The Irvine Tartan • My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican
Those who know me think I am predictable. Some even think I border on conservative. They know I don't take to change well or easily. This trait was brought home to me this summer when I unpacked my library and shelved the treasures I packed away more than a year ago.
When I was packing to move, I remembered boxes of books are heavy and awkward to manoeuvre. I thought it more prudent to "bag" my cherished friends. The advantages seemed obvious: the limited capacity of grocery bags would ensure that none would be excessive in weight; the bags also came equipped with handles, the load would be balanced and my back would be saved.
The disadvantage became apparent soon enough: shape and size determined which books found their way into which bag. This new arrangement challenged my long-standing one. For twenty years my books had been sorted by author, subject and category. This transfer precipitated a necessary upheaval not limited to my books.
For the past year, several hundred grocery bags of books have lined my dining room, hallway, stairwell and sun porch. Bags have accented my kitchen and living room. I have been compassed about by friends bagged on every side and in every room.
My decision to shelve these companions allowed me to be reacquainted with them. I took each bag "in hand" and emptied the contents. I thumbed through the familiar, marked pages of each book and remember when I saw it and decided to purchase it. I would recall when I got each book home and began to explore its contents. I would also be reminded of significant people, places and occasions.
For decades I have tucked cards from family, friends and parishioners in to my books. These cards mark all kinds of occasions and I placed them in the books randomly, so as I revisited my books, I revisited baptisms, weddings, Christmases, even deaths.
I did a lot of that kind of remembering this summer and it slowed down my work. The memories weren't always happy; some, in fact, were painful and regretful. Others were nostalgic. Still others held a sense of wonder and hope. No two were alike. Each was mined for its treasure.
My books freshly assembled also took on new and unexpected positions. I couldn't possibly remember the previous order. Was it important? At first I was uncomfortable, but change couldn't be helped.
As I saw room after room emptied of plastic bags, a new pattern emerged. Nothing new was added. There was nothing new but the arrangement, but the new arrangement was enough to arrest my activity and have me take stock.
Authors and titles that have influenced my thought and directed my path took new places. Old authors and new were introduced for the first time and I began to see how yesterday has informed my tomorrow. What I once thought to be indispensable was assigned a distant shelf, closer shelves reflect my current concerns. Currency took on endurance.
Nothing was discarded. Everything took a new place. Nothing changed. Everything changed. The old became new, and much that was new seemed old.
As each shelf filled it demanded balance. I found myself rearranging a few titles here, exchanging a few titles there. Their warp and weft took on a pattern that allowed me to see myself in a fresh and unexpected way. It reflected the pattern of my faith, a pattern by which I recognized both Gospel and Church.
Continuity emerged in the midst of what might have been mistaken for serendipity. The changes and chances that appear to overwhelm us within the Church are like that, I think. Confused and anxious, we are quick to think that the challenge of change reduces our past and limits our future. We can fail to recognize an emerging pattern of the One who is the same yesterday, today and forever. Our fear can eclipse the One who calls us to have the confidence to walk faithfully into tomorrow. We risk paralysis of faith to have today turn into a yesterday soon to be forgotten.
Copyright © 2003 James T. Irvine