August 15, 2012

Discovering treasures on my own bookshelf

Photo by Kristen Stieffel
Like most bibliophiles, I own more books than I can keep track of. I came across one recently that turned out to be such a gem, I thought I'd share.

You may have seen an earlier post here about the wonderful old books we cleared out of the library when we had to close our old church. The members of the Christian Education Committee, myself included, got dibs. I remember one of the other teachers sidling up to me and saying, "Do I have to arm-wrestle you for the Interpreter's Bible?" As it was twelve volumes, I said he could have it, if I could have the five-volume Interpreter's Dictionary of the Bible. Deal.

Once the committee members had their pick, the congregation was allowed to take home anything they liked from what remained. Once they were done, we returned, faced with the nearly impossible task of sorting the remainders into two categories: those another church might want, and those to be put in the dumpster. There were way too many in the second group for any bibliophile's stomach to take.

I admit, I cheated. Many of those books fell in a no-man's land. Too old to be desired by another church's librarian, but to precious to throw out. By the end of the afternoon, I was checking the inside cover of each book for the words "Donated by R.L. Hall." I figure any book that came from the library of the founding pastor was worth keeping. So I started a third box, under the category of "books I have to keep because they once belonged to Pastor Hall."

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but he didn't keep them, right? So they couldn't have been that good, if he wanted to get rid of them." Nope. Pastor Hall died in 1962, and his family donated the books to the church.

While preparing a Sunday school lesson on the second commandment, I perused my shelves for commentaries. One of them, Smoke on the Mountain, was one of those I inherited from Pastor Hall. When I had brought it home, I didn't take much notice of it, beyond noting its topic (so I could shelve it in the right place) and its rather worn and foxed state.

Photo by Kristen Stieffel
But this week, when I took it out, I noticed that it's dedicated to C.S. Lewis. Well, I suppose a lot of books are, but I looked to see how the author knew him. The author turned out to be Joy Davidman. Also known as Joy Gresham. Also known as Mrs. Lewis.

Are you kidding me? I didn't even realize she wrote, let alone that I had a book of hers in my collection. I'm an idiot, clearly.

She wrote the book in 1953-54; it was published in the U.S. in 1954 and in the U.K. in 1955. The British version apparently has a preface by Lewis that's not in my edition. (She married Lewis in 1956). It's a brilliant little book. For example, she warns against putting our focus on the physical trappings of the worship space:
I have fallen into the last and subtlest trap; I bow down to wood and stone, in the shape of a church building…I have forgotten that the church itself is not God.…And yet, if the church is anything except a means to the knowledge of God, the church is nothing but a bore. (Perhaps that's why it so often is a bore.)
I still have several more of Pastor Hall's books sitting unread on my shelves. I look forward to discovering what other treasures they hold.

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