When does a book become holy? A clergy friend of mine got into trouble when he tossed a bible onto the floor as a demonstration that we do not worship a book, we worship God. As an object lesson, it was less than successful. For many in the congregation, the book itself, its pages, cover and binding, represented the physical manifestation of God’s Holy Word and presence far more than any sacrament. I found it difficult to get some adult learners to dare to write in their bibles, especially to write notes. Some years ago we organized a clean up crew to tackle the church basement. In it we found boxes of bibles all turned to green mold. Several were simply unable to witness the disposal of them into the dumpster.
So when does a book become holy?
I’ll share my own story. Each day I rise to pray the Morning Office guided by the Daily Office Book in two volumes. The set I have been using is about fifteen years old. The imitation leather covers are tattered. The bindings are broken. Pages are ripped with some falling out. Others are coffee stained, and a variety of hand written notes overlap one another. The volumes might have survived another year of gentle home use, but we travel a lot, and one more round of being shoved into a suitcase or backpack would have destroyed them. So I bought a new set and began using it with the onset of Advent a few weeks ago.
What to do with my old, beat up and essentially unusable Daily Office Book (in two volumes)? I tossed the first volume into the recycle trash, then sat looking at it and thinking. It was only a book, but it had been my daily companion for years. Through it I had opened my heart and mind to conversation with God, more thoroughly studied scripture, been inspired and repelled by psalms, and discovered that prayer, scripture and daily life in community are all part of the same thing. That inanimate book resting in the trash had become a powerful symbol of the presence of the living God. It had become a holy book.
I took it out and squeezed it into a case next to its companion volume where it will rest in peace until that day when our children assemble to clean out the house and decide what to do with all the useless junk their parents had accumulated.