I keep a book of quotations. It looks exactly like any other journal, but it’s for a different kind of journaling. Journaling with the words of other writers, if you will. Here I scribble down quotations from all kinds of books: poetry, theology, memoir, literary theory, fiction, you name it. I write down anything I want to remember.
Sometimes I use these quotations later, in my own writing or maybe just in conversation. But, it isn’t really about utility. It’s about beauty. Language can be so beautiful it stuns. However, I am generally reading so much, so quickly that I need a way to hold on to those beautiful bits that I just can’t bear to let wash down the stream of words, words, words.
I’ve always wanted to share more of my quotations. I usually do this by telling someone they must read such-and-such book, but some books are harder to sell than others. Like Coop by Michael Perry. It’s a memoir of parenting and small-scale farming in northern Wisconsin. Not a lot happens, but I could hardly put it down.
“We return to the house. The frozen air is bell-jar still. The sky is deep-black, the stars pressing down brilliantly all around, and I am reminded that we are not beneath the constellations, but among them.”
from Coop by Michael Perry
With only the smallest handful of words, Perry moves us to see the world and our lives from a radically different perspective. Our usual point of view is “beneath.” Beauty, mystery, light, mythic stories, unfathomable distances: those things are out there. We can only long for them or dream of them. We aren’t really a part of them.
It is an utterly different thing to be living “among” the constellations. Yes, we are small, yes the distances remain, but we are a part of the beauty, a part of the mystery. Best of all, we too are living stories with all the mythic contours of wisdom, love, loss and heroism.
“Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” (from Philippians 2:15-16).