re-reading - Photography by Duane Toops

I just finished re-reading David Sedaris‘ book Me Talk Pretty One Day, and it occurred to me that religions are like book clubs that have gotten stuck on the same books for centuries. And, while I say that with plenty of sardonic snark and snide-ness, I also say it with a real degree of admiration.

Religious readers of sacred texts seem to, at least implicitly or unconsciously, understand something that the rest of us don’t . They understand that texts are alive, that we, as people, are constantly morphing and changing, and that the texts we engage with, especially the ones we continually come back to, are actively participating in the ways we change and grow. Their constancy not only reveals the stable parts within ourselves, but they also shine a light on the ways in which we are beginning to shift. They show us the ways we are beginning to see differently.

The reading, and more importantly the re-reading, of sacred texts is both reflective and reflexive. And yet, the demonstrable reflexivity we encounter in returning to reread a text is not specific to sacred texts alone.  Every text can be a sacred text. Every book can be a sacred book.  Every text that changes us; every book that awakens and enlivens some sleeping space within ourselves, has the capacity to change us again and to awaken us once more.

Steve almond writes that “we need books…because we are all in the private kingdom of our hearts, desperate for the company of a wise, true, friend”, and Heraclitus says that “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for its not the same river, and he’s not the same man.” Each time we return to a book we have read and reread on countless occasions we are not only presented with the opportunity to meet an old friend who knows us better than we know ourselves, but we are also introduced to someone new; someone we have never met before, and, more often than not, that someone is ourselves.

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