I had an iron infusion the other Friday which took six hours while I sat in a hospital bed, giving me a fantastic free pass to spend a day reading Anh Do’s The Happiest Refugee.
That was followed by a weekend in which Peter was again determined to allow me to put my feet up as much as possible.
The weather being glorious, the children spent nearly all their time occupied outside, so I ended up glutting myself on books – what a joy!
I moved on from Do’s inspiring account of growing up in his Vietnamese refugee family in South Western Sydney during the 70s and 80s to Interview with an Exorcist, which presents the Church’s understanding of and experience with demonic possession in a non-sensationalist way.
In between I revisited The Diary of Anne Frank and poetry by St Therese of Lisieux. I squeezed in a short ebook on time management for mothers which contained nothing I didn’t already know and much I have yet to put into practice, and another called Full Time Income in Part Time Hours (yes, I wish!)
I did feel a bit selfish and a bit time-wasty about doing little else but read for three days. But in this case I take heart in the fact that many great saints have lauded holy reading, reading which moves us to praise or thank God, pray for others, or aspire to be a better follower of Christ.
St Alphonsus Liguori went so far as to say that to a spiritual life the reading of holy books is “perhaps not less useful than mental prayer”. St Athanasius apparently said that you will find no-one devoted to the service of the Lord who did not practise spiritual reading. And St Teresa of Avila often advised her nuns on the value of reading good books.
Interview with an Exorcist left me with the overall impression of gratitude that God sustains us always and obviously doesn’t allow evil to have free reign. It also reminded me of the great power of the sacraments and sacramentals in helping us to live a free and happy Christian life.
Anh Do’s book is not about spiritual subjects, but faith and God’s providence are definitely themes which run through his story.
One thing that will stick with me, a reminder of why I love St Therese so much, is something she wrote about her spiritual, autobiographical poetry: “I do not write about what I am, but what I would like to be and what I should be”.
This is what poor Anne Frank often struggled with, the kind of person she wanted to be versus the one she saw herself to be.
It’s a struggle so many of us find painful, often and even for years, but St Therese took her weakness all quite calmly. She even said that she failed every hour to do the right thing, and had to start again, but she didn’t worry about it. She knew deeply the great kindness of God.
I think the main impression I distilled from my impromptu weekend reading retreat was of the great kindness or mercy of God.
Now I do feel better that it wasn’t a waste of time by a long shot!