Over the last few years, especially when I moved out of my study at First Baptist Church of Asheville, I’ve culled hundreds of books from my personal library.
During Lent this year, I took a critical look at the ones I still had and thinned-out the mixed herd.
I immediately decided to keep books given to me by other people because the inscriptions by these friends mean even more to me than the content of the books.
Where the other books were concerned, I used questions inspired by Marie Kondo’s The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up: Have I opened this book in the last year or so? Even if it was once important to me, am I likely to read this book again?
This time, I let go of books which had meant a lot to me. Among them were almost all the books by Harry Emerson Fosdick which I’d painstakingly collected over the years. I kept only his autobiography, For the Living of These Days. Fosdick, founding pastor of the Riverside Church in NYC, was a pivotal figure in American progressive Christianity; at one time, his writings were a lifeline for me.
I gave away books by Frederick Buechner, Fred Craddock, Stanley Hauerwas, Douglas John Hall, and Jurgen Moltmann. Though I kept Buechner’s memoirs, Craddock’s As One without Authority¸ Hauerwas’ Gifford Lectures and his autobiography, Hall’s Lighten Our Darkness, and Moltmann’s The Crucified God and The Church in the Power of the Holy Spirit, scores of others by these authors are gone.
I no longer have the short stories of J.F. Powers, the novels of Graham Greene (except The Power and the Glory and A Burnt-Out Case) or essays by Annie Dillard (other than The Writing Life and Pilgrim at Tinker Creek).
It was hard to part with these books. I haven’t lost the content, since I have extensive notes from most of them; and the heart of my library will still provide the oxygen of inspiration when I need it, especially since I kept all the poets, every volume of Wendell Berry’s writings, and all the children’s books.
The difficulty was, in part, that these books had been friends and companions along the journey. As I flipped through their pages, I could remember where I was as I read them and what was going on in my life. Marginal notes and underscoring reminded me of questions I’d asked and guidance I’d been grateful to receive.
I was also painfully relinquishing part of identity which was bound up with those books. Many of them had been central to my vocation and crucial to my faith. To give them away was to acknowledge that these things have changed and will continue to change.
As I face-off with tighter limits and the nearing of a once-far horizon, my calling isn’t to accumulate more knowledge but to offer whatever wisdom I’ve managed, often in spite of myself, to mine from the veins of my mind and heart.
These days, I’m feeling a good deal of loss, so the ritual of downsizing my library helped. I feel lighter and clearer.
There is more space.
I want it to be filled and to flow with love.