During most of the forty years of being a priest, I tried to make regular use of a local library. I know my congregations wanted fresh and insightful thinking and they could always tell when I was not reading what they were reading. Having so many publicly used books at my disposal made me aware that people have this tendency to make notes in the margins, underline in yellow marker or fold the corner of the page to mark where they left off till they opened the book again. Some complain that defacing a library book is a misdemeanor for other patrons. I can remember my teachers in elementary school scolded us for such practices since the textbooks were used by succeeding classes. Before summer vacation, teachers kept us captive until we had erased all of the marks from our books with the remaining stubs of our pink erasers. But what is reprehensible in one context can be beneficial in another.

Rare book dealers can get very excited when they find notes of famous people scribbled in the margins of a page. For instance, Monticello scholars working in libraries containing volumes that were part of Thomas Jefferson’s original library discovered he wrote notes in his books. To find his handwritten notations was for them like peering over his shoulder to see his mind at work. I suppose the jottings we make in books we own may well be among the highest tribute we pay to authors. They are signs of respect, engagement and admiration. What more could a writer hope for?

Clergy at Christ Church share common texts, particularly those we use in worship. Some of these missals, altar books and supplemental texts are more than 40 years old. Priests have scribbled notes in them for years. Notes about when to lift the host at communion; when to slow the cadence of sacred words; when to make the sign of the cross or how to remember announcing the birthday prayers. I have a few notes of my own. With having so many ministry residents and clergy associates over the years, the pages can get crammed with notes. We who use them can get around the scribblings just fine. Yet it’s a holy and wonderful testament to the broad and deep scale of devotion and care our church has provided for the training of new priests. In the margins is the record of their engagement and appreciation for having spent time mentoring their ministry. If they were reading this now there would be every reason for them to thank you.