Restoration and Holiness, Part VI-A: “We Worship You in Spirit and in Truth”

Finally, back to the multi-part “Restoration and Holiness” series! There are reasons I ceased, but they are for exploration in another post.

In my last installment, I had noted that most of my life consisted of “enrichment reading”—books of an educational but non-spiritual nature that I felt expanded my horizons. On Friday, 9 May, I was convicted to relinquish these for a month and ten days, right up until the morning of 19 June. The time that would then be freed up, I was to spend in purest adoration.

Saturday, 10 May, was my first day of Project Walking by Faith. I can’t say that terribly much was different in my life. I read more of the Word, but I’m not sure that my Matthew IV readings absorbed as deeply into my heart as I would have liked. Instead, I was steadfastly focused on a very carnal problem in my life, an earthly want and desire that, while not unrighteous in and of itself, was certainly distracting me from seeking the Lord with all my heart. I prayed about this complication, I attempted to surrender it to God, I looked for some earthly solutions in order to temporarily silence the thoughts, but nothing seemed to do any lasting good.

I went to bed that Saturday evening with the burden still firmly affixed to my back—in fact, it had only become heavier as I dragged it along. But there was a glimmer of hope, too. A few days earlier, the Lord had impressed upon me that He would soon show me His glory in a mighty way and that I would eventually worship with overflowing, inexpressible joy in the place that I had come to know as The Sanctuary. I believed it, as we do all God’s promises, but I could not conceptualize of such a thing on Saturday night as I prepared for rest. We can have faith without trust—faith that what God says is true, holistically and in the long run, without necessarily trusting in the moment. That was my state of mind.

Then, too, I knew I would have to do something on Sunday that I was not looking forward to. Bible Student, whom I now realize is everything I hope to be in forty years, had been encouraging me to contact her so we could discuss the Word. I now see that the enemy was attacking me enough to discourage me from ever contacting Bible Student, but all I saw then was that I dreaded doing so. For one thing, there is a movement in my area that is so outside of Christianity that I can only call it a cult, but many sincere Christians are subscribing to this movement’s teachings—only to discover later that they are corrupt and contrary to Scripture. What if Bible Student was involved in this movement? I couldn’t say I was in the mood to spend an afternoon evaluating someone else’s fruit. Then, too, what if she interrogated me about my spiritual life and found me lacking, somehow? It was all very complicated, and I wasn’t sure I would ever be ready to take that sort of plunge.

That Sunday, though, I knew I could put Bible Student off no longer. I prayed for courage, wisdom, and—yes—discernment, then dialed her lopng-distance.

“You have the New King James?” she said as soon as I had her on the phone. “In Braille, right? Good! Audio is fine, but you’ll want to read for yourself when we’re studying… Now, you’ll need the volume containing Romans—and, let me see, the one with Matthew.”

What? No interrogation? No words designed to make me feel like less of a Christian? No questions as to why I had so obviously put off calling? And you, my beloved reader, are probably wondering what experiences I could possibly have had that would cause me to stamp such accusations on a believer I had never even met. It’s a long story… Suffice it to say that not everyone I’ve ever met has acted in love, and my interactions with them sometimes color my communications with other believers. The Lord is still working on me…

For the rest of that glorious hour, Bible Student expounded the Scriptures, and my thirsty soul drank in every truth-filled word. Together, we examined pairs of concepts in Romans 1 and how they built upon, clarified, or contrasted with one another. We discussed Jesus’ prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane and talked about His cry to the Father, “If it be Thy will, let this cup pass from me”, followed by surrender—”nevertheless, not my will, but Thy will, be done”. Bible Student suggested this as a model for our own moments of surrender to the Lord.

And then, there was the whole concept of worshiping the Almighty, the one true God, of the Scriptures, rather than idolizing something of our own creation. We believers do this, too, you know. We probably don’t have statues in our houses, but we do lie to ourselves about who we are serving. (Note a deliberate lack of pronoun capitalization in the previous sentence.) We tell ourselves that God does not care if we sin, that this is why grace exists and abounds to us, that we may do as we please without consequence. Grace does abound to us, more than we could ever know or conceive, but liberty is not to be abused and God is still grieved when we sin. Others among us say that grace is not enough, that we must work and strive and beat ourselves about the head if we want forgiveness from God. I tend to fall into this camp more often that I would like to admit. But what does the Word say? Does it say that a perfect home and body, perfect relations, a perfectly-stewarded and well-balanced bank account, and the outward appearance of a flawless spiritual life are necessary to earn His love, favor, and grace? Certainly not! There are other lies we tell ourselves—perhaps God loves everyone but us, perhaps He does not hear our prayers, perhaps we are not forgiven, perhaps we are separated from Him… All these possibilities! But each and every one of them involves taking one or two passages of Scripture and twisting them without proper context, or conceptualizing who we believe God to be and acting upon it, or both. This is inventing something to serve from our own imagination, a mental image of God rather than the God of Scripture.

My beloved readers, have you any idea how wonderful it is to have your theology realigned, especially when it is done with an extraordinary measure of grace? To be told the truth, to accept that truth, to repent of all the lies you’ve believed about God and to determine in your heart that you will worship Him for Who He is—all of this is far, far better than momentary joy or happiness. Te be realigned in your heart, from the Scriptures, far surpasses in beauty the most wonderful experience, because the Holy Bible is our glorious bedrock.

And that’s what the rest of the day entailed—repentance, adoration, worship, singing and making melody in my heart to the Lord. The joy and glory I had been promised a few days earlier was mine on that glorious Sunday, and nothing was ever again capable of taking it away.

Next in the series: what the Lord did between 11 May and 21 May—all the fruit He began to develop on a tree that felt it had been withered. Gnarled and unfruitful no more!

Addendum: The name of the song off of which I based this post is technically “This Is the Time”. However, the most compelling line in that nine-ana-a-half-minute anthem is, “We worship You in spirit and in truth”. How marvelous to be brought back to that place! The song, if you’re interested, is by Terry MacAlmon.

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“How Beautiful”… Is the Body of Christ!

This is peace: To fill a glass Communion cup, one in a set of four that your sister blessed you with years ago, and take a Communion wafer from the container where they are kept. To place all these things on the lace-topped antique sewing table on which you now display such items as an olive-wood cross made in Jerusalem. To look with admiration on that table, and on the chairs you’ve placed near it, and to remember that just beneath the altar-table is the chest in which you keep tangible memories of your spiritual life, and on top of this the velvet bag in which you keep anointing oil. To anticipate time in Jesus—this is peace.

This is peace: To seat yourself on the ottoman that accompanied the gliding rocker you purhcased several years ago. To feel that piece of furniture, not really made for your seat but doing just fine as a temporary worship location, thank you!—to feel it creek and sway a bit as you sit down, and to remember that both the glider and the ottoman feature a runner-and-frame construction that is downright graceful and has provided hours far more enjoyable than the LazyBoy company has ever been able to supply. To recall the day when you listened to Vineyard’s worship music as you re-upholstered all the relevant cushions for both pieces of furniture. Worn, roughened near-burlap would never do—it had to be that deep-blue, velvet fabric you picked up somewhere. As you think on that day of fabric, safety pins, and purest adoration, you remember another glorious time when you were in the manifest glory of God, His holy presence. That day is too personal to print now, though you may try later. His glory—that is peace.

This is peace: To seek out worship music, and to find an abundance of it. Voices blended in unison, illustrating in vivid audible detail Jesus’ words: “Where two or more are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them”. And so it is—listening to those recordings from Keswick and Stoneleigh conferences, Hosanna! Music, and the various Vineyard churches and Calvary Chapels, you hear the anointing of the Holy Spirit in each one of the singers’ instruments. Musicians’ lutes cry out in praise, and harps and pianos join the symphony of adoration. Those beloved, old, refreshing, new songs—yet more and greater peace.

This is peace: Just surrendering. “Just to trust His cleansing blood…” Taking all the turmoil of the carnal trials you’ve experienced over the past three weeks and placing them at the foot of the cross. Remembering His promises neither to leave nor to forsake you, and believing them. Recalling, too, His recent promise to your heart, that He would restore you and return years wasted in sorrow and mourning, that He would cause you to forget the pain of past spiritual deserts… His promises—infinite, unspeakable peace.

This is peace: A precious song, by the Starsong Artists if it matters at all, entitled “How Beautiful”. To hear the Gospel outlined, then proclaimed, in this anthem. Ah, the amalgomation of the music you’ve just been cherishing and the promises the Lord has just reiterated to you! “How beautiful”, how beautiful indeed… And now is the time to allow those words of joy and comfort to wash over you, to renmember His gift as you prepare for Communion, to think on “the body of Christ”, the hands that served and the feet that walked the road to Calvary, the heart that loved us and forgave and took our sins… His gift, His sacrifice—is there anymore room for that flood of peace?

This is peace: To forgit that, ten minutes before, you had not really even been feeling close to the Lord. To remember that life lived in Him is not about feelings and experience, but at the same time to rejoice in what you are being given. To worship with your very, with your heart and mind and soul and strength, to attempt to pour words onto paper, to set down His love so that others may read about all that the Lord is able to do–His power and glory and might. To love the Lord—purest peace.

This is peace. We call it the Normal Christian Life, we sometimes dismiss it when all is going well, we take it for granted when we allow ourselves to forget—but this is the sort of joy, love, and blessing that the Lord pours out upon us day by day. This is the relationship that God wants for us to have with Himself, the contented, worship-saturated life we have the privilege of leading. And it is so wonderful to draw and be drawn nigh unto Him, to trust in His provision, to accept freedom and reject the lie of bondage that has consumed you for so many days. Above all, to remember His words: “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give unto you. I do not give as the world gives…” Perfect peace.

Addendum: No, not my usual song credit—you’ll find that in the body of this post. A year or so ago, I read an account by a father of a developmentally-delayed child. This little girl had a great deal of difficulty communicating most of the time. One day, though, she was on the beach, just appreciating so many of the small details that many people would overlook. Suddenly, she cried out, “This is beauty—hallelujah!” The father was taken aback, but was soon caught up in his daughter’s elation. Down the beach they danced and frolicked, both of them taking up the daughter’s concept and periodically shouting, “This is beauty—hallelujah!” Oh, that we all praised our Lord with so spontaneous and devoted a heart! This is my contribution to that effort. This is His overwhelming peace—hallelujah!

“‘Tis So Sweet to Trust in Jesus”…

NOTE: I penned the greater part of this piece last night between 1:00 and 2:30 AM. I had no Internet access at the time, but intended to post this when I did. That moment has come. What you are about to read is more a letter to the Lord, an outpouring of thanks for what He has done and provided and taught, the growth and fruit that He is producing. No, I have not lost interest in my multi-part series; I still have much to say on the Lord’s restoration, and I hope to continue when I can.

Several months ago, I was taking that glorious day of rest that every Christian should have—one of those days just for refreshment in the Lord. My day of rest happens to be Sunday, and that Sunday I was meandering my way through family memories and listening to worship music. This, from Robin Mark, was among the auditory treasures I unearthed:

When the rain falls, and it some days will,
Then the pavement under my feet
Sparkles silver and gold in reflected light
That I otherwise wouldn’t have seen.
And when the storm comes and the strong wind blows,
I will bow my head to push through,
And every step that I take, I will watch and pray
And be sure my foothold is true.

Now, I could say “amen” to all of that! I had been through my share of difficult times and had even discovered treasures in some of that darkness. But it was the song’s refrain that began to trip me up:

Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm;
I want to walk that sacred ground,
For You are Master of it all
And I am but a lost-and-found.

Now, I wasn’t questioning Robin Mark’s theology—I knew that his words were Biblically sound. But on the other hand, I didn’t feel I could ever come to a point of praying such a thing. “Don’t keep me from the storm”? “Don’t keep me from it, if You can use it in my life”? Well, God’s will be done, but how could I ever actually pray, ask for, petition God for, treasure, cherish, appreciate, or value difficult times? It wasn’t humanly possible, I concluded, to say in effect, “The sand of this place scorches my feet, the nearest oasis is miles away, and I am parched—but, oh, thank You for all the manna!”

Nearly four months hqave passed since I heard that song and admired Robin Mark’s bravery from a distance. Now, I know exactly what he meant.

It all began on 13 June. I awoke that morning, read Matthew and immersed myself in worship, and then deecided that I would update the content on my iPod. Simple enough, and not much to be learned, you say. Ah, but the device wouldn’t synchronize with my computer. Instead, it kept going into recovery mode, then wouldn’t even try to sync… Three, four, and five times we tried—first Naomi, then Hannah. We tried with different iPods; we tried uninstalling iTunes and downloading it anew; we tried manual syncing. Each time, we encountered fresh challenges. Now, don’t misunderstand—this did not leave me without a few silly songs and a movie or two. It left me without ten thousand songs’ worth of worship music and hundreds of sermons but, much worse, I was also without my eleven audio Bibles. If I wanted the Word, it was going to have to be a Braille edition—nothing wrong with that, but not as effective for quick, efficient study. Besides, I like to listen to the Scriptures as I’m drifting off to sleep, and I was now being denied this delightful pursuit. But do you know, my beloved reader, what came of it all? In the twelve-hour gap between the problem and the tenuous resolution I reached that night, the Lord put a song in my heart and a precious knowledge of His presence deep within my spirit. My refrain all that day was, “Lord, I will read Your Word in whatever format I can find. If that’s just one version, it is enough. Your presence, O Lord, Your Holy Spirit alone is more than enough.” And there was such a sense of His holiness in that day!—such a knowledge that He was with me? Would I ever relish having my iPod malfunction? No, not in the flesh—but the Lord did use this experience to teach me something about Himself and to reinforce to my heart that He is my everything.

“If that is what you call a desert,” you say, “then you really haven’t lived life. What you believe to be a storm was a gentle sprinkle of a rain-shower…”

Fast forward to last Monday. In the past ten days, I have been displaced from my apartment due to an exploding hot water that resulted in a destructive flood that ruined my carpet; we have temporarily lost our internet; two members of our extended family are seriously ill; anger, sorrow, and anxiety have filled my interpersonal communications with many of my brothers and sisters in Christ; I have faced challenges on both employment and guide-dog fronts; Naomi has suffered health difficulties; feelings of worthless and failure have threatened to sweep me away; and I have felt highly unforgiven by God, separated from Him and no longer permitted to come into His presence. My “church community”, y brothers and sisters in Christ, and I have been attacked in so many areas, and even now it has been difficult to wrap my heart around solutions. If you’re covered with bruises and you only have so many ice packs, which injuries do you tend to first?

First for me, and first for anyone who may be reading wthis with a similar list of heartaches stretching before them, is to address any outlying spiritual concerns. I tend to conntct every event, be it pleasant or unpleasant, with my walk with the Lord, so I was really in a bit of a bind. When the hot water heater burst, we all became stressed; when we were stressed, we got impatient with each other; when we became impatient, things were said that we might later regret; when something critical but unspiritual was said to me, I decided that it was a reflection of how I was living before God and, what’s more, a reflection of His heart toward me. My beloved readers, don’t travel down that slippery slope—it’s one I know all too well, and it invariably ends in quicksand.

What got me out of my spiritual valley was a little book by Jennifer Rees-Larcombe entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD? In it, the author reiterated some truths about God’s love that my heart really needed to hear. Then, too, the fact of these difficult moments in our spiritual lives was treated seriously and sensitively, which I can’t say for very many writers/pastors/theologians/books/treatises/dissertations… You get the idea. So, that book was helpful, but as we all know, things like this are only a tool in the Lord’s hands. It was really my prayers for forgiveness, an acceptance of His love and grace, a few tearful pleas to “start anew”, and, above all, the ever-present love, compassion, and mercy of the Trinity that set me free from the spiritual part of this valley. Am I still tempted to proclaim myself outside of His care, especially in these last few days and especially when some carnal concern makes me feel like a failure? Yes, I am—but now I can take those thoughts captive to the obedience of Jesus Christ, know that He will free me from them, and move forward in His joy and peace.

So, thus much of spiritual trials. Did my human suffering fade when I repented of last week’s sins and began to move forward in the Lord? Not quite. We’re still dealing with illness and anguish, pain in our hearts and aches in our bodies. But—don’t you know?—all of this is drawing me ever nearer to God, making me rely on Him more and more for every ounce of strength I possess.

At the moment, all of my furniture is outside my apartment, with boxes stacked against the dressers and headboard and tables. I am living in a small, unfurnished room that I have made comfortable and as home-like as possible just because it is my nature to do so. True, my “bed” is an air mattress on the floor, topped with a pillow-topper that I salvaged from the flood that threatened all of my apartment’s carefully-chosen accoutrements. The Faith Box, a large chest in which I keep anointing oil, Bibles, Communion wafers, and spiritual mementos, is now serving as a table. The rest of the room is filled to capacity with bags and boxes of things I did not wish to lose track of during this transition from old carpet to new.

What is my point in all of this? That the room in which I’m now staying, and the bits and pieces I’ve put into it, are almost symbolic. I have always named living spaces—Bethesda, Bethel, The Chapel, The Sanctuary. Accordingly, these new quarters are The Oasis. The Oasis, despite the unique circumstances. The Oasis because, though not a place of safety itself, it has come to represent a place of security. The Oasis, because it is here that I come when burdens are unbearable. The Oasis, because here almost more than ever, I seek and I find the presence of the Lord. His Shekinah glory is here. His light fills this place, even when my life and thoughts and day have seemed so dark. His comfort is constant—both in this physical room and in my day-to-day life, as I navigate our current trials. Here, I have seen and experienced and known with all my heart the holiness of God. Holy ground, even when my mouth is parched. Joyous ground, with plenty of manna. Awesome ground, even when the heat of circumstance presses in. Everything He provides here is all the more precious as I learn to trust Him more.

Am I enjoying all of this, every iota and each tiny detail? No, humanly speaking, I find it hard most of the time. But now, now more than ever, I’m being taught how to rely on the Lord, and on the Lord alone, to meet all of my needs. Minute by minute and day by day, I’m being given strength, wisdom, grace, mercy, peace, love, and even profound and inexpressible joy that surpasses all the fiery darts that the enemy could possibly hurl at me or my loved-ones.

Now, I understand Robin Mark’s prayer-song, “Jesus, don’t You keep me from that storm.” Now, too, I know what is meant by a few lines in that beautiful worship ballad “Just Let Me Say”:

Let me find You in the desert
Till this sand is holy ground,
And I am found completely surrendered
To You, my Lord and friend.

I will trust Him in the deserts of life, whether they be carnal and temporal wilderneses like our saga of the ruined carpet or more serious matters such as a wounded heart and a crushed spirit. Trust, surrender, relinquishment—”peace, wonderful peace”.

Books: A Words Sketch… And a Pages, Bindings, and Fonts Sketch!

My beloved readers, please excuse the redundancy if you’ve seen this post before. I wrote it for Epinions.com, but it is no longer on that site, and I thought it might be suitable for the blog. As you can see, I had a propensity for creating extremely long articles, even in pre-blog days… And, if you’ve never seen this before, enjoy!

The book is compact–one historical event, one life, one little memoir. It has a glossy cover and a smooth, unbroken binding. All of that is about to change…

Really, it is a disgrace to treat a book as you are about to treat this one. You wish you didn’t have to… but there isn’t any other choice. Taking a deep breath, you open the publication to the exact center, pull the pages apart as far as they will go, and press down. The book creaks in protest, then breaks. Farewell, unblemished binding.

But now, you have the facts. Through a break in binding and a few moments with the scanner, you know that this is, indeed, a special book–one worthy of both your bookshelf collection and Bookshare.org, the online library for those with print disabilities. Now, the reading can begin.

First, a dilemma: Your scanner does not announce page orientation, and pages are adjusted automatically. If you’re going to scan, read, and save this book in an electronic format, you will need to know with absolute certainty which cover is the front and which the back. Both covers are glossy. There is nothing particularly distinguishing in size, shape, or dog-eared corner… There! You have it! Almost imperceptibly, the outlines of a little wrinkle. Can it be? What your fingers have encountered is, of all things, a set of tooth marks on the front cover of this children’s book. Now, where could those possibly have come from? Did some mischievous cat saunter across the table one day and decide to see whether the book tasted of salmon? Ah, well… let bygones be bygones. The tooth marks may now serve as clues for the task at hand. You can’t mar this publication with a Braille label, so the tooth marks will have to stay. Other books you’ve scanned have possessed different attributes–a folded corner on the front, a library jacket fitting the entire publication like a child’s bulky mitten, a sticker on the back cover… every book has something unique to celebrate. And, if not? Well, you can always notch one of the covers gently with a pair of scissors. It’s your book, isn’t it? And the binding is broken, anyway.

And so, you begin scanning. Open a file, save it using the title of your book, making sure the document is saved in RTF format… and you’re off! First the title page. It will be produced with or without fancy, curling, calligraphic font; with or without “Praise For” stamped all over it; with or without a list of books by the same author; sometimes, with or without any discernable text at all. You will experience page numbers–or not. There will be Roman numerals, Arabic numerals, a little flourish that could be anything with some stretch of the imagination… the possibilities are endless! Your favorite, you think as you regard the book with satisfaction, are those pages with lower- rather than uppercase Roman numerals–for the sheer improbability of it all.

Now for the copyright. This must be in place for every book; otherwise, the venture is an infringement of copyright law and highly illegal. And so, you scan the copyright page. Pay attention: Is the ISBN in place? Some older books don’t come with ISBNs, but do look closely. Check and double-check, if necessary. Are the copyright dates, copyright renewal dates, permissions holders, etc. all properly acknowledged? Or, is the copyright page not even in the front of the book? Will you find it somewhere near the back–perhaps even on the back cover? So many choices…

Legalities aside, a story is coming your way. There’s no need to walk you through the careful process of scanning each page–of checking for errors, making sure page numbers and chapter headings correspond with text, etc. So, instead, you let your mind wander back to a time when books were in large, cumbersome Braille volumes. A time when recorded material was easier, but more limiting. A time when, in sad truth, you led a relatively bookless existence.

Oh yes, there were books. Your mother’s Bible, for one. From earliest childhood, you’ve always loved holding Bibles–but this one was special, magnificent, simply awesome. It was first put into your hands when you were seven. This was the Old Testament, and this the New. See how much smaller the New Testament is than the Old Testament? See what lessons can be learned from both, if you’ll only hide this Book in your heart? See these thin, perfect pages that must be turned with all possible reverence? And those index markers to help you find your place–so necessary, because this Bible has so much to teach? Feel the weight of that exquisite message–those pure, beautiful, wonderful, joyous words?

You do. And as the years pass, you begin to see other glorious things in your mother’s Bible. Even though you now have a Bible of your own and read it regularly, absorbing that holy message for yourself, there’s still something about another person’s copy of the Scriptures. One afternoon, you find that Bible lying open on a table. One wondrous page–the left-hand one– is smooth and unmarked. The right-hand page bears tiny grooves–small lines and other marks from careful underlining. You turn a few pages. More underlining, and a few places where entire sections have been heavily highlighted. Those smooth pages must be in… let’s see… Ecclesiastes, which your mother has admitted to not understanding. Carefully-highlighted ones, further back, must mean you’re close to Psalms. Oh, the joy of experiencing a book this way! Including, and especially, the Bible.

Your own Bible is much different. Not the Braille one that comes in twenty volumes and takes up an entire bookcase, but the print one you received several years ago. Others read it aloud, write your comments in the margins, and highlight where you direct. Oh, the things you could say of others’ serving hands! But, for now, our topic is books—not hands–so you’ll refrain. Your Bible is smaller–a unique size in that it isn’t quite fit for pocket or purse, but certainly smaller than your friends’ Bibles. The leather binding is worn and falling apart. It’s been glued in several places, but still comes loose. One of these days, someone is going to encourage you to get it rebound–but then, you wouldn’t be able to cling to that old adage, “The evidence of a well-fed soul is a well-read Bible.” And those awe-inspiring, holy words! You know the Scriptures well enough to imagine what that print must be saying–“Beautiful words, / Wonderful words, / Wonderful words of life.” One evening, you sat with this Bible on your lap, a recorder in your hand. Without commenting, you carefully turned a few pages–one by one, paragraphs of love and grace. The thirty-second recording is still on your iPod.

As the scanner hums in the background, you turn your attention to other books–literary and didactic, polished and somewhat flawed. The sudden acquisition of a scanner has broadened your world, and yours is no longer a bookless existence. No more must you content yourself with Braille textbooks and audio devotionals alone. Now, you can read almost anything. And, while you’re waiting to investigate the latest biography or work of poetry, you can study what the sighted world has known for years. You continue turning pages, pressing them onto the glass surface of the flatbed scanner, and waiting for your software to convert the image into readable text. As you do, you make some observations.

Cover: With or without a jacket? If with, can the jacket be removed? Is the book or jacket engraved with a tactile, raised-print title? Is the book hard-back, or paperback? [Hint: Paperbacks are easier to scan.]

Distinguishing Features: Did you know that stains can be beautiful–especially if they’re rather sticky? A spilled remnant of last summer’s sweetened iced tea can provide insight as to which cover is the front. Scrape off some of that stain, but leave a bit intact. The same principle applies to wrinkles, stickers, creases, dog-ears, and even those infamous tooth marks. Aside from directing you in the scanning process, these features are sentimental—plain and simple.

Binding: Leather, or thoroughly ordinary? Oh, yes, you shall judge a book by its cover! Are there pre-existing breaks? Where? Is this a well-loved book, or did it collect dust? Trace the book with your finger. Any remnants of ribbons or torn, fragmented bookmarks? Does it smell of a library, a musty attic, or a lavender sachet? Hint: The very best books smell something akin to all of the above. They are British; smell of bath salts, furniture polish, fresh air, antiques, and cedar; and cost a mere cent on Amazon, even though the seller must ship the book all the way from somewhere in Brighton… That book was by one Jennifer Reese-Larcomb, was entitled WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, GOD?, and was th only Christian-living book you’ve ever encountered that could make a spiritual valley seem almost inviting. Yes, judge a book by its cover, but most especially by its scent.

Size and Shape: Ah, now this says something about the book’s character! Is it more efficient to design a smaller but thicker book, or is it more literary to produce a larger yet thinner book? Why are picture books produced the way they are? Why is a particularly edifying devotional just slightly too large to fit on the scanner? Why, you almost feel as if you’re chopping and cutting that book from its binding to no purpose! And if a book can’t be unbound, how will you handle a cumbersome size? In these cases, you have little choice; you must scan one side of a page, then another. This doubles your time, but it’s worth the effort. Lesson: If you love your books, you’re even willing to unbind them.

Inner Flaps: Why, we have a pocket for a library card on our hands! But you purchased this book used from Amazon. Oh, the stories the previous owners could have told…

Front Matter: How do other people do it? Sometimes, front matter is quite illegible. It’s all you can do to coax it from the scanner. Titles in brazen, screaming fonts. Authors whose names, even typed, insist on announcing their presence with a curving flourish. Copyright dates and ISBNs that are so small or faded that they come trembling onto the page as a series of whimpering, jumbled letters and numbers that may or may not make sense. Inscriptions in the previous owner’s sloppy handwriting—nuances that the scanner can never pick up, but which you know must be present on a given page because they have a tendency to interfere with the rest of the typed content. Even so, you love them all–every flawed, beautiful I that should be the number 1. Every symbol that announces itself as a “black square” or some other strange bullet—every asterisk and other squiggle that the scanner seems to derive from front matter. Why find these details so striking despite the challenges they pose to the process at hand? Because those inscriptions indicate that someone loved my book. The publisher cared enough to make the title font dance across the page, or someone’s dearest friend cared enough to write “to my sister in Christ with agape, shalom, and hesed” on the dedication page, or a devoted Bible student cherished this theological text enough to scrawl a note in the margins. Case in point: LORD, I WANT TO BE WHOLE by Stormie Omartian. Your grandmother wrote so many notes in the body of the book, and underlined so extensively, that the scanner never could have done anything with the text. So, instead, your mother made an exception to the “fewer audiobooks, more personal reading” maxim you’ve been embracing and read the book on tape, complete with the book’s handwritten notes as well as her own commentary. It’s like a spiritual button box, that book. What does it matter that you had to order a crisp, clean, like-new copy when you found you still wanted Omartian’s excellent work on Bookshare?

Main Content: Sharp and brilliant. Hyphens where you don’t expect them. Intriguing line breaks. Poetic license taken with capitalization and commas. Authorial and publishing decisions regarding fine points of Christian grammar–to capitalize pronouns relating to God, or not? You’re always so glad when they do. You’re always tempted to correct lowercase pronouns, including “who” and “whom”, when they don’t, but this would be a serious infringement of copyright law and the rights of the author and publisher, so you grit your teeth and imagine every pronoun properly capitalized, glad, for once, that you don’t own one of those fancy Braille displays that would be constantly putting the publisher’s pronoun faux pas at your fingertips. Page numbers–in which corner of the page? And, you never knew that so many headers and footers could exist in one place!

Stationery: So many varieties! Fleming H. Revell, the Christian publisher of such materials as Brother Andrew’s God’s Smuggler and Corrie ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, prints many of their books on sturdy pages with slightly jagged edges. Could this be symbolic of the doctrine of grace? Just as we are, with all of our jagged sins, we come to the Lord to be used for His service… The Prison Letters of Corrie ten Boom is printed on thick, straight-edged paper. Could the durability of the pages represent the ten Booms’ courage amidst trying times? Likewise, Mommy Whispers, a picture book patterned after the classic Love You Forever, is printed on pages that are both large and heavy–the vastness of a parent’s love, coupled with the gradual passage of time and the strength of a family bond. By contrast, a profound mid-grade book is printed on small, fragile pages that make a quiet yet persistent rustling sound when turned. Like the crunch of autumn leaves, or the soft voice of a child who has experienced much in her thirteen years–a memoir whose pages carry a message in and of themselves…

Pages: Check for splotches, tears, etc. Not only do these lend the book character, but they must be fixed. Get up-close and personal with each piece of paper. [Hint: Camille Beckman’s Glycerin Hand Therapy cream works well for this; it absorbs quickly, does not interfere with scanning, and preserves your hands against the inevitable dryness caused by this sort of minute examination.]

Your scan is nearly finished. In the time it has taken you to ruminate on these matters, you have produced over a hundred pages. Your ultimate conclusion is a startling one: Books appear much different if you aren’t merely reading them. If every word must be personally handled, if every page and paragraph must be examined from the front and then placed face-down on a scanner, you learn to appreciate your literary companion a bit more. Suddenly, you have to ask yourself whether that cookbook is really worth the trouble, or if there’s a more exigent bit of information to be shared.

As you submit the completed scan to Bookshare for consideration, you’re almost loath to let it go. The hard copy has been turned this way and that, broken, battered, lovingly arranged when legible, hurled across the room when not… Now, an electronic copy is being placed in a holding cell until a volunteer proofreader rescues it out of the kindness of his or her heart. From there, it will be checked for errors–and how tragic ‘twill be if any are found!–and submitted for final approval. In a few weeks, other visually-impaired readers will have yet another book from which to choose. What can you say to the volunteer who will hold your hard work in their proverbial hands? “This book took me three days to scan; please keep this in mind when proofreading”? Or, more kindly, “The hard copy is wrinkled–well-read and well-loved. The pages are fragile and wispy. There is a tiny rip on Page 53. Someone read and reread Page 134, obviously incorporating some sort of touch as well, , for the ink has faded and the scanner had a difficult time processing it. I wish you could have absorbed the fragrance of this book; it smelled like a joyful home in which God had restored a marriage, my beloved proofreader—that’s what it smelled like!”? Instead, you take the sedate route and write in the comment box: “Line breaks on Page 141 did not come out well. Dialogue on Page 86 is authentic and spelled correctly, to the best of my knowledge—the author simply has a unique style. The ISBN is not located in the text of the book, but the copyright page is present.”

Then, not willing to let the experience go unnoticed, you open a new document–not RTF this time, and not with a scanner close at hand. First, you describe the experience of scanning. Then, hoping your words will penetrate a heart grown used to ignoring small luxuries, you write an appeal:

To My Friends in the Sighted Community:

I have but one request for you. Please, dear friends, beloved readers, notice life. Buy a set of chimes and notice their complexity. If you do it right, you should have found some chimes that seem at once to play both high and low notes–so very intricate… Or, go to a gift shop and find the chimes that resemble a cross from one side and a dove from the other. Trust me, they exist. If you can’t afford them, record their complexity. Oh, yes, there are signs everywhere forbidding customers to photograph merchandise, but no one ever said anything about recording goods for sale!

Buy a turntable and plenty of old records. 54 is a good number–or, if you prefer, LIV. Examine them individually, noting their condition and any interesting attributes of album covers. Then, gather them in your arms and inhale their fragrance–like that of a library. When you actually listen to the albums, take in the crackling sound that some make–irritating to some, but comforting in its own right.

Wash your hands–not because they’re dirty, but for the sheer joy of the water itself. Let that hot, peace-evoking water, scented as it is with myrrh-containing soap, swirl about you. Change positions often for the full effect. Reduce the temperature to something cooler–the sudden, surprising rush of joy. Turn water to a trickle, then off completely. Now, wasn’t that lovely? Of course, you do have to obtain myrrh-scented soap… Look at an organic grocery store.

Drink some tea. Don’t just throw it together; choose everything carefully. Pretend this is a book. Select your tea, combining flavours such as Earl Grey and peppermint if necessary and deliberately seeking out nothing but loose-leaf; heat your water to the perfect temperature; choose a cup and justify your decision through an elaborate thought process using ninety percent of your sentimental cortex and as little actual logic as possible; add preservative-free clover honey and full, rich, authentic cream as if this will be your last drop of hot comfort for the rest of the year; and decide on some music to accompany your treat. Ah, the majesty of Integrity Music’s early releases–velvet congregational voices and the harp!

Or, you could just read a book. But, beloved reader, I implore you–don’t just “pick up a book”. Take several moments to examine it. It will cease to be just a few printed words. Truly, dearest friends, take time to touch the pages.