I love reading and have done ever since I was first able to turn those strange shapes on the page into the gateways to new and absorbing worlds inhabited by fascinating people.
At any period, I’m usually reading two books: one chosen by majority vote of the book club I belong to and the second being my own choice.
As well as what’s written in the books: wonderful worlds to explore and characters to meet – some of whom will become life-long friends – I love the physicality of the books. The smells they release of newly inked pages and the first crisp crack in the spine of a paperback (soft cover) never fail to delight me.
But, wonderful as pristine new books are, I really prefer second-hand (used) books. As well as carrying one of my favourite scents: musty yet deeply intriguing and some of my favourite stories, they carry so many unknown histories. Histories of the bookshelves and tables they’ve rested on and, most importantly, histories of the lives of their previous readers.
We sometimes get tantalising clues from a dedication written inside the cover. What is Vincent who was given this book from his Junior Church in 1972 doing now, I wonder.
Did Susan appreciate this Christmas gift from Auntie Mary and Uncle Don in 1980 or would she have preferred to have been given a book token and allowed to make her own choice of story?
Even more intriguing than these dedications are the things people have chosen to use as bookmarks. Where did the person wear the dress, the receipt for which marked their place in this second-hand murder mystery?
Why was the person who marked their place with a train ticket travelling between those particular stations on that day? To a wedding or funeral? To a job interview? For a hospital appointment? To visit family? To go on their first date? Were they frustrated that the train pulled into its destination at a key point in the story? I do wish I knew the answers.
Bookmarks, whatever form they take, are one specific kind of place marker. We have a need to physically mark the beginnings, middles and endings of our own chapters. What do we use to keep our place between the pages of our lives?
Sometimes we use specific ceremonies such as weddings, graduations or milestone birthday celebrations. But for much of the time our days follow one another with little variation and we can be so overwhelmed with busyness for a period that we lose our place completely.
It can be difficult then to remember or to recognise exactly where we are and we waste time skimming through the pages of our life, trying to get back to where we think we were, or are, or indeed think we should be, so that we can pick up the story again.
Yet in Jesus I’ve found the perfect bookmarker. He knows exactly where I’m up to in my life’s story: both how far I’ve come and how far I’ve yet to go. I can always find Him, however dog-eared the pages I have to search through. He’ll show me where I am and, if I’ll let him, gently guide me through the next chapters.
He’s my constant companion among the memory markers: rejoicing with me during the happy chapters; sharing my sorrows during the sadder ones; renewing our friendship, which unlike that in a physical book, will last far beyond the final chapter; always ready to blow the dust from the pages I feel are soiled and to add a clean page when I need one.
Most importantly, He can never be lost as so many paper bookmarks are. May he be your marker of choice in the story of YOUR life.
Current favourite reading: Sensible Shoes A Story about the Spiritual Journey by Sharon Garlough Brown. pub: InterVarsity Press (2013) ISBN 978-0-8308-4305-3