People disappear when they die. Their voice, their laughter, the warmth of their breath. Their flesh. Eventually their bones. All living memory of them ceases. This is both dreadful and natural. Yet for some there is an exception to this annihilation. For in books they write, they continue to exist. We can rediscover them. Their humor, their tone of voice, their moods. Through the written word they can anger you or make you happy. They can comfort you. They can perplex you. They can alter you. All this, even though they are dead. Like flies in amber, like corpses frozen in ice, that which according to the laws of nature should pass away is, by the miracle of ink on paper, preserved. It is a kind of magic.
Of course, as Christians, we have an eternal perspective and know that we do not "disappear" when we die, but in every earthly way, we do. We cease to exist and impact this world. As generations pass and our direct influence on those around us is gone, in a sense, we disappear. I do believe that through our actions and the way we influence that we create a heritage of faith that reverberates over time, but this passage caused me to reflect on the power of the written word.
I guess this struck a chord with me because I do enjoy reading so much. I think there is something to note in the fact that God chose to share with us through the written word. It is concrete, yet abstract in many ways. At different times in our lives, it comes to mean different things to us. Passages once empty for us, become alive with meaning. People from long ago impact us, becoming real and living through what we read.
Also, a book freezes in time the author's thoughts and reflections, giving us clues about them. A novel written at one time in an author's life might never have come into existence at another time in their life, because in many ways, we are products of our experiences. Of course autobiographies, biographies, and personal journals give us a very direct glimpse into someone's life, but fiction and other non-fiction sources also reflect a part of the author. I think that is why so many of us feel a connection with certain authors--we feel as though we know them. I know many of us have authors we feel that way about--from Laura Ingalls Wilder to Elisabeth Elliot to Jane Austen.
My favorite line from this passage is - "They can alter you." This has been so true in my life. Authors, through their written words, have altered me. Their personal thoughts have influenced and changed me. I will never forget reading "The Hiding Place" by Corrie ten Boom or "The Celebration of Discipline" by Richard Foster, among many others that have impacted me. God used those books to grow me in numerous ways--I was altered.
Even more so, I have been altered by Scripture. God has breathed His truth into me through the words written by men, but inspired by Him. Amazing! It is truly a kind of magic.