I admire the Gideons and their faith, for theirs is the belief that just by picking up a Bible and reading it a life can be saved. For many Christians, the Bible is a powerful source of inspiration. It is God’s Word.
For folks throughout Christian history, however, the Bible is not the only book that has the power to save. Many have discovered God’s presence in the pages of a well-worn monograph. Consider that some classics, such as “Streams in the Desert” and “My Utmost for His Highest,” have defied the test of time as inspirational literature throughout the world.
I had several such experience with books in my life, but one in particular that I reminisce about every winter.
Every year about this time, I get more melancholy than usual. It must be the cold or shorter days. It might be all of the burdens that build up from the past year.
In one such winter–2004 to be precise– I faced more than melancholy. It was full-blown depression.
That particular year was a pivotal one for me. I graduated from a master’s program but couldn’t find full-time work. I took a graduate exam (twice) for a PhD, but utterly bombed the math section. I was at a crossroads, and I did not know the direction God wanted me to go in. I had my first child–a wonderful event for sure–but experienced paternal postpartum depression as a result (yes, there is such a thing).
There is nothing like depression: the feelings of meaningless and lostness, the random bouts of tears, and lack of appetite. I felt the absence of God for months. I spoke with several folks in my family and community, but it was hard to describe my illness.
One person with whom I spoke was my grandmother-in-law, Granny. Granny is an incredible person of faith. She is one of those prayer warriors who wear out chairs by the sheer number of hours she spends praying.
When I mentioned that I did not feel very close to God, she told me about an author–Henri Nouwen–of whom she became very fond. She purchased one of his books for me–“The Way of the Heart.”
The first time I read it, it seemed that God had dropped the book in my lap at the perfect time–His time. Since then, I have read it so many times, it is now a beat-up, stained, bent, and stretched relic.
“The Way of the Heart” is about God’s way of conforming us into a more prayerful people. God’s way is often through the wilderness of solitude–a metaphor for those vacuous, deserted places in our spiritual lives we often avoid.
In it, Nouwen highlights certain saints–the Desert Fathers and Mothers–who mastered prayer in a wilderness place of spiritual growth. For them, the wilderness “was a furnace of transformation” and was the “place of the great struggle and the great encounter.” Solitude stripped them of all comforts, and they were forced to look into their own hearts (struggle) and to rely solely on God for sustenance (encounter).
It was the wilderness that exposed the lingering darkness in their own lives, and forced them to surrender to the light of God’s grace-filled love.
In solitude, we come into contact with God’s silence–not a silence of absence but one of magnificent presence. It’s the type of relationship in which words become unnecessary.
Every time I read that book, I have to stop, reflect, and pray. I connect with the text, and I am reminded that books hold a kind of power in which God’s Word, found in the unlikeliest places, can steer us into His wonderful, consoling presence.
Trinity Baptist Church and I wish you a Merry Christmas. If you are experiencing grief this season, know that you are in our prayers.