I am trying to lose weight. Actually, I’m a good 15-18 pounds lighter than I was in November, when I first resolved to trim up. I’d still like to take another 20 pounds off, so I’m only about halfway to my goal. When people ask me how I’ve managed to lose the weight I’ve already taken off, I always shrug and say that I have no particular diet: my basic game plan is “eat less, move more.” In other words, I try to be mindful of my portion sizes and I try to keep exercise and physical activity as a priority.
I’m still thinking a lot about the conversation I had last week with a monk who suggested that I need to be spending less time reading and more time engaged in my spiritual practice of prayer and contemplation. I literally have a house full of books, and the vast majority of them I have not read, or only read in part. This, I know, is not unusual for educated, reasonably affluent American writers, particularly since once the publishers discover someone like me (who often blogs about books), they start sending out free books in the hopes that I’ll mention them in my blog. Even worse (as my wife likes to remind me), if I ask a publisher for a complimentary copy of a newly published book, often they’ll send it along. The moral of the story: I have a book addiction, and I acquire the things faster than I can usefully read them. I am book-fat.
If the way to lose excess flesh is to eat less and move more, then it seems that the only way to overcome the problem of book-fat is to acquire fewer books and simply set about to reading the ones I already have (which, frankly, will probably see me through to the end of my life). But instead of “moving more,” the process of abandoning compulsive book acquisitions probably will indeed require contemplating more. Engaging in the silent process of seeking and resting in the presence of God is probably the only real antidote to the rather materialistic (read: gluttonous) habit of continually buying (or begging for) still more reading material.
None of us can read our way into the presence of God. The only real point behind spiritual reading is to encourage us to, finally, put the book down and get on with the business of prayer, meditation, contemplation, and the work of loving one another. Mind you, I’m not suggesting that spiritual reading should be abandoned altogether (that would be silly, considering that I have just finished writing my own book on Christian spirituality), but I do think that reading is like eating: it’s possible to both over-do and under-do it. I suspect that book-anorexics probably are not much for reading blogs either, so I don’t imagine too many of my readers suffer from that particular problem. But if you, like me, have too much book-fat in your life (warning signs include acquiring books faster than you can read them, and rather compulsively reading pretty much every spare moment of the day), then perhaps my monastic friend’s advice would be useful for you, too. Read less, pray more. Read less, meditate more. Read less, contemplate more.
Here are a few quotations from www.quotationspage.com to ponder as we consider how to find the perfect balance between the right amount of reading and a meaningful practice of contemplation in our lives.
Reading, after a certain age, diverts the mind too much from its creative pursuits. Any man who reads too much and uses his own brain too little falls into lazy habits of thinking.
— Albert Einstein
Books to the ceiling,
Books to the sky,
My pile of books is a mile high.
How I love them! How I need them!
I’ll have a long beard by the time I read them.
— Arnold Lobel
Readings is sometimes an ingenious device for avoiding thought.
— Arthur Helps
Never read a book through merely because you have begun it.
— John Witherspoon
The multitude of books is making us ignorant.