At the weekend, I ventured as far as the English coastal resort of Aldeborough. Like all the little towns on the East Coast of England, it is gloomy and desolate for nine months of the year, its streets swept by the bitter weather that blows in from the North Sea. But this weekend the sun shone out of a dusty blue sky, and the sea sparkled in the sun.
I parked in the high street, and walked towards the promenade. On the way I looked into a little second-hand bookshop. It was a single room, the corner of a little house. Blocking out entirely one little window and visible from the street, never looked at, stood volumes bound from some gentleman’s library – cheap, useless books, like a Cicero interlinear, that no man would read without compulsion.
But amid the ruin of other men’s libraries, of one generation ago or two, I found a little volume of the Essays of Elia by Charles Lamb. I leafed through it, and realised that I had never read more than a handful of these essays. Finding the volume could be bought for less than three dollars, I bought it.
This evening I was reading the essay entitled Grace before meat, when, in his whimsical way, Lamb asked:
Why have we none for books, those spiritual repasts–a grace before Milton–a grace before Shakespeare–a devotional exercise proper to be said before reading The Faerie Queen?
Of course Lamb does not mean it. The idea is unthinkable to him.
And yet … what would happen if, before we picked up a book, we prayed? If we thanked God for what we were about to receive, if we asked God to bless us, for what we were about to consume with our minds, if we asked Him to guard us against any poison lurking therein?
Nor do I mean only serious books; but also novels and magazines, the “light literature” with which we amuse ourselves.
Might it be beneficial? At least sometimes?
We are what we eat, they say. But are we not, more truly, what we read?
What if we likewise prayed before we sat down with an open internet browser, pouring words into our minds and our souls?
I make no rule here for anyone. To do so is to forget He who said, “My yoke is easy, my burden is light.” No load of duties do I seek to impose on another. Least of all do I wish anyone troubled by this.
It’s a thought, at least, that a grace before reading a blog might not be such a bad thing.