Sometimes Reading Just May Feed Your Soul
Okay, so, before I start, I need to confess: I am not a big reader. This shouldn’t be so shocking unless you know that I have been teaching reading for five years. For the past two years, I insidiously overcompensated for this by exhibiting two tremendously towering quotes in the “reading” section of my room.
The first is a catchy, playful quote penned by a non-rabid reading raccoon who has an endearing sense of humor.
He writes in all caps, to make sure we get the message: “I”M READING A BOOK ABOUT ANTI-GRAVITY. IT”S IMPOSSIBLE TO PUT DOWN.”
Isn’t he clever?
The other is penned by J.K. Rowling (now if you do not know who she is, I may also suspect that you, too are not a big reader):
“IF YOU DON’T LIKE TO READ, YOU HAVEN’T FOUND THE RIGHT BOOK.”
So why in the world did I share that with you? I’m hoping to answer as my story unfolds.
A few weeks ago, my cousin Mark called with his epiphany — his discipline of reading has transformed his life. I thought, “How am I going to just start reading? He, by the way, is reading the Bible. Images and flashbacks of my failed attempts to stay consistent with reading books of the Bible dampens my spirit. So I prayed — and he probably prayed too (I didn’t ask).
Shortly afterwards, I stumbled across a book I had purchased at least ten years ago. I know this because it is marked by stab wounds of anger. The first ten pages are barely readable because at the time of the occurrence, there were still no signs that who I thought was the love of my life was going to change his mind about never seeing me again. I was not going to be told to keep a quiet heart — not by Elisabeth Elliot or by anyone! It was definitely the work of a black pen piercing through by the rage as well as the bitterness of a blacker heart.
But that was ten years ago. Now, this book sits beside me and although I opened it with skepticism, what I read on the first day changed my perspective about my life and my attitude. Each chapter is between one page and two pages, so it seemed sensible for me to give it a try. Plus, J.I. Packer advises (on the back cover): “Read it slowly, praying as you go.” Hmmmmmm. Is this a sign that it is the book for me?
I am not going to tell you what I read on the first day that changed my whole perspective on life, but I will share how a slice from the next chapter, entitled: “The Angel in the Cell” transformed my perspective about reading — and bread.
The Angel in the Cell:
Sometimes life hits people hard. In her book, Ms. Elliot has been helping her readers to be content with what God gives, which is why I had dismantled it ten years ago.
It was clearly not my time to read this book.
But now, a decade later, she exhorts me to be “quiet” in times when I don’t know the answer, when I am already running late and traffic has been backed up for miles, or when life events (the horrible ones that involve people we love) that are not so trivial knock the wind out of us. She exhorts: “We can only know the Eternal Love is wiser than we, and we bow in adoration of that loving wisdom” (page 19, cited below).
So, with that backdrop in mind, she recounts a story told from her brother, David, who got to know the son of a man who learned such a lesson in an uncanny, unearthly encounter:
“A man from whom we’ll call Ivan, prisoner in an unnamed country, was taken to his cell, interrogated, tortured, and beaten nearly to a pulp. The one comfort in his life was a blanket. As he staggered back to his cell, ready to collapse into that meager comfort, he saw to his dismay that someone was wrapped up in it — an informer, he supposed. He fell on the filthy floor, crying out, “I can’t take it any more!” whereupon a voice came from the blanket: “Ivan, what do you mean, you can’t take it any more?” Thinking the man was…against him, Ivan didn’t explain.
“Ivan,” came the voice, “Have you forgotten that Jesus is with you?’
Then the figure in the blanket was gone. Ivan, unable to walk a minute before, now leaped to his feed and danced around the cell, praising the Lord. In the morning the guard who had starved and beaten him asked who had given him food.”
What happened to Ivan:
Ivan told that guard that no one had given him food, and this baffled the guard. He inquired why Ivan looked so different, and Ivan said that his Lord had been with him that night. Incensed, the guard asked where his Lord was [now] and when Ivan pointed to his heart, the guard pulled out his pistol and said he was going to shoot him and his Lord. Ivan was okay with that.
On a later date, Ivan learned that his wife and children had been praying for him on that same eventful night as they read Isaiah 51:14: “The cowering prisoners will soon be set free; they will not die in their dungeon, nor will they lack bread.”
Ivan was released shortly afterwards and continued to preach the gospel until he died in his eighties.
My morning slice of bread:
This morning, as I was finishing this short passage, I became aware that I was hungry. I was not “starved” nor beaten — I have, for the most part, comfortable surroundings and plenty to eat.
I was particularly craving my spelt cereal that I coat with stevia and vanilla almond milk to sweeten the taste. I could not seem to shake this seemingly petty passion for a sweet but healthy breakfast item.
Opening the refrigerator for perhaps the fourth time, I spotted a plastic bag in the bottom corner– why on earth would I have placed my Ezekiel bread in the refrigerator, knowing how easily it perishes? But I grabbed it anyway and opened it. To my surprise, there were two pieces of bread that looked fresh enough to eat — and they were raisin breads, so they had plenty of sweetness to them.
I don’t often thank God for my food, but today seemed different. I was not “starved” nor had I been beaten, but it did seem as if God showed me that He provided me bread to satisfy the sweetness I was craving. He did that for me. I have no idea why — just one of His mysterious reminders that He is present not only in the momentous events — like being tormented and imprisoned — but also in the small, seemingly minutia.
Would this have occurred to me if I had not been so blessed to read about Ivan? Is it possible that God is using a book to heighten my perspective of His proximity?
It was no ordinary breakfast, where I sloppily slurp down something with little or no gratitude. Today, I was grateful. For today, my slice of Ezekiel raisin bread tasted particularly sweet.
P.S. Ms. Rowling, I think I found the right book.
What makes this author, Elisabeth Elliot, so unique:
The late Elisabeth Eliot, author of over twenty books, died on June 15, 2015 at eighty-nine years old. Her first husband, Jim Eliot, was killed in 1956 while attempting to make missionary contact with the Auca (currently known as Waorani, Waodani, or Huaorani of eastern Ecuador). Ms. Eliot returned to Ecuador for two years as a missionary to tribe members who killed his husband.
Note about the text:
The direct quote blocked in the section “The Angel in the Cell” and the material in the section “What Happens To Ivan” comes from the Elisabeth Elliot’s book:
Elisabeth Elliot, Keep A Quiet Heart (Ann Arbor, Michigan: Servant Publications, 1995), pp. 21-22.
Note: “What Happens to Ivan” is not a title included in the book. It is a made-up title for the paraphrase which follows.