Come January, do you find you want to reread favorite books, re-watch favorite movies, or listen to favorite pieces of music? I do. Other times of the year, I prefer discovering something new. But in January, even as we begin a new year, I find myself recalling things from the past that I want to experience again. Favorite works of art and literature are comfort food for my soul.
Maybe it’s the January weather–the early sunsets, the oft-overcast skies, the cold. Nature is slower now: animals snuggle, burrow, sleep. It seems fitting to do the same. When we wrap up in fleece, peer out darkened windows, and return to a favorite book, movie, or musical composition, we reclaim something beautiful and cozy.
Knowing this, I was delighted to read a recent blogpost by Christopher Benson that explored this theme. He is reading a book by English professor Christina Bieber Lake called The Flourishing Teacher: Vocational Renewal for a Sacred Profession. Based on his recommendation, I have begun reading it myself, and I’m already impressed with its blend of deep thought and practical wisdom. Lake organized her book systematically, tying tips and insights to each month of the school year. Guess what she recommends in January? This: “return to the works of art that give you a surge of the child-like joy of swinging on birch trees.”
What a statement! A teacher who connects “works of art” with “child-like joy” and “swinging on birch trees” catches my attention. (And by the way, if you’ve never swung on birch trees, you can more fully appreciate her reference by reading Robert Frost’s poem “Birches.”)
Lake suggests identifying our favorite works of art and placing them on a “Soul Shelf.” I like the image of a shelf because it works on both a literal and figurative level. I’m not going to group my favorite books, DVDs, and CDs (yes, I still listen to some of those!) onto one shelf. But I am going to pause and reflect on some of my favorite works of art so that I can mentally keep them accessible. And I’m going to expand this idea beyond art to include experiences. When I think about things that bring me child-like joy, I have to include experiencing nature and spending time with family.
So, with a nod and credit to Benson and Lake, here is quick take on some classics for my Soul Shelf this January:
- Novels by Jane Austen (Emma, Mansfield Park, Persuasion, really any of them!)
- Nonfiction works by John McPhee
- 1 John 4:7-21
- Pride and Prejudice
- The Sound of Music
- Brahms’ Intermezzo in A Major
- Chopin’s Preludes for piano
- Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue”
- Walking in the woods
- Skiing in the sunshine
- Playing games by the fireplace (Euchre, Settlers of Catan, Sequence…)
What goes on your “Soul Shelf”? What art and which experiences reaffirm the beauty of life, the joy of love, and a quiet, ever-present awe in the world around us?