Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Ash Wednesday

This has absolutely nothing to do with Ash Wednesday, but, hey, it is Ash Wednesday so I thought I'd at least note the day.
I just finished James Carroll's Constantine's Sword, and I'm sure I'll reflect some on the book itself in the coming days, but for the moment I am thinking about why I just read this book.
Carroll published it in early 2001, and I picked it up in late 2002. It sat on the bedside table for months, and resumed its place there after we moved to Arlington in the summer of 2003. I tried to read it, but couldn't get past the first 50 pages. It simply did not grab me for some reason.
In the meanwhile, I read Carroll's An American Requiem, a couple of his novels and plowed through the monumental House of War. Clearly, I like the man's writing. I find his personal reflections insightful and moving and his historical reflections fascinating and thoroughly researched. Moreover, his theological reflections are somehow both subtle and powerful.
But I read through at least four of his books without ever picking up Constantine's Sword. In fact, the book found its way to the bottom of a basket at the foot of the bed.
We rearranged our bedroom last month, and I came across the book and put it on a shelf, still with no real intention of reading it. But one evening about three weeks ago I had finished whatever I'd been reading and was looking for what would be next and I thought I'd give Constantine one more shot.
This time around I could barely put it down. I shot through it in about two weeks, and it's a dense tome.
Obviously the book didn't change, so what changed me?
Perhaps the trip that Bud and I took to Italy last spring helped bring to life the long history of the Roman church, a struggle stretched across the Italian landscape. Perhaps reading Carroll while reading Harvey Cox's The Future of Faith provided a nice balance of historical reflection and prophetic imagination.
Perhaps the time was simply right for me to bring some new thoughtfulness to the effort of reading.
Whatever it was, I'm glad for it because the book is important and it ought to command the attention of the church entering the third millennium. As to why a book speaks to a reader at one moment but not another, I have no real clue and I still think it's an interesting question.

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