sure that the characteristic blindness of the twentieth century – the blindness about which posterity will ask, “But how could they have thought that?” – lies where we have never suspected it… None of us can fully escape this blindness, but we shall certainly increase it, and weaken our guard against it, if we read only modern books. Where they are true they will give us truths which we half knew already. Where they are false they will aggravate the error with which we are already dangerously ill. The only palliative is to keep the clean sea breeze of the centuries blowing through our minds, and this can be done only by reading old books.”
People influence people. Books influence people.
Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.
By not taking up the opportunity to read, we pass up that controlled, styled, beautiful development of our character, but by reading poorly, we misuse words and books, which can eventually hurt our character, which can hurt or blunt those around us. Words are amazing, if you reread Genesis 1-2, words make the universe, words make matter. We are dust, which is made of atoms, you can keep going deeper and deeper into what it is made of, but at the very end of the chain you ask one more time: what is that made of? Words.
In C.S. Lewis’s The Magician’s Nephew he tells the fictional story of how Narnia was born, how some of the animals were given the ability and the gift of speech.
“Narnia, Narnia, Narnia, awake. Love. Think. Speak. Be walking trees. Be talking beasts. Be divine waters…The Dumb Beasts whom I have not chose are yours also. Treat them gently and cherish them but do not go back to their ways lest you cease to be Talking Beasts. For out f them you were taken and into them you can return. Do not do so.”
Lewis understood the power of words, that was what made the talking beasts intelligent, or it was the intelligence that made them speak, to give them the ability to express their intelligence. When God created the world, he called everything (besides man) into being. And then…
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
Man was the only creation able to speak because he was the only creation who was made in the image of God. As image bearers, speech is not only a privelage, it is one of the many ways we are able to glorify God as His image bearers.
While books can never measure up to the blessing of the company of another human to be able to converse face to face, they do give us words, to preserve words.
Blessings in Christ,