The recent advert for the MacMillan Daffodil Donate an Hour appeal, computes the amount of time we spend doing things in an average lifetime. It throws up some "makes you think" statistics. 7,000 hours in supermarkets was one that surprised me till I thought about it. 280 days with a basket or a trolley and a wallet. That's more than a year of working days. And what Macmillan's are asking is just one hour; on average collectors bring in over £40 an hour, so the argument is persuasive. That's quite apart from the wonderful work MacMillan nurses do to accompany and support those who are in the later stages of illness from cancer. I don't need any more encouragement to give to this charity whose work I've witnessed first hand in numerous pastoral situations. Those who care for the dying carry out a ministry that has deep roots in the soil of Christian charity and medical comfort
But it set me thinking about the time I spend reading. Not as much as I used to; not as much as I like to; not as much even as I need to. There are many other important and urgent calls on time, energy and attentiveness. This post is not an apologia for reading; I take the value of reading for granted as a formative, humanising, life enriching, socially informing, intellectually nourishing, morally challenging and educationally effective human activity. What I am now researching is the theological importance of reading for personal formation, and as a pastime which requires an ethic of reading so that its formative power is genuinely free to challenge and subvert, or inform and affirm, what we know, what we ought to know, how we know it and crucially, what we do with what we know. Oh, and incidentally, "pastime" need not mean desultory non productive time, which has its own value - but a valid way for a human person to pass the time in ways that enhance their humanity and person).
In other words, quite self-consciously and specifically as a Christian, I am interested in reading not only as an intellectual discipline, but as discipline which requires an ethic, a theology and an obedience to the word consonant with our obedience to the Word made flesh. Reading is a search for the Truth that in knowing Him sets free. Reading is a regularly recurring Emmaus journey trying to make sense of things and thrilled when the Stranger Christ comes alongside to rebuke, to expound, to accompany, and to
break the bread of life once again. So whether theology or biography, poetry or dogmatics, ethics or novels, history or mystery, philosophy or art, what we read, how we read, why we read, and the immediate and durable effects of the acts of reading are highly significant in following faithfully after Jesus. As a Christian I am also and always a seeker, a listener, a student, with a mind that thinks, a heart that feels and a body that is a living sacrifice. Sotrying as hard as I can, and receiving as much grace as my life can hold, I am engaged in the life work of making this self holy and wholly acceptable to God, which is my reasonable service. Yes that's it, reasonable service.
On the superficial and playful level I am a bibliophile. But in the deep places of the will, the heart and the mind, I am a lover of the One who took the scroll and read, and declared a manifesto for the transformation of the world. So I won't compute the number of hours I may have spent reading since those early days I worked through the bookcase in our farm cottage. A more important computation is what I have done with the reading, and what it has done to me, by the grace of God, and maybe occasionally by my own determined Emmaus walk. And how I have responded to the countless times the Stranger who is Christ has come alongside to teach, to accompany, and to take the bread and break it so that my eyes are opened in glad recognition, and I see differently, more truly and with something of the loving gaze of God on a world shocked back into life by Resurrection.