That pile of books on the floor, by Tina Simson

Perhaps it's a condition we UU's have in common, or perhaps it affects anyone who takes time to explore the spiritual side of life. I'm talking about the pile of books I have next to my favorite chair. They are books suggested by teachers, perused at the bookstore at church, or given to me as gifts by people who know me well. They are like wise friends.

At some point in my life, it occurred to me that I could read several books at once, and that I didn't have to read them end to end. That's been a great freedom. I can grab, dog ear, highlight and put down any book in my reach. I can even save some for later. I'm saving Ken Wilbur until I reach a level of consciousness where I can actually understand him, and I have a wonderful copy of The Grapes of Wrath I have yet to read. Steinbeck is one of my favorite authors and this is the only book I have not read. There is something about being "done with Steinbeck" that saddens me. 

I once went on a solitary retreat for four days alone in the woods with no heat or electricity in my cabin.  I met with a spiritual director each day. I was not challenged with the idea of being alone, or not having the usual comforts, until my spiritual director said, bring no books with you! 

I say all this as a preface, because I know you probably have similar piles of books. But my friends at the website Spirituality and Practice just came out with their list of the Best Spirituality Books of 2009 and it's a great list. It's diverse and thorough and engaging. And there is always Beacon Press.

I've found that our public library often has many of these titles and reserving them or having them sent to a library near me, feels like free gifts. But actually going to the stacks and browsing can offer true gifts.  Like the first edition book I found by Evelyn Underhill called Practical Mysticism from 1918. It was an amazing guide to mysticism, for people like me who can get caught in their head too often. It was written at a time when our country was at war and  had amazing relevance. 

So if you are thinking that a good New Year's resolution might be to clean up your pile of books, or to systematically read them, or sort them (all things I consider each year) don't. Give yourself the gift of books this year, of great lists from wise people, and of lazy Saturdays at the library with the sages of times past and present. 

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