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A person who won’t read has no advantage over one who can’t read. – Mark Twain
A lot of people ask me if I were shipwrecked and could only have one book, what would it be? I always say, “How to Build a Boat.” – Stephen Wright
I probably don’t need to ask you that question—after all, you’re reading right now. But let’s explore a little deeper, and see if we can figure out something about your reading habits. According to the experts, your reading habits say a great deal about you.
So, time for a simple, five-question pop quiz:
- What was the last book you read, front to back?
- Do you have a library card? If so, how many books do you have checked out now?
- How many books do you own?
- How many days in an average week do you read for pleasure?
If you can’t remember the last book you read, have no library card, own no books and never read for your own pleasure, you might want to think about introducing yourself to the joys of reading. It’s easy. It’s fun. It can even be free. Go to your public library or your local used bookstore or get a book online and sit down, maybe with a cup of coffee, and then just relax into the process.
If you’re shipwrecked, see if you can find a copy of “How to Build a Boat” buried in the sand. If you love, say, stories about wizards and flying brooms, read a Harry Potter book. If you love a great mystery, read James Lee Burke or Walter Mosley. If you love lyrical literature, read Susan Straight or Cormac McCarthy or Toni Morrison. If you love love, by all means, read Shakespeare.
If, on the other hand, you clearly remember the last book you read (because you just finished it last night); if you have a well-worn library card and a pile of checked-out books on your nightstand; if you own way more than a dozen books and need to build some new bookshelves; if you already read every chance you get—well, those answers mean you’re a bonafide reader. Maybe, like me, you’re a book addict. Welcome to the club. Repeat after me: We admitted that we were powerless over books—that our libraries had become unmanageable. (Apologies to AA.)
Whichever category you fit into, I would like to cordially and humbly invite you to read something new, something you may not think of reading very often, something truly remarkable: sacred books. In this series of essays about reading something sacred every day, I’ll try to convince you that this kind of reading really will change your life—because it will.
But first, let’s grapple for a moment with the somewhat scary and off-putting term sacred. As a word, it kind of has an overly precious, somewhat pretentious quality these days, doesn’t it? My thesaurus gives four synonyms for sacred: “holy, pure, pious and saintly.” Do you consider yourself holy, pure, pious or saintly? No? Me, neither. Not even close. Working on it, though…
But do you consider anything sacred? How about the Torah, or the Bhagavad Gita, or the Bible, or the Qur’an, depending on your religious orientation? Would those books qualify as sacred?
As a child I had a very devout, pious and saintly Lutheran grandmother, who I loved very much. She was one of the kindest and sweetest people I’ve ever known. Once when I was about four years old, she was reading a children’s book to me on the couch in her living room. When we finished, I put the book on a nearby table, on top of another book. My grandmother quickly snatched the children’s book away, moved it to another spot on the table, and in a hushed and rather awed voice said “David, we never put other books on top of the Bible.”
This made a lasting impression on me, not so much because of her unusually pious book-stacking rule, but because it showed me that she considered her Bible sacred. She held it in high esteem, venerated it and protected it from being diminished or disrespected—or even covered by another book. This taught me my first sense of the sacred. I learned, from my beloved grandmother, that some things have great importance, and that we should respect that importance.
What do you think of as sacred?
For me, the most sacred thing in the world isn’t a thing at all—instead, I think of the world’s great religious teachings, in their original form, as truly sacred:
The essence of all religions is the Love of God, and it is the foundation of all the sacred teachings. – Abdu’l-Baha, Paris Talks, p. 83.
Baha’is believe that those sacred teachings come to humanity as prophets of God, as holy messengers who embody the light of the Divine. Christ, Moses, Buddha, Krishna, Muhammad, Zoroaster and now Baha’u’llah all came to bring infinite joy to this Earth, and to make it bloom once again:
Man is like unto a tree. If he be adorned with fruit, he hath been and will ever be worthy of praise and commendation. Otherwise a fruitless tree is but fit for fire. The fruits of the human tree are exquisite, highly desired and dearly cherished. Among them are upright character, virtuous deeds and a goodly utterance. The springtime for earthly trees occurreth once every year, while the one for human trees appeareth in the Days of God — exalted be His glory. Were the trees of men’s lives to be adorned in this divine Springtime with the fruits that have been mentioned, the effulgence of the light of Justice would, of a certainty, illumine all the dwellers of the earth and everyone would abide in tranquillity and contentment beneath the sheltering shadow of Him Who is the Object of all mankind. The Water for these trees is the living water of the sacred Words uttered by the Beloved of the world. – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 257.
In the next essay in this series, let’s see if we can determine which words are truly sacred.
Next: The Living Water of the Sacred Words