reading books is good but possessing nothing is more than anything

Icon of St. Macarius the Great with a cherub. (The one written more recently is in higher resolution and from this blog.)

Saint Macarius, commemorated today, has many sayings collected. Here is one that should be a warning to me:

Theodore, surnamed Pherme, had three good books. He went to Macarius, and said, ‘I have three good books, and I am helped by reading them. Other monks also want to read them, and they are helped by them. Tell me what to do.’ Macarius replied, ‘Reading books is good, but possessing nothing is more than anything.’ When he heard this, he went and sold the books, and gave the money to the poor.

And I’ve share this one before on this blog (from The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 15.32):

Within the heart are unfathomable depths. …It is but a small vessel: and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, there life and the Kingdom, there light and the Apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace: all things are there.

Finally, here is a story told of him:

Once, Saint Macarius was walking and saw a skull lying upon the ground. He asked, “Who are you?” The skull answered, “I was a chief priest of the pagans. When you, Abba, pray for those in hell, we receive some mitigation.”

The monk asked, “What are these torments?”

“We are sitting in a great fire,” replied the skull, “and we do not see one another. When you pray, we begin to see each other somewhat, and this affords us some comfort.”

Having heard such words, the saint began to weep and asked, “Are there still more fiercesome torments?”

The skull answered, “Down below us are those who knew the Name of God, but spurned Him and did not keep His commandments. They endure even more grievous torments.”

This story recognizes our current suffering as well as the love of Jesus Christ in his saints. May we weep with Macarius. Lord, have mercy. And Saint Macarius, pray for us.

the books of their wisdom were multiplied as the leaves of the forest

Clearly a counterproductive multiplication of books:

Hearing these things, despite the true knowledge which Nólemë had and spread abroad, there were many who hearkened with half their hearts to Melko, and restlessness grew amongst them, and Melko poured oil on their smouldering desires. From him they learnt many things it were not good for any but the great Valar to know, for being half-comprehended such deep and hidden things slay happiness; and besides many of the sayings of Melko were cunning lies or were but partly true, and the Noldoli ceased to sing, and their viols fell silent upon the hill of Kôr, for their hearts grew somewhat older as their lore grew deeper and their desires more swollen, and the books of their wisdom were multiplied as the leaves of the forest.

J.R.R. Tolkien (The Book of Lost Tales, Part One: Part One)

he that studies only books

He that studies only men, will get the body of knowledge without the soul; and he that studies only books, the soul without the body. He that to what he sees, adds observation, and to what he reads, reflection, is in the right road to knowledge, provided that in scrutinizing the hearts of others, he neglects not his own.

Caleb Colton quoted at the beginning of chapter five in Celebration of Discipline by Richard J. Foster.

aspiring toward a perfect attentiveness

If all great art is symbolic of a kind of moral plenitude, of conflicting attitudes and impulses explored and worked through toward some ideal clarity, the act of reading is itself a model of ideal human relations, aspiring toward a perfect attentiveness in which emotional possession and intellectual comprehension–what experience conditions us to see and what the text insists we see–inform and alter one another.  Reading well, in other words, is symbolic loving.

A friend quoted the poet Alan Shapiro as writing this. From his essay “The Dead, Alive, and Busy” (1984) published within In Praise of the Impure: Poetry and the Ethical Imagination: Essays, 1980-1991.

the sight of monsters walking among them

Now the sight of monsters walking among them seemed as normal as the seagulls that swooped and chattered in the air above the city.

From page 127 of Andrew Peterson’s On the Edge of the Dark Sea of Darkness: Adventure. Peril. Lost Jewels. And the Fearsome Toothy Cows of Skree.

The book spines looked richer somehow in the lantern’s glow, and Janner thought of Oskar’s words at the start of the day: “Look around you, lad. This is the best of old Skree. Or at least, it’s what’s left of it.” …What Oskar had preserved was the memory of a world that had passed away as surely as Esben Igiby had passed away.

From pages 92 and 86 of the same book by Andrew Peterson.

ghosts that death forgot to ferry

Books And Thoughts
by Aldous Huxley

Old ghosts that death forgot to ferry
Across the Lethe of the years –
These are my friends, and at their tears
I weep and with their mirth am merry.
On a high tower, whose battlements
Give me all heaven at a glance,
I lie long summer nights in trance,
Drowsed by the murmurs and the scents
That rise from earth, while the sky above me
Merges its peace with my soul’s peace,
Deep meeting deep. No stir can move me,
Nought break the quiet of my release:

In vain the windy sunlight raves
At the hush and gloom of polar caves.