I’m on the third floor of the Laurier library, and it’s quiet as a tomb. That’s a typical thing you could say about libraries, but it’s not always true of this one. During the academic year, the place hums with energy. Some of that is the excited hum of contemplation and discovery, but most of it is because this library feels more like a bustling café or what urban planners call a “third space.” It’s a public meeting ground for students, laptops cracked open, smart phones at the ready, Skyping, Snapchatting and – even still – talking with each other face to face, about the weekend, about midterms, about whatever.
But that’s the academic year. Now it’s mid-June, and the third floor of the library is almost all mine. There’s still a quiet hum, but it’s from the fluorescent lights, and apart from that the only intrusion is the occasional whispered interjection of the HVAC system through the ceiling vents.
I’ve been joking with friends lately that books are the luxury benefit of being clergy. People in other professions that require the length of training that the clergy does often have other luxuries: lawyers and investment bankers have expense accounts they use to plump their clients on old wines and steaks thick as phonebooks. They have lavish box seats at the Air Canada Centre. Some people get a company car.
That all sounds really nice, but I think clergy have it better. And for this particular member of the clergy, to have a book allowance and access to an academic library, well, that’s the kind of decadence I can get behind.
And so through these long days I luxuriate in this library and its literary spoils. My shoulder is strained from lugging around Simon Sebag Montifiore’s stout biography of Jerusalem. On the desk in my office is the philosopher Eleanor Stump’s brief The God of the Philosophers and the God of the Bible. On the living room table at home is Jeffrey Vandermeer’s Borne, a bio-tech dystopian novel about the relationship between Rachel, the protagonist, and a, uh, sentient, charismatic green lump (this one is weird, though I have a hunch if it might get theological before long). In the home office upstairs is St. Gregory of Nyssa’s The Life of Moses (theology is ever ancient), and Sarah Coakley’s The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender and the Quest for God (theology is ever new). I expect this bounty to increase as the summer carries on.
I shouldn’t imply that these summer months are just a lengthy, languorous idyll spent amongst the tomes. There’s plenty of work to do. Conferences to attend, a Multi-Faith Resource Team retreat to convene, a Veritas Forum to plan, coffees (iced) with students, plans for the fall term. This afternoon I’ll be gathering with students at the campus pub for Fermented Faith, our pub discussion group. The questions have been intense this year: “Brian, some of my friends have been reading Nietzsche and talking about something called ‘happy nihilism.’ Can we talk?” “Brian, I’ve been reading Plotinus for a philosophy class, and now I’m wondering if I actually believe in Jesus, or just God as the ground of being.” You know, the sorts of questions perfectly suited for an early 20s crisis of faith. When those questions come my way, I’m grateful for the library.
And yet, something in me resists making it all about practicality, as if the only justification for spending a day in the library is that it has some obviously useful, pragmatic application. The quiet reverie I’ve been experiencing here on the third floor hints at a deeper, simpler pleasure, one we might struggle to measure in a world where everything is quantified and held up to some utilitarian standard of productivity. So here’s the more radical suggestion I’ve been playing with on this quiet morning: that it’s there for the taking, this extraordinary luxury, this extravagance of what has been said and thought and written. None of it is necessary; none of it has to be. It is sheer gift, and we, of all the creatures, have been given the ability to receive it. And maybe the only needful thing is to give thanks to the giver.