WHAT IS TARRYPIN?
I was raised in a traditional Protestant household, which means that at an early age I was instructed by devoted parents to set aside a portion of my morning to be alone with my Bible, just as they did. Private devotion had the basic structure of a conversation: I was given no further instruction except to talk to God by praying and to listen to God by reading His words. I would daily withdraw to a solitary area—usually my bedroom, but at times the woods—and there conduct this “conversation” for several minutes. For many American Christians, these miniature Sundays (i.e., “quiet times”) are the only spiritual discipline (i.e., ascesis) with which they are familiar.
Reading as a habit is essentially religious in its origin and structure. What we now practice with various genres first developed around a set of sacred texts in ancient cloisters. Christianity, especially, has always been a bookish religion. It was the Church that so popularized the codex during the assemblage of the biblical canon that it replaced the scroll. Similarly, the reading habits I’ve enjoyed in adulthood owe themselves to this early instruction in private devotions, where I learned to set aside a still space to be alone with a book; which is to say, not alone at all.
Reading (a book) possesses the characteristics of a spiritual exercise analogous to prayer or fasting. Reading is a fast from the world: an ascetical setting aside of all concerns and distractions to orient ourselves fully on something higher. Few don’t have a high opinion of reading but many wish they read more. But as an ascetical practice, reading is something we can’t expect to fit in the cyclical patterns of our lives. It is by its nature inconvenient; its benefits uncertain. If we put it off until all other needs and responsibilities are met, we will not read at all. Do you see how this is only possible with a religious spirit? There can be no practice of reading—just as there can’t be prayer or fasting—unless we are willing to deny ourselves and reject the world.
Tarrypin is about reading well by cultivating the religious spirit of reading. Here, reading is not a hobby. A hobby is a tactful and perhaps productive distraction. Reading is a spiritual discipline; it is freedom from distraction, repossessing our attention on what is central and essential. It is everything else, however necessary, that is the distraction.
WHAT AM I READING?
WHY DO I CALL IT “TARRYPIN”?
I first learned of the tarrypin as a child in a book of Southern fables. The tarrypin was a small and weak animal, and as is the way of such stories made fools of the stronger and swifter beasts with its wits. From spare descriptions, I gathered it was ancient, small enough to pick up, and resembled a polished stone. In manner, it was deliberate and crafty (hence “tarry,” I thought). A mythical creature formed in my mind; perhaps an enchanted lump of pond.
It would be some time before I knew the facts. Part of the reason for the delay was the book used a deliberate Southern misspelling of terrapin. The mythical thing I’d formed in my imagination was, in reality, another name for a freshwater turtle, like the dozens that lived near my home. Yet all of the enchanted qualities remained intact in the transfer. Rather than reverting my tarrypin to a turtle, all turtles transformed into tarrypins. I looked a turtle, and for the first time realized how made up it looked. The miracle of tarrypins would spill out slowly into other impossible things, such as trees and pianos and siblings, none of which ought to exist, but do anyway.
But that is not the reason I chose the title. In his writings, Antonin Sertillanges compares the vigilant reader to a turtle. Such a person, book in hand, is prepared to make a strategic retreat occasionally from the world to the home he carries with him always, which is the mind.
WHO AM I?
I am an editor, an educator, an aspiring scholar of early Christian studies, and a Southerner. My work has appeared in several publications, including Salvo Magazine, WORLD Magazine, Mere Orthodoxy, and Ad Fontes: A Journal of Protestant Resourcement. I live with my wife in Seattle, WA.