Sabbatical Rereading


It’s not every day that an idea for a new spiritual formation practice pops into my head. I hesitate to use the word “new” because it’s not, other than the idea had not occurred to me before—not in this form or on this scale anyway.

I had just finished an e-mail explaining my mental list of “Finkenwalde Books” to an acquaintance. The name comes from the underground seminary Dietrich Bonhoeffer ran during the mid-1930’s in opposition to the Nazification of the German church. My general criteria for books on this mental list is that they must teach important theological truths with an emphasis on spiritual formation and pastoral work. It’s a variation on the “desert island books” trope with a spiritual emphasis. They are books worth rereading and sharing with others.

This led to a discussion of how my growing books lists are in competition with each other; books I want to read and books I want to reread. Then it hit me—what if I took a sabbatical?

No, I can’t take a real sabbatical to go off and study at Oxford for a year. (Great dream, though!) I was thinking of God’s command in the Mosaic law to take a sabbath year. Every seven years, God commanded the people to refrain from planting (Exodus 23:10-11). The ground was allowed to rest and the people would eat whatever grew unassisted.

What if every seventh year I spent my discretionary reading time on nothing but books I have already read? I am pretty sure I have enough worth reading again to keep me busy for a year. Some may show themselves to not be as good as I remember while others may be even more significant that they were the last time. This seems like a good way to fight the quest for novelty and to reinforce lessons from good works; a way to be reminded of where I have been and to stay grounded with those works that have been touchstones and signposts on my journey.

I found several articles and blogs talking about the joys and importance of rereading books, but none from a spiritual formation perspective. (Granted, I didn’t put any spiritual buzzwords in my search.) Obviously, rereading is fundamental to Christian spiritual formation since one of the cornerstones is repeated Bible reading.

“Rushing from one book to the next seems disrespectful to me. I suppose because I’ve always thought of my favorite books as friends. They need and deserve to be lingered with, to be listened to. The books that teach us the most, that take us out of ourselves, that console us in the difficult times—those books deserve better than to be set aside just because an attractive new cover passes by.”

Christopher B. Nelson, “Hello, Old Friend, Time to Read You Again,” 
The Wall Street Journal,
15 December, 2015

This sums up well my motivation for this experiment. I have been formed by certain books and authors. I do see them as mentors, teachers, and even friends. I’m starting to compile my list and I think 2017 will be my year of sabbatical rereading.


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