I have an addiction to confess. I am a sucker for well-written series thrillers. I spent most of the day Sunday, after church and lunch, reading one book in Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, start to finish, more than 400 pages. I’ve been binge-reading Jack Reacher. This was the fourth in five days.
Meanwhile, I have also blown through four high-toned spiritual books and one spiritual memoir in the last several weeks. I have referred to some of them in recent posts. These are, of course, polar opposite from the thrillers. I am puzzled by the odd juxtaposition of these two kinds of reading. What is going on here?
Neither of these obsessions is new, the hunger for spiritual wisdom and growth or the addiction to a fast-paced story. But you’d think that my increasing sense of urgency about the former would overcome my need for the latter, wouldn’t you? As matters of the spirit become more and more important, my fascination with the exploits of cynical, all-powerful, testosterone-driven and very earthly heroes should be falling away, shouldn’t it? But apparently it isn’t, at least not yet, so this presents an invitation to look a little deeper.
What these two kinds of reading share is a page-turning quality. In the thriller category I get sucked in because I want to know what happens next. Big qualification: the books have to be well written, that is, the bones of the what-happens-next plot must carry the flesh of good characterization, atmosphere, description, theme, and clean writing. I have to care what happens next, to whom, and why, and I don’t want to get slowed down by awkward sentence structure. But it is the story that carries me along.
The same is true for spiritual writing. I want to know what happens next in the spiritual journey–my own and that of those who walk ahead of and alongside me. Here I have a higher tolerance for less-than-graceful writing if it promises to lead me to understanding something new or something that I already half-know. It is better if I can identify in some way with the writer. I want to care about the author and what she or he has learned and experienced. Most important, whatever the author describes or expounds must be grounded somehow in experience, his or her own and mine. It is the story, the journey, the what-happened and the what-happens-next that draws me in and pulls me along.
And, of course, the reward of this kind of reading is that it affects your life. Unlike the thrillers, which are dead-end entertainment, the spiritual reading helps to move you along to the next milepost. The story of your own life is the ultimate thriller.
Still, most evenings it feels like coming home to sit down to a well-plotted novel, a fast-paced thriller, or an entertaining movie–to take a break from my own life, even when it is going well, and get swept up into another, highly improbable world.
This need for story-entertainment might be a natural underside to my spiritual development. The recent intensity of my personal journey seems to have stirred up the underside in a big way. I will continue to observe it with some curiosity. There are, after all, 20 Jack Reacher books and I have only read four.