Spirituality: Reverend Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr. on the Power of Books

Today’s guest writer is my father, Rev. Dr. Felix Haynes, Jr. , who shares his thoughts on the power of books to shape lives.

THE POWER OF BOOKS


In Little Letters to God, Margaret E. Sangster includes the following letter:


Dear God:
Three books came to me in this morning’s mail. They were messages from friends who wanted to share with me the pleasure of the printed word. One book was a love story, one was sparkling with inspiration, and one was a travel book that would transport me into far, forgotten places of the earth. As I unwrapped these books, I felt a sudden sense of reverence – reverence for you, God, who has given the authors a great expression. Through their eyes—and your wisdom—I shall be permitted to widen my vision.

Reading good books becomes a tool to widen our horizons and expand the depth of human experience. The poet Frances Thompson said books became to him “trumpet sounds from the hidden battlements of eternity.”

Books are forces to deepen our lives through spiritual and human development.
Well-selected books can push us towards a greater grasp of human maturity. Robert Browning wrote, “A man’s reach should exceed his grasp, or what’s a heaven for?”


Christian growth is a process, an alluring quest – exciting and fulfilling. Delving into the spirit of reading and study prevents stagnation. Life is an adventure, when we dare to climb, with compelling vistas that beckon us to new heights of understanding. Books are rungs on the ladder.


I have frequently used the metaphor of Oliver Wendell Holmes’s poem The Chambered Nautilus as an example of an ever-maturing growth pattern. This beautiful seashell is gradually enlarging compartments in which the mollusk lives as it grows larger and larger. The snail-like creature that lives inside grows and moves into the next compartment, where further growth and development occurs. This process continues in ever-increasing sized chambers, until finally, in the largest compartment, it moves out. The shell it leaves is a thing of great beauty – a fascinating analogy of the human spirit, continually growing and expanding, building ever more stately mansions.


In life, we travel various avenues in the quest of expanding our fulfillment on the journey. The power of the printed page is one such avenue, and when you combine this tool with dialogue and discussion about a book, it becomes a significant life-shaping kind of experience.


Dr. E. Glenn Hinson was one of the most probing professors of my seminary experience. His book Seekers After a Mature Faith states in the Preface:

“I have written this book with a firm conviction that private devotion is essential to the life of the {Christian} and that devotional classics have much to contribute to that devotion. The Bible holds many expressions about the power of the printed page. In the oldest of all biblical documents, the Book of Job, Job says:

'Oh, that my words were now written! Oh, that they were printed in a book! That they were
graven with an iron pen and lead in the rock forever. For I know that my redeemer lived, and
He shall stand in the latter day upon the earth.” (Job 19:23-25).'


Job’s passion was to remind those who would suffer of the greatness of God. The best of books that convey life-messages are prompted by a deep desire to help others along their journey.”


Ralph Waldo Emerson commented in one of his essays that reading books molds an individual. Any casual reading of biography will confirm this truth of the value of books on one’s life. For example, Charles Colson in his biography Born Again attributes much of his conversion to Christianity to reading C. S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

Samuel Miller of Harvard Divinity School has cited three things that a book may do to nurture faith. First, he says that a book can help “name” an experience. A book can help one see the reality of some experience in a manner that helps in some way to better deal with a situation. The “word is made flesh” and we weave the insight into character. A second benefit in the book’s nurturing of faith is that it can “resurrect certain levels or dimensions of our consciousness from a dormant condition.” In other words, self- understanding ~ in this respect, a book becomes the stimulus to an honest appraisal of one’s life. Authenticity emerges in a healthier manner. We can see ourselves in the pilgrimage of others. Another’s experience can bring about an awareness of some repressed areas which we many have neglected. The book leads to an understanding necessary to the revelation of a new vision. A third benefit is that a well selected book encourages productive reflection. We stretch and improve our spiritual posture.


A book that provides a good reading experience baffles and embraces us, inspires and challenges; and it can startle and unsettle. The values are inestimable intellectually and fuels the imagination causing one to reach for new heights. We should expect occasions in the reading of good books which cause us to rethink opinions and face new truths that change our path on the journey.


Charles Kingsley, a revered English writer says, “Except a living man, there is nothing more wonderful than a book.” I would be quick to add this observation, based on my Doctor of Ministry work: The two things that most affect a person’s life are the people we meet and the books we read. I think Thomas a Kempis said the most appropriate word about the power of Books:


"If he should not lose his reward who gives a cup of cold water to his thirsty
neighbor, what will not be the reward of those who by putting good books into the hands of those neighbors, open to them the fountains of eternal life?"


And Mark Twain, who always has a bold word, appropriately reminds us that “the man who does not read has no advantage over the man who cannot read.“

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