The World from the Porch of My Childhood Home in Oceana
I love books. Books remind me of all the places I’ve been—the places my heart has traveled that I might forget until I read a character who travels to a similar place. Books take me to places I’ve never been—and even now, when technology can show images and carry voices to me from the other side of the world, I still love it when the words on a printed page can conjure worlds and places that dance across my mind.
For a girl like me, who grew up in a coal mining town in the Appalachian Mountains and never saw the ocean until I had my first teaching job, books were and still are a source of awe to me. And something in my life has always taken priority over traveling to the places I’d love to go—buying my first house, having children, and even now that I can afford to travel, finding a place close enough to allow me to relax and think. Though we would love to travel, my husband and I have not yet traveled to a single place that requires a passport. We only acquired passports after one of our children, who’ve traveled far more than we have, said, “What if I decide I want to get married in Italy? You won’t be able to come to the wedding.”
Though we constantly put off traveling for something that is more important to us, I’ve probably traveled the world through books more than many people who’ve been around the world and back hundreds of times. And just as they stop in awe as they see the wonders of the world, I often find that a simple word or phrase can take my breath away and make me pause in awe.
Most recently, my mind lingered over a verse that pulled me in—a verse hidden among far more well known ones from Chapter 14 of the Gospel of John, a verse in the same chapter as the words that a lot of Christians have taken to mean that only they can come to God. Christ is talking to the disciples in that circular way that sometimes makes them crazy—in a wealth of figurative language that makes it difficult for them to understand the nature of his relationship to God. And then he tells them this very surprising thing: “Very truly, I tell you, the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father.”
I was so skeptical that I went to the Web and read the verse in ten different translations before I could believe what I must have read and heard hundreds of times over the course of my life.
As I’ve been looking beyond teaching and working with teachers to consider my next calling in the world, I hope to be able to do sometimes for others what great authors have done for me—to put words together in a way that will make my readers’ minds linger in places they’ve never been. But do I believe for even one second that I can do works that are greater than the works of the Christ whose birth I’ll celebrate tomorrow? Words fail me in trying to describe where my brain goes as I think about that. I want to laugh out loud, to put an exclamation point here, to somehow let you know how much the thought of that boggles my mind.
And then I do laugh out loud, knowing that I’m joyful when even one or two friends or strangers tell me that this blog has helped them or made them think. But what if I could somehow bring myself to believe the extraordinary promise of that verse? What if all of us came to believe in the extraordinary power of a single human in a world in so much need?
So while I still hope to use that passport to see places I’ve never seen, I also value going back to the places I’ve been, seeing treasures hidden in the sand of that ocean I didn’t see until I was 22. And that’s why I’ll continue to travel the holy texts of my faith and the writing of the great authors I treasure. Perhaps somehow, with all the mind-boggling force of the great thinkers who have come before me, I can somehow build on what they’ve done and make a difference in my world, the way that Christ made a difference in his.
Over and over again, writers speak to me long after I’ve put their books back on the shelf of my library or in the archive of my e-reader. I hear their words, dancing in my head, and they give me hope.
So tell me a favorite quote of a great prophet or writer or thinker that dances in your head. Tell me the words that take you to far-away places in search of the awe of a better world.