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Jun 4 2013
Finding God between the lines of literature.

In a series called By Heart, The Atlantic features authors' reflections on their favorite passages of literature. Iranian-born Dina Nayeri, who wrote the recently released A Teaspoon of Earth and Sea, choose from Marilyn Robinson's quiet but strong book, Housekeeping:

There is so little to remember of anyone—an anecdote, a conversation at a table. But every memory is turned over and over again, every word, however chance, written in the heart in the hope that memory will fulfill itself, and become flesh, and that the wanderers will find a way home, and the perished, whose lack we always feel, will step through the door finally and stroke our hair with dreaming habitual fondness not having meant to keep us waiting long.

Her selection was haunting in its layman's theological truth: we can spend our lives trying to incarnate our own beautiful gods out of longing for reconciliation with those we've loved and lost.

Robinson's words and Nayeri's response struck me and reminded me once again of the power of reading. Reading can create an intangible sanctuary where all are invited, regardless of faith, to receive benedictions that send us back into our respective broken worlds with more courage, strength, and hope. Reading can be an invitation to turn, face God, and live. For Nayeri, she was blessed with a new perspective on her grief; an alternate way of honoring what is unique to her own suffering but common to the human condition.

Reading and writing as a way of engaging the holy is not a new idea, and yet, we don't consider it enough anymore as a viable way to make small pockets of sanity and sense within the various wards of our crazy human existence. Perhaps this is in part due to the growing and saddening decline of reading in general. In a 2007 report, the National Endowment for the Arts shared some frightening figures in the decline of reading among Americans over the years, starting with teens and extending through adulthood. Almost half of American young adults between 18 and 24 never read for pleasure. And reading, according to the report, correlates with social and civic engagement. The more we read the more involved we tend to be in our communities. Bookworms do actually inch their way outside and into the world, more so than non-readers it seems.

"If, at the current pace, America continues to lose the habit of regular reading, the nation will suffer substantial economic, social, and civic setbacks," the NEA wrote.

Related Topics:Literacy; Writing
From: June 2013
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