I’ve been thinking this morning about the reader’s paradox.
If you are a bibliophile, you know what I’m talking about. You might even know what I’m talking about if you are a friend of a bibliophile.
Paradoxes. These are things that seem in conflict and yet both are true. I am convinced there are a number of these in life. Is light a wave or a particle? Are we one or many? I’m also convinced that many of us don’t like to live in the tension of paradoxes. We prefer to resolve them by focusing on one of the two elements in the paradox and exclude the other. This makes life simpler. But smaller.
So what is the reader’s paradox? It is that books often are windows onto the world that give us delight and insight and sometimes diversion. And yet life and the world are far more than the books we read and there are realities beyond the page (or tablet) to which books only point but are no substitute for our experience of the real thing. Like the love of God or neighbor. The pursuit of a just and peaceful world. The making or enjoying of actual music or art. The growing of a fruitful and beautiful garden.
The danger comes when we cease to live in the tension of this paradox, which is a tension I face. I love books and reading and encouraging others to connect with the best of what is thought and written. So I read, and write about reading and books, and interact with others interested in writing and books. There is a sense in which I feel I am employing a gift, however humble in doing this.
What I realize is that I also live in need of the gifts of the world beyond my bibliophile world. I think we actually need each other’s gifts. Reading and reflecting on what I read sometimes leads to insights into problems and challenges those in my world are face. But only as I am in loving relationship can any of this be life-giving. And love takes a goodly amount of time with one’s nose out of a book!
Equally, books can sometimes distort my view of the world and those real-life encounters where my book-inspired ideas come up short serve as a good reality check. That, too, is a life-giving gift!
My faith seems to embrace some of the biggest paradoxes of all. I believe in a God who is One and Three. I confess as Lord one who is fully God and fully human. This makes me wonder if in fact the other paradoxes I see in my world and my own life stem from this. It is clear that my faith would be simpler, but smaller without these paradoxes, just as would my life. And it makes me wonder if living in wonder, faith and obedience with these great paradoxes somehow is connected to living in the tension of the lesser ones, like the reader’s paradox.
What do you think? Have you experienced the reader’s paradox? Do you think there is a paradoxical aspect to life and how do you account for this?