I’ve been in a season of reading. And this is a very healthy sign. But it’s surprising. I’ve never been much of a reader, aside from academic requirements of course. I could never sit still for long enough to get very far in a book. And reading certainly didn’t feel like a pleasurable activity. Too many other things, more important and pressing, to do. Yet, these past months, I find myself with a voracious appetite for books. I’m sitting still quite a bit (which is what makes it a healthy thing for me) and learning more than I thought my brain could handle. That reading list I’ve had since college? I’m finally crossing things off. And with each book I cross off, I add a dozen more. What is your favorite book that I should add? I’d love to hear.
One of the books on my list since college was Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. What a gem. One of my many favorite passages:
There are lots of things to see, unwrapped gifts and free surprises. The world is fairly studded and strewn with pennies cast broadside from a generous hand. But–and this is the point–who gets excited by a mere penny? … It is dire poverty indeed when a man is so malnourished and fatigued that he won’t stoop to pick up a penny. But if you cultivate a healthy poverty and simplicity, so that finding a penny will literally make your day, then, since the world is in fact planted in pennies, you have with your poverty bought a lifetime of days. It is that simple. What you see is what you get. (p. 17)
“Cultivating a healthy poverty and simplicity” — that is something I’d like to learn to do better in the coming year. To find pleasure and exhilaration in the simplest, most ordinary things; to receive God’s everyday gifts with joy, rather than simply to expect and fail to notice. That’s no easy thing for us humans.
I happen to be moving to West Africa in February. Switching continents (and all the administrative details that come into the picture) is far from simple. I’ve already taken on new complications by moving to a new country and culture. But I think I will also shed certain complications, and I long for that. I will adopt a different lifestyle, and although a shift won’t happen automatically, I’ll have the opportunity to choose healthy poverty and simplicity. I have a feeling my West African neighbors will be able to teach me a thing or two about that.
I don’t think cultivating what Dillard talks about requires something as drastic as moving to West Africa, though. Hopefully, I’ve already begun stooping to pick up those pennies. And I expect to find several suitcase-fulls of pennies in West Africa. “The world is planted in pennies” — they’re not contained to any one place. “What you see is what you get.” And it’s the seeing that’s the trick.
What unwrapped gift or free surprise have you stumbled on this past year?