Tuesday, July 15, 2008

leaf by leaf

If you looked up the word "spartan" and checked out the antonyms, you'd find a picture of my office. Virtually every space has something on it or in it -- icons, photos of my kids, a collection of batmobiles from various eras, my two-foot tall talking Yoda. I suspect that some people have made appointments to see me just to check out my stuff -- to see if they can get a handle on me, perhaps, or just to find out where I got my "Believe in God Instantly" breath spray. (It was a gift from a friend.)

And while all of these tchochkes actually do have meaning to me--and might well give a Jungian analyst insightful keys to my psyche--the thing which in many ways matters most to me is the wall of books. Literally. One of the things I loved about this office at first sight was that it has built-in book shelves covering an entire wall. And I had no problem filling them up. To overflowing.

My library is as eclectic as everything else: from my old friend Chuck Crisafulli's Go To Hell: A Heated History to the Underworld, to the six-volume "tenth completed edition" of the works of William Ellery Channing and a first edition of Emerson's Divinity School Address, to my friends James Ishmael Ford's Zen Master Who? A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen, Paul Rasor's Faith Without Certainty: Liberal Theology in the 21st Century, and Peter Richardson's Four Spiritualities: Expressions of Self, Expression of Spirit. Lots in between.

I am a collector of many things--books foremost among them. If I read a book I like, I buy others by the same author. If I hear an interesting interview on public radio's Speaking of Faith I go to Amazon.com and buy the book. And one book, or one author, leads me to others, and my library is the case wherein I display this collection of ideas.

And now I'm packing it up. The shelves are emptying and the boxes are filling as I'm preparing to exit my role as Senior Minister of First Parish in Brewster and take on my new job as Worship and Music Resources Director for the Unitarian Universalist Association. And I find that I'm resisting this work.

To be sure, I'm tremendously excited about the adventure awaiting me as part of the staff of the Association, yet I'm also realizing the losses associated with leaving my long-held role of "parish minister." As I'm packing up my books on the religions of humanity, for instance, I'm realizing that I won't be unpacking most of them in a new church office. Except for the ones dealing with worship and celebration they'll remain packed, along with my books on small group ministry, and the ones on pastoral care. And many of the books I've held on to "because someone might be interested in that" or "I might one day do an adult ed program about that" will be going to the second-hand book store down the street from my house, never to be unpacked by me again.

As each books goes off the shelf and into the box I feel as though I'm a warrior removing one piece of my armor after another. Or, to use a less militaristic metaphor, as though I'm removing another brick in the persona I've so carefully crafted over the past fourteen years--Erik Walker Wikstrom, parish minister.

Who am I if not the guy with the big collection of books on Buddhism, and Jesus, and management theory? Who am I if not the person who can put his hands on a book where this quote or that thought can be found? Who am I without this wall of ideas around me? Well, that'll be interesting to find out, won't it?

And that's one of those questions, isn't it? Who are we without the things we have or the things we do which so often are the ways we define ourselves? "Becoming who you already are," is one of the ways the Christian monk Thomas Merton described the spiritual life. It's one of the things I hope to do during this next phase of my journey.

In Gassho,

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