Addiction, thus, is one of the saddest sins, because it involves taking that which has been given as a gift and making it a necessity, a right—air, water, grossly overstated clothing allowances. With that in mind, it becomes more necessary than ever for Lent to grab hold of me and shake loose that which was never mine to hold. My knuckles, white with pressure, bend and crack.
You see, I miss books.
I am a lifelong reader. I’ve been devouring books since I was 6. My earliest memories have to do with the bound volumes of paper and ink that began to bleed into my soul, climbing into a low-slung tree in the back yard and wasting an hour with Tom Sawyer or the Count of Monte Cristo.
In college, I was an English major, wasting my parent’s tuition money learning how to read, and then learning how to say worthless things about what I’d read. Sure, I knew the difference between Hemingway and Faulkner, and that to confuse Tolstoy and Dostoevsky was a cardinal sin, but I couldn’t eat off that.
It’s a terrible feeling when you suddenly realize that all you know how to do are things that really don’t have any bearing on your ability to support yourself. I felt like a kid who could tell you everything there was to know about Streetfighter 2 or the history of Guam, but was utterly worthless in terms of the economy.
And so, for Lent this year, I’ve given up buying books and coffee. Difficult? Given that I work in a bookstore and am inundated with the knowledge of the plethora of beautiful literature out there, yes. Given that I get 50 percent off coffee in the café, yes. Given that I look at my credit card statements and am shocked to find that I’ve given the store better than a 10th of my paycheck back in the form of books and coffee, yes.
In a culture that has no time for the written word, it’s fighting the good fight, isn’t it? To twist Bonhoeffer on his ear, I’m becoming church for the sake of the world, aren’t I, making up for the lost souls who waste their money on romance novels and self-help schlock?
All of these unmined gems going to waste! This is my calling—to be the stopgap against these uninformed masses who have no idea what good writing consists of! Great. Noble. Exceptional, even. Except for the fact that this love has completely taken over my life.
Lent, Day One: I walk into work, fully armed from a morning of having ashes dabbed on my forehead, and smell the coffee brewing. There are few things I like more about my job than break time when I lay down some pocket change for a tall coffee with vanilla, pull a magazine off the rack and put my feet up—a punctuated period of grace in the face of a culture of abject insanity. But today, there is no coffee.
The magazine is enjoyed, flat-footed, with a cup of water. Somehow, this doesn’t feel quite right. My roommate and I both work at the store and are consequently an hour late because of the service, during which time we and the church committed to the giving up of those things that have placed themselves in direct competition to the Gospel. But why books? Aren’t they necessary goods, the endless endeavor that I want to spend my life unpacking? Why must I give up that which is my call BY GOD? Why would God cut out the thing that He has called me toward?
I closed my eyes as I stood in the throes of the Current Events section, passed the new book on the Rwandan genocide and sighed.
Lent, Day Two: I am dying. I got six hours of sleep last night. All I can taste is that terrible and bitterly pungent brew on my tongue, and wonder how much a soul goes for on the black market.
There are small black flecks on the counter in the café. I wait until the servers aren’t looking, and quietly I lick them up in the hopes they are coffee grounds seeking refuge in the outside world. I prowl the boxes of stripped books, hoping for something good. I am rebuffed by the piles of shoddy romance and hack mysteries.
Lent, Day Three: I wake up crying. Crocodile tears. I dream of Columbia, of green fields of beans and oceans of milk substitute products, of books cascading down upon me like waterfalls. I am a broken man, like an addict in the street, panhandling for dirty grounds.
What is the point in all this ridiculous work? Why give up something for 40 days and nights leading up to Easter? Why subject myself to this evil, evil deprivation? Because it’s really not that bad. This is me whining. This is my body kicking and screaming like a spoiled child, no longer abusing what was meant as a gift. This is my soul remembering that there are purposes deeper than consumption and stories older than buying and selling.
It is the slow undoing of the grips of the world that tells to consume, and the slow renewing of the grip of a God who tells me to hold on loosely to even the things I love the most. Lent is the time of preparation and remembrance for the coming of Easter, the time during which we die to those things unnecessary to be raised into life.
It is the process of being re-membered, being made more fully a part of the body of Christ, separating out the story of the Gospel from the story of culture that I am so eager to embrace. It is the birth pains.
I am being born again.
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