Phyllis Beveridge Nissila
…always learning but never able to come to a knowledge of the truth… (2 Timothy 3:7).
His Stack of Books
I live in a lush valley of the Pacific Northwest where not too far from here several pop icons of the fifties and sixties long ago established a loosely formed community. You sometimes see various surviving members out and about, the vestiges of age, drugs, and hedonism now etched on their appearance.
Yet for their fandom they still shine. The old messages of the fifties’ Beat Generation (Ginsberg, Burroughs, Kerouac, and others) that bled into the counter-culture movement of the sixties epitomized by the clarion call of the hip, slick and cool–“Turn on; tune in; drop out“–still have an appeal. If just a hopeful kind of appeal tinged with nostalgia and maybe a bit of envy at the seeming unchecked life of freedom and transcendent knowledge (fueled largely by psychedelia) glamorized in the accounts of Merry Pranksters who seemed so unfettered by the conventions of life.
Ah, to be so free, then–maybe even now, neo-hipsters might think–so mellow, taking in all the “sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll” one may, loosed from the chains of the Protestant Work Ethic, restrictive societal norms, “squares“…
I saw a couple of the neo-hip a few years ago in a local bookstore. One of the old Pranksters had been sitting at the table next to me, his thin, gray hair bedraggling down his back from beneath a rainbow-striped skull cap, his worn tie-dyed T-shirt hanging loose, a large wooden peace sign displayed on a cord around his neck. He had been reading from a stack of books. As the thirty-ish couple approached, he was preparing to leave. They stepped faster, excitement in their eyes as they recognized their (anti)-hero.
“It’s, it’s so good to see you!” One exclaimed.
He looked up, gathering his single purchase selection from the hap-hazard stack of books. “Oh, ah, yeah, nice to see you,” he said. Maybe he knew them, maybe not.
The duo commented on how well he looked…asked what he had been up to lately…
He shook his head, chuckled. “Oh, not so good, these days. Had an appointment with my doctor…gave me more pills…arthritis sometimes gets the better of me,” he said. “It’s rough getting old. These old bones just don’t do what they’re supposed to anymore, know what I mean?”
The young couple nodded with feigned understanding as they glanced at his discarded book stack.
He cut the conversation short by thanking them for recognizing him, closing with, “Got to get to another doctor’s appointment.”
As he left, limping a bit, the couple looked at each other and smiled as if, “Wow! It was really HIM! And here are THE BOOKS HE WAS READING!”
They sat down and opened up fist one book, then another, thumbing through pages, discussing in hushed tones what inspiration even now, for the old icon, might be embedded in the words there…
They wrote down a few titles and after a few more sips of latte, left the table, I imagined, to purchase the very books HE had left behind as if, perhaps, in these poetry, philosophy and history texts they, too, might find some of the wisdom and guidance their aging idol had perhaps found in them.
Maybe here, for them too, would be some answers they quested after; the freedom, the enlightenment that had spawned the “renaissance” and the revolution of the fifties and sixties (now idealized in the way all former “movements” become idealized and separated from the down side of same).
Or so I imagined they might be thinking, yearning…still under the spell of his presence…
As they went off to the book shelves in hot pursuit, I couldn’t help but further imagine here were two seekers who had serendipitously happened upon one of their esteemed idols and though he couldn’t stay to converse, he had nevertheless (seemingly) left behind a little light to guide them along what they imagined might be a path for them, too: some enlightenment via the words in books he was reading; some still-glowing embers from the ashes of two decades of American history that had spawned one of its most momentous cultural shifts. At least the up side of that shift, the side that appealed to independence-seeking youth–or so I imagined might describe the two…idol worship being what it is, looking like it does.
And the Scripture about always seeking and never finding, to paraphrase the verse that heads this post, came to mind.
HIS Stack of Books
In the complete context of 2 Timothy 3:7, one of the sixty-six books that make the anthology called the Bible, the seekers cited were “silly (weak, contemptuous) women, weighed down with sins and led astray by various passions,” thus able to be conned by false prophets, artful deceivers. However, silliness of that sort is not restricted by gender or personality type–or age or any other status of mankind and womankind. Indeed, the very men who seduced those women Paul warned Timothy about, had previously been led astray by whatever influenced them away from God and to idolatry of various kinds and/or personages.
In every era, culture, tribe and tongue are icons that hold sway over anyone who is seeking and has not yet found that which human beings long for, that which is truly loving, honorable, satisfying, and lasting.
In part, they have not yet found satisfaction because they have not yet heard about Jesus Christ, God’s Son, Who took care of the angst (and the sin and the silliness) of all such quests on the cross, thus making a way for all who so will to end the pilgrimage at the foot of the throne, sheltering forever near Abba, Father.
But also, in part because of the weakness tinged with contempt ascribed to the women Paul warned Timothy about.
There were then, are now, and will always be those who disdain the Divine for the trinkets and idols of the flesh (even for the detritus of some period of “golden olden” days, such as the sixties’ icon and his left-behind readings may have represented for the young seekers in the book store).
But back to the artful deceivers.
Such contemptuous ones would be those who conned the women–and men–of the first century, and women and men, young and old, of today. None of us is immune to their way with manipulation, and every age has its contingent of the hip, slick, and cool; its clarion call to this or that new, or re-packaged, transcendence; it’s con men and women playing to the needs and wants of the vulnerable.
Fortunately, there is another stack of books. I think you know which ones I mean. They make up an anthology of history, poetry, philosophy, lyrics, teachings, and more. They represent the literary leavings, infused with the light of God’s wisdom, of those who sought–and found to satisfaction–the Icon of icons, Idol of idols, the Satisfaction of satisfactions cited and explained throughout the text.
Perhaps by thumbing through the pages of this book, left for us, both reader and seeker, what is sought can be found. Maybe even today. See what you think. Here’s a few insights for starters:
The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction (Proverbs 1:7).
Do not forsake wisdom, and she will protect you; love her, and she will watch over you. The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom. Though it cost all you have, get understanding (Proverbs 4:6-7).
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you (James 1:5).
And where does THIS quest start? Where it also ends–by receiving Christ Jesus as your Lord and Savior. Put another way in a letter from Paul to the believers in Colossae and including the goal as well:
My goal is that they may be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, mainly, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3).
And the best news about the Good News is that it never gets old.