The Questions A Reader Asks

By Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald  •  January 20, 2022

Illuminating books. We can read that phrase a couple of different ways. Are books, by their contents illuminating? Do they shed new understanding on life’s experiences or uncover new information? Yes. Or, are we illuminating books, and their meaning for us? Yes, again. Might they also illuminate something about the person who recommended a book to us? Or about our own hearts? The questions a reader asks.

I don’t remember a time when I wasn’t a reader. There’s a big yellow book on my bookshelf that is worn and torn, the cover is missing—I spent hours looking at that book as a child and reading familiar stories and poetry. I think I read early because I remember being able to read, without conscious learning, about Dick, Jane, Sally, and Spot. I have a vague recollection of boredom. But once I was able to move along, choose “free” reading books from the school library and sign up for my own public library card I was no longer bored in the land of illuminating books. Even in graduate school I carried a novel with me wherever I went so that I might snatch a few minutes of blissful reading in days of demanding syllabi and research papers.

Were those books illuminating? What did I learn from the assigned reading? What was revealed about myself in those snatched moments of reading or in the hours reading overnight until the sky became light? Which books were most meaningful to my growth and development? One does not stand out particularly.

Hardwired for Books

I can say is that I seem to be hardwired for books. Fiction, yes: I made friends with Laura Ingalls Wilder, followed Sue Barton down the hallways of hospitals, was alongside Anna Karenina on a train track, tramped over the Yorkshire dales with James Herriot, wondered whodunit with Armand Gamache, and traveled the Atlantic with African captives. And non-fiction: I’ve learned that trees communicate, been challenged to eat a plant-based diet; read authors who opened my mind to history and folklore, theology and literature, racism and politics. Illumination brings new perspectives and comforting assurance.

Surely, the book that illuminates my heart is the Bible—bringing clarity to my thoughts and charting a course ahead. Perhaps that is only predictable: as Christian clergy, I find that this library-in-one-book contains the joy and hope of faith. There is mystery between the covers. Marcus Borg calls us to read the Bible as historical record, as poetry, and always as sacred text. My own discovering of the Bible follows the path of sacred text, a path of puzzlement, challenge, deciphering, not ease. That sense of discernment and diving deep only intensified in seminary; I found myself reading beyond the words on the page, and once I learned Greek, I was unpacking the words even more carefully.

Incompleteness without Books

My life is incomplete without books. But, my soul is lonely without God. And, as I read the pages of the gospels I seek not only the words but the assurance that comes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The words that illuminate my life are these:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it….And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory. (John 1:1-5, 14. NRSV)

The books I read fall into that pattern of illumination, sometimes for recreation, sometimes for learning, sometimes for reflection, and others for sustenance. The words bring the light—the light that shines in the darkness of life, but which is not overcome. Another book waits.

 

About the Author

Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald

Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald served in parish ministry for nine years before being called into conference ministry as Area Minister for the Grand West Association in Michigan. She has served on the community board for Pilgrim Manor, a United Church Homes community in Grand Rapids. Ruth has two grown children and one precious grandson. Hiking, knitting, and reading fill her “spare” time.

View all articles by Rev. Ruth Fitzgerald