I always wrestle a bit with this idea of returning to a book that I've already read. There are so many books out there that I haven't; so many authors whose ideas I have yet to encounter. It can seem wasteful to go back to something I've read before, especially someone I've read as often as my beloved Metropolitan Anthony.
And yet I think that in times past a person might have only had one book or two. (Of course, for a great deal of human history most people had no books and no skills with which to read them if they'd had them.) But even for the literate, the kind of access we take for granted today would have been unthinkable. Some of the great mystical thinkers may have had only one text -- the Bible, perhaps, or the Tao te Ching -- and spent their whole lives in deep perusal of that one tome. Perhaps it is, instead, wasteful for me to think of reading a book only once and then moving on to the next rather than living with a book for a time as has been more of the literary experience throughout our history.
And I know that whenever I do return to a book I find that I've forgotten far more than I've remembered, and that even what I've remembered I now encounter at some new and deeper level. I've never read the same book twice in the same way, because I am different -- I bring a different set of life experiences to the reading each time, a different set of references, a different level of awareness. And so I find that something that was once a radical new idea strikes me now, instead, as an old friend, a confirmation of a long-held belief, while something I hadn't even noticed on previous readings shines out like gold in a ray of sun.
So I've begun reading Beginning to Pray again. On Friday I'll mention a little about what attracts me to this book and what's jumping out at me this time. For now I'll just mention a few other books to which I return over and over again:
- The Practice of the Presence of God, Brother Lawrence
- Rule for a New Brother, H. Van Der Looy
- Novice to Master: an ongoing lesson in the exten of my own stupidity, Soko Morinaga
- Awareness: the perils and opportunities of reality, Anthony deMello
- Tao te Ching, Stephen Mitchell translation
- Zen Mind, Beginner's Mind, Shunryu Suzuki