Book Boxes

I started packing the books this afternoon. There are (probably quite literally, but I am afraid to count) hundreds of other things on my to-do list, and with a week left, I wonder if I have no business squandering time when my brain is functional to pack books. I should probably wait until next week when, in my last three days at this call, my mother in law will be in town to watch my kids and I can pull all-nighters packing.

The book shelves in my study carry great weight for me, though. Again, probably literally, but I’d prefer not to think about what carting these boxes to my car will do to my back, or how many trips of the car it will take to get them home.

I’ve been a minister for almost 8 years now. But this is the first position where my books have had a more permanent place to rest. I packed them up 8 years ago at the end of my seminary internship, and unpacked some of them into my classroom at my first pastoring job: as a high school religion teacher. For the two years I was there, though, I had to pack up the books and take them with me when I left for the summer.

I didn’t bother to unpack them when I was in a pastoral residency program after that: my office was in a hallway and there was barely room for me, let alone my books.

When I arrived here a little over 5 years ago, the congregation was busily preparing to move me into a bigger room. I started out in a smaller one, and spent a few months there, but I returned after my maternity leave that fall to a lovely, huge study with a beautiful picture window next to my desk.

And opposite that window, there’s a whole wall of bookshelves. I got to pick them out of an office supply catalogue. And a dear, dear man named Len assembled them, and lovingly anchored them to the wall since he knew my new baby daughter might learn to crawl and pull up at church.

My books are not just some ivory-tower collection. They are connected to what I’ve done as a pastor. There’s Adam by Henri Nouwen, the book we bought all the kids on a mission trip one year, whether they were ready to read it or not, because we knew Nouwen’s story of his life with a young man with disabilities might help them understand their the week of service at an “Exceptional Persons” camp.

There are several copies of the book I give to grieving parents.

There are Bible commentaries that taught me everything I needed for sermons.

There is a beautifully bound set of all of the worship bulletins from one year of worship in this church that my head of staff secretly stashed away for a year and then turned into books for me and the other associate.

There are my Spanish grammars and workbooks that, as the pastor with the most (although it is truly pitifully little) Spanish I’ve had to use once in a while to help with translation for one of the preschool moms, or for a final check of the language in a document for a mission trip to Guatemala.

There are books about my past, and books about my future. There are books that will always remind me of a certain person, or a certain event.

Even the shelves themselves make me think about Len: when he died a year and a half ago, I was the only pastor available for an immediate visit, so I got to hold the hand that put together my shelves just after he had died, and pray with his family as they let him go.

I went into ministry for many reasons, but the books are a big reason. I love books and learning. I love the way a book can preserve knowledge, dialogue, and community, even through the centuries. I love how they smell, and I love their weight (except when I’m moving them). I love that Christians are “people of the book”.

I know this makes me a traditionalist, and a bit of an old-foagy. And I’m OK with that.

I’m not going to a new call yet. I guess God thinks I need to be not-as-busy for a little while. So in our new apartment, we have given the children a shared bedroom. My husband painted the extra room in a deep browny-purple color, and installed a floor-to-ceiling shelving system for books. In a few weeks, I’ll start unpacking my books there, across from my little arts and crafts oak desk, with one small cozy window looking out at the brick of our neighboring two-flat. There might not be room for all my books: they’ll have to share with Erik’s books and some of the kids books. And this is where I’ll write the occasional sermon and other things for the next little while, and where I hope to carve out some time to read.

As I started packing the books, I realized that they are something of a plug: one of the shelves is empty now, so I know that I am going to leave. And that I’d better get to work because there’s a whole lot to do.

One Response to “Book Boxes”

  1. John Vest Says:

    This is exactly why I’m leery of transitioning to e-books. Our libraries are deeply connected to our lives. Or, our lives are woven into the contents of our libraries.