The Joy of Books (March 2021)
I know cold weather is not everyone’s cup of tea but I have enjoyed the cold snap we had just after Christmas. Much as I loved being in the garden in the first Lockdown; and sorting out some house bits and pieces in the second Lockdown; the third Lockdown threatened to be more tricky... Or it would have been had I not just heard about an Icelandic practice which took me back to childhood.
The winter is clearly for snuggling in front of a fire (or with a hot water bottle!) and every winter in Iceland, usually Christmas Eve to be precise, the whole country does exactly that and waits with expectation for a particular sort of gift. It’s a tradition called (wonderfully) Jolabokaflod, or: 'The Christmas book flood’. In mid November the Reykjavik book fair allows everyone to order books to give to their family and friends on Christmas Eve. It started during World War 2 when paper was the only thing not rationed, and therefore the only present possible! Now it still continues and is the best excuse for losing yourself in another world, in the coldest part of the year.
We used to do a similar thing when I was a child, each Friday evening we would go to the library as a family, choose four or five books and the minute we got home again all curl up and start reading. I loved it, and I am enjoying a book fest again. (Icelandic hot chocolate also sounds good).
I love books because they open our horizons, they give us perspective and they teach us things.
My current spiritual book, by Irish priest and poet John Donohue is one for savouring slowly. He begins:
Behind your image, below your words, above your thoughts, the silence of another world waits. A world lives within you.
And he goes on to encourage us to develop our inner world, because that is what will give us balance in hard times, and the nerve to keep on going.“ this book” Donohue says: “is intended as an oblique mirror in which you might come to glimpse the presence and the power of inner and outer friendship.”
And by this is is referring to God, who not only walks with us in our external journey through the ups and downs of life, but also is to be found speaking and encouraging and comforting us in our innermost being, if we open ourselves to this friendship.
And true friendship is above all else what we need to accompany us into this still uncertain year.