Franciscan Joy: There's nothing like a good book
There’s nothing like a good book
BY FR. HENRY BECK, OFM
My father was a reader, and I think I first picked up my love for reading from him. We lived in a close-knit neighborhood in Old North Dayton, Ohio, where it was easy to walk to our neighborhood library (near a wonderful bakery!).
My sister and I both were avid readers through grade school, and in the summers we would take our red wagon with friends and cousins in tow to the library. We would come home with a wagon full of books to read.
My education with the Franciscans enhanced my desire to read books in all sorts of areas. I especially loved literature, social sciences, and theology. Two early mentors were Fr. Murray Bodo and Br. Kenan Hozie, who taught our English and American literature classes at the minor seminary. Then when I went on to our Franciscan college, Fr. Leander Blumlein opened the world of Shakespeare and contemporary playwrights to us.
Our philosophy and theology teachers also encouraged us to reflect deeply on the meaning of the world and the meaning of God in our world by reading and writing essays about these themes. And one further significant influence in my life for reading was my novice director, Fr. Joe Rayes. Joe loved literature and movies, and he said once to us, "Read novels. This will help you with your preaching. This will give you new ideas and offer you wider images and concepts for speaking to others." I have been reading novels ever since.
I love mysteries especially, and I have found some wonderful series of novels that allow for the main characters to develop and the settings where they live to come to life. I am presently reading a new series I have discovered by Margaret Coel about the Arapaho people of the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming. Her main characters in these novels are Vicky Holden, an Arapaho lawyer, and Fr. John, a Jesuit at the mission church there. I love the way the author opens up the contemporary world of the characters but also brings in the history of the people and of the setting. Tony Hillerman did this same thing with the Navajo people in his series of novels in and around the Navajo reservation.
I also love historical novels, and I once found myself reading a lot of the literature surrounding the U.S. Civil War because of a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel called The Killer Angels by Michael Shaara. Shaara opened up the Battle of Gettysburg by focusing on the officers involved in this battle who had studied together at West Point and served together in military campaigns before the Civil War pushed them to choose sides against one another. His son, Jeff Shaara, picked up his father’s work after he died by writing then a prequel and a sequel to this novel. Jeff Shaara also wrote an insightful trilogy on World War II.
Along with novels, I usually have two or three other books going at the same time. Presently I am reading the fourth book by Brené Brown called Rising Strong. Brown has written several insightful books on human development, shame, and living whole-heartedly. I am also reading Fr. Richard Rohr’s book (with Mike Morrell) about the Trinity called The Divine Dance. Two other books that I am working through are A Self-Made Man: 1809-1849, the first book in a trilogy on the life of Abraham Lincoln, by Sydney Blumenthal; and The Soul of a Leader by Margaret Benefiel. I often find that the books interconnect and offer helpful insights to each other.
Finding a quiet place to read also helps me concentrate on the material. Here in Easton, Pa., I have found a nearby park. There are several benches there that are shaded and have wonderful views. Blessings on your reading, my friends.
(Fr. Henry Beck is a member of the retreat team at St. Francis Retreat House in Easton, Pa.)