Beyond the Bible
Some Christians feel the only reading necessary to their spiritual well being is the Bible. I certainly incorporate daily Bible reading into my spiritual practices, but I have been helped enormously by writers and teachers who offer a fresh viewpoint, insight, “aha” moments. I always love knowing what my fellow seekers are reading, so I thought I'd share just a few of the titles I've found particularly helpful. I've just gone through my reading list from the past two or three years. I made notes right after reading them, but they are in no way a proper book review. There is no significance to their order here. I've included links to the paperback versions of each book, but when you get to Amazon (I'll get a few cents for referring you if you use these links), you'll see there are often hardback or Kindle versions to suit your reading preference.
Long time readers of Heartspoken know that I do often write book reviews. Use the “Heartspoken Topics” dropdown box in the right sidebar to find them.
I am an eclectic reader, and while I am a Christian, I believe Spirit has used non-Christians throughout history to convey Truth. And I believe Truth—with a capital T—crosses all boundaries of religion, creed, or denomination. Truth, in fact, often shows itself in the most unlikely places, so always be open in heart and mind and don't be afraid to read books outside of your own faith choice.
Spiritual books for spiritual seekers
Seeking God: The Way of St. Benedict
Esther de Waal
This was one of the books our rector recommended during a Lenten study, and a friend urged me to read it too. It is a companion to St. Benedict’s “The Rule” which I found on the Internet. Since St. Benedict was writing directly for his fellow monks, our rector suggested that as we read The Rule, to think of the monastery as the church and the monks as Christians. In that way, The Rule really applies to us all. This book can be read even without reading The Rule because it quotes liberally, but I enjoyed having them side-by-side.
As with all the books that mean most to me spiritually, this one addresses real, everyday living and walking with God wherever you are—not running off to seek Him in far-away places. The simplicity is powerful.
Even our most ordinary manual labor “is to be a constant reminder of the reality of the Incarnation.” “God does not demand the unusual, spectacular, the heroic…[He demands only:] that I do the most ordinary, often dreary and humdrum things…with a loving openness that will allow them to become my own immediate way to God.”
The Bronze Bow and The Witch of Blackbird Pond
Elizabeth George Speare
Written for adolescent readers, these are both winners of the prestigious Newbery medal for children's literature. The Bronze Bow takes place in Israel when Jesus's ministry was spreading like wildfire among those who opposed Roman oppression. The Witch of Blackbird Pond takes place in 17th century Connecticut, when witch hunts and rabid religious practices were rampant. They can be read as great stories on one level, but each, in its own way, conveys powerful moral and ethical dilemmas. I found they each brought me into the story so vividly I was made to ask myself “What if?” What if I were the protagonist? What if I were faced with these challenges? What would I do? Neither syrupy nor formulaic, both of these books deserve the accolades they received decades ago.
Holy The Firm
In the mid 1970s, Annie Dillard went to live on an island in Puget Sound in a wooded room furnished with “one enormous window, one cat, one spider and one person.” Over the two years she lived there, she asked herself questions about life and death, reality and illusion, and the apparent vagaries of “the will of God.” She explores the mysteries and the paradoxes any honest seeker will encounter, and she does not shy away from what she calls “the hard things — rock mountain and salt sea.” It is in these places she often catches glimpses of the holy.
“This is a profound book about the natural world — both its beauty and its cruelty — the Pulitzer Prize-winning Dillard knows so well.”
Dillard's writing is not always accessible, but it is so unique and so challenging and so thought provoking, that it's worth every word.
The Ways of Spirit
Evelyn Underhill, edited by Grace Adolphsen Brame
Also on our rector’s “Recommended List,” The Ways of the Spirit is a collection of retreats led by this Christian mystic—marvelous, clear, and powerful. Our rector said that reading it would be like having a personal spiritual mentor, and he’s right. I will definitely be re-reading it over the years. I suspect it’s one of those books that will have different significance depending on where you are in your spiritual journey when you read it, so I know a later reading will offer value that I am missing this time around. The power, to me, is that the author is clearly talking to real people with real lives about how to get closer to God—no pie-in-the-sky foolishness and fluff.
Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life
Thich Nhat Hanh
This was one of those books which I read, loved, and ordered four copies for my each of my children and their spouses. In my personal quest for more mindfulness in my life, I found it to be the most simple, delightful, and practical guide I have ever read. I was pleasantly surprised, because I had found an earlier book by the same author less accessible. The author is a renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peacemaker.
Discover the Power Within You
Originally written in 1968, recommended by Eckhart Tolle, this book has blown me away in pulling together many spiritual truths from various disciplines and illustrating them in the context of Christianity. Exposes many serious misconception of Christian thought and interpretation of Jesus' teachings. I've never highlighted or underlined a book more.
Bottom line: the divine is within each of us, greatly untapped, and we should stop looking for it elsewhere. It's not in church; it's not in a movie or a book; it's not in being good or being wise or achieving anything in particular. It's inside, waiting to be recognized and used appropriately.
This author is, of course, human too. Some of his points left me scratching my head, and the language was sometimes a bit stilted, but all in all, what he espoused was, for me, like tying up a lot of loose ends that had seemed to be unraveling lately. We need to rest in — and trust — the God within us and seek unity with Him through prayer and meditation.
This book's theme resonates with The Secret and As a Man Thinketh. It is not that Jesus challenges us with unattainable goals, but that He is constantly reminding us of unclaimed possibilities.
The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days
Beautiful memoir of Buechner's early days. Tragedy and happiness are examined and treated lovingly as the gift they were. His lyrical descriptions evoke vivid imagery and sharp emotions.
“…and it is for all unknown ones (blessings) and the more than half-forgotten ones that we do well to look back over the journeys of our lives because it is their presence that makes the life of each of us a sacred journey.”
“What quickens my pulse now is the stretch ahead rather than the one behind, and it is mainly for some clue to where I am going that I search through where I have been.”
“And it is because I believe that (that God was addressing me out of my life) that I think of my life and of the lives of everyone who has ever lived, or will ever live, as not just journeys through time, but as sacred journeys.”
“There can be no real joy for anybody until there is joy finally for us all. ‘Never question the truth of what you fail to understand, for the world is filled with wonders.’” (from the White Pearl to Rinkitink in the Oz books by Frank Baum, quoted by Buechner.
Beautiful language reminded me of Annie Dillard. Wonderful insights on real life, faith, and what faith looks like in one woman's life, but her life has been so dysfunctional, I was jarred by it. Yet her honesty and humor were irresistible and I couldn't stop reading.
What are your favorites?
There are many more spiritual books I'll share another time, but this list will give you a glimpse into my world of books (though I also read business books, novels, and other nonfiction). I'd love to know what books you've found especially helpful in your seeker's journey.