by Liz Snell
A package recently arrived for me from a L’Abri friend in London. Inside, a wooden pin instructed: “Drink tea and read books”. She understands. We drink so much tea around here I had to give up taking sugar in it. We drink tea and we read books, often at the same time. Students have three hours a day to read; they settle on couches by the Tile Room’s French doors or bend their heads over tables in the wood-paneled library or, as the air cools, sit around the wood stoves toasting their backs. I get to my own bulging stack of books when I can.
My lit major parents gifted their children with a love of reading early on. My mom read aloud every afternoon, slurring her words as she dozed off and slipped away from Narnia or Middle Earth. My dad introduced us to To Kill a Mockingbird, assigned us parts in Romeo and Juliet, and read us Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” on a road trip. We ransacked the library, weekly filling three laundry baskets with books. As an adult I followed the paper trail into my own lit and writing classes. But it seemed so rare to find Christians who also liked books with beautiful language and believable characters, poems and novels that don’t slash the obvious across their pages. Then I stepped into L’Abri.
At L’Abri, we read theology and Christian living books – nothing wrong with a clear message per se. But we also love good literature. Sometimes, a novel or a poem arrives at just the right time and does more to draw us to God’s truth than all the well-intentioned theology we could burrow inside. It makes room for mystery and for the “faint whisper” of God, who gives us the ability to communicate and create. When we read literature, we must be willing to walk into a new world with our pockets full of both wonder and wits. Things aren’t so obvious here, but they ring with the unseen.
A parent can tell a child what to do, but this is hollow if they don’t also show a child how to live. Literature shows us how to live, and often, how not to live. It shows, not tells, the beauty of goodness and the ugliness of evil. My mind returns to Atticus Finch or Frodo as I try to act rightly; more than I want of me reflects Bob Ewell’s prejudice and Saruman’s temptation to control. Darkness is real in these books, but so is hope.
So at L’Abri, we pass around our favorite stories, pressing them into each others’ hands, saying, “You’ll love this.” Ben reads aloud from The Magician’s Nephew; we cozy up to laugh at Diggory and Polly’s bickering and gasp at the mysterious ruins of Charn. We’re not too old for this. Never too old. We even write our own stories, poems, raps, and nonfiction: we invite each other into our lives. We warm our hands around mugs of fragrant tea, we drink in warm and fragrant words, and we share what we find at the bottom of the cup that’s beautiful, good, and true.