This is also the title of a wonderful book by Frederick Buechner,
a book that changed my life. I can’t recommend it enough.
Last week I finally retired from Oregon State, fully and officially, and I’ve been organizing the books I brought home from my office. It’s a useful thing emotionally, a way of starting to sort through my thoughts and feelings now that I’m really done. And one of the things I’ve discovered is the spiritual power of the alphabet.
I have a lot of poetry books, and I was going to rank them, my favorites first, but somehow I found myself putting them in alphabetical order, the great next to the not-so-great, the famous with the obscure. There was a wonderful randomness about it, a democracy, and yet at the same time a clear, useful order. It was oddly exhilarating.
I thought of the Gospel of Luke, where Jesus tells us not to sit first at the table but last and not to invite the rich to the banquet but the poor and the outcast. “The first shall be last and the last shall be first,” he says, which is to say, we’re all in this together. The earthly hierarchies no longer apply.
Another useful thing about reorganizing my library is that I’ve found all the duplicates, all the multiple copies of the same book—in one case, four—of Margaret Ralph’s great book on how to read the Bible, And God Said What? I depend on that book, I need it, and over the years when I haven’t been able to find it, between my office and home, I’ve just gotten another one.
And God said what?
That the first shall be last.
That there is order and purpose but an order and a purpose not based on power or prestige.
That we all have a place on the shelf.
That we all die—and we all live. Blessed be the Lord!