Merton’s meditation for this first Tuesday in Lent discusses books and how we can be blessed by others’ words and experiences…or not.
It struck home for me. I am just finishing my first mystery novel, since reading Fr. James Martin’s, Jesuit Guide last year. I wrote about the effect the Jesuit Guide had on me and on my walk a while back. I described there how it prompted me to begin this blog.
Martin’s writing (since the Jesuit Guide, I’ve read just about everything he’s written) falls into Merton’s category of writing by “good men.” He says these type of writers “hold us by their human charm; we grow by finding ourselves in them.”
Brother Lawrence’s writing and Saint Augustine’s Confessions and Merton’s own writing and so many of you who share your stories and insights in our virtual world all fall into this category, this place where I ‘find myself’ by reading them.
Merton describes two other categories of writing: “Books that speak like God speak with too much authority to entertain us,” he says. Amen to that.
On the other end of the spectrum he cautions that “Books that speak like the noise of multitudes reduce us to despair by the sheer weight of their emptiness. They entertain us like the lights of the city streets at night, by hopes they cannot fulfill.”
The particular mystery novel I’m currently reading falls into the latter category. Still, the quality of desolation associated with the story — the despair of the characters, their fear at having long-held secrets exposed, the unlikeable nature of even the central character, and, therefore, of the writer, who speaks through her — all provide their own negative lessons. It does nothing to uplift one’s spirit. On the contrary, it makes vivid why we weep for so much of our world — for the anger and fear and violence and deceit and impotence felt by so many, who feed and encourage the evil-doers among us.
I guess I don’t feel a need to eschew all mystery novels forevermore. The attitude and spirit we bring to our reading, I think, has as much to do with their effect on us as any of the meta-messages of the writer.
The take-away for me, especially during Lent, is to remember to include Our Father in all my activities — even when I’m reading otherwise vacuous fiction — to ask for His blessing and His grace and His Light — His presence with me — in even my most mundane activities.
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