I love the smell of used bookstores. The aroma of yellowing print and flaking glue in the binding is so comforting to me. In the old days, I used to visit them far more frequently, in part because I was on a grail quest. The idea fixed in my head was that the answer — actually, the Answer — to all my questions and existential anxieties could be found in a book. If only I could find the right book, with the right ideas, and consume it, all would be well with my soul. I associate the smell of old bookstores with the quest of my younger years. I also used to think and hope that I would meet my true love in a bookstore — which, in fact, happened!
Anyway, though I know better, I am still subject to believe the fallacy that the answer to all that troubles me is to be found in a book. The truth is that I’m looking for a reason not to pray. I am completely convinced that what I really need is to pray more, not read another book. I know this. I mean, I really do know it. But prayer — serious prayer — is hard. At least for me it is. My mind races constantly. I struggle to overcome my jumpiness, to focus, to yield to the Holy Spirit, to be meditative. It’s boring! But see, prayer is precisely what I need, not only because the Orthodox Christian tradition tells us that we must seek to know God noetically (and that can only be done through prayer), but also because the root of my anxieties lies in my restlessness, and inability to be still.
The Ochlophobist writes about the temptation [link fixed] to think that if we only read the right theological books, and enough of them, we’ll get closer to God. It’s a trap. Excerpt:
I don’t mean to suggest that the intellectual life and prayer are unrelated, or in a necessary competition against each other. That said, I have lived and worked in a lot of different environments in my life, dirty metal shop, homeless shelter, academic theological bookstore, and so forth, and without doubt or hesitation I can say that the persons I have known whose lives struck me as the least prayerful were those who cared a great deal about theology as a ‘subject,’ and that includes Orthodox whose beloved secondary literature tells them of the dangers of approaching theology as a ‘subject’ even as these very texts teach this by way of subjectivizing theology. There is such a thing as an addiction to theology as ‘subject,’ and it is ugly, turning the sufferer into a wraith. Becoming Orthodox and reading books about the dangers of approaching theology as ‘subject’ seems to have no bearing on the likelihood of developing such an addiction. Every would be theologian thinks his or her ideas are the safe ones.
There are no safe ideas, though, of course, there are good ideas and bad ideas, and correct ideas and false ideas. But you can be addicted to the good and the true in a manner which still chooses hell. Sexual intercourse is good and true. So is alcohol. So is food. They can all take you to hell.
I have known a few theologians who actually loved God, and I have seen the weariness in their eyes when they encountered persons (often students) whose love of theology as ‘subject’ drives their lives from one affectation to another.