Part 2 of What I Read January - June: Spiritual Direction and Prayer category [from the book pile 2019]

As we enter the last few weeks of summer, I’m sharing the rest of the books I read the first half of 2019. (You can see Part 1 here.)

Part 2 of my reading list includes all of the titles I read for my Spiritual Direction certification as well as a few other titles on spirituality and prayer that I added on my own.

Hope you enjoy the micro reviews + publisher blurbs! Let me know if you add anything from this list to your book pile!

Spiritual Direction books.jpg

You can see my 2018 reading list here. | You can see all my reading lists since 2006 here.

One other note: A couple years ago I began using Amazon affiliate links as a way to bring in some pocket change from the books I share on the blog. I was challenged by an independent bookseller to reconsider this strategy as Amazon has a horrible reputation in its dealings with authors and other members of the book industry. I want to champion local business and humane working relationships and so I've included an IndieBound link that will direct you to purchase any of the following books from an independent bookseller near you. I've also included the order link for one of my new favorite booksellers, Hearts and Minds Books.  Using the link I've provided you can order any book through heartsandmindsbooks.com, a full service, independent bookstore and receive prompt and personal service. They even offer the option to receive the order with an invoice and a return envelope so you can send them a check! Brian and I've been delighted with the generous attention we've received from owners Byron and Beth Borger. We feel like we've made new friends! (I also highly recommend subscribing to Byron's passionately instructive and prolific Booknotes posts.)


Spirituality / Prayer / Spiritual Direction

17. The Practice of Spiritual Direction by William A. Barry, William J. Connolly

(HarperOne, 240pp. June 2, 2009)

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“The classic work on helping people become closer to God. Fathers Barry and Connolly see the work of spiritual direction as helping people to develop their relationship with God. In thinking and practice they have absorbed the insights of modern psychotherapy, but have not been absorbed by them. This highly practical book reflects the authors' experience at the Center for Religious Development in Cambridge, Massachusetts, where spiritual direction is available and where directors are trained.”

Micro Review: In Barry & Connolly’s Practice of Spiritual Direction I was struck with encouragement that spiritual directors should possess a kind of love the authors called a “surplus of warmth” in order to foster relationships with the various personalities and life circumstances. I appreciated the additional insight to that surplus of warmth as the three attitudes: commitment, effort to understand, and spontaneity. The attitude of spontaneity as defined by the authors felt especially encouraging to me as I’ve wondered about what it means to be myself in relation to those I direct:

“Spontaneity means that spiritual directors are themselves, not controlled and inhibited by their role as spiritual directors, but able to express their own feelings, thoughts, and hopes when expressing them will be helpful to directees. Without spontaneity, ‘commitment and effort to understand will appear cold, impersonal, and stereotyped’.”

Another favorite quotation that describes so well the qualities of a spiritual director that I’d hope to describe me:

“The kinds of men and women most likely to engender trust in others are those described in the same study as developed persons. They are not perfect, but they are relatively mature. They show signs of having engaged in life and with people. They are optimistic, but not naive, good-humored, but not glad-handers. They have suffered, but not been overcome by suffering. They have loved and been loved and know the struggle of trying to be a friend to another. They have friends for whom they care deeply. They have experienced failure and sinfulness - their own and others' - but seem at ease with themselves in a way that indicates an experience of being saved and freed by a power greater than the power of failure and sin. They are relatively unafraid of life with all its light and darkness, all its mystery.”

Barry and Connolly offered some helpful insight into the realm of entering into prayer with those who may experience God, prayer, church, and spirituality in ways that differ from my own experience. They recommend that spiritual directors possess a knowledge of diverse Christian religious experiences in a posture of empathy and awareness of non-Christian religious experiences in order to “transcend...personal absolutes” and remain open to a “sense of wonder” toward the capability of God to communicate with people through a variety of experience.

In this way, I’m becoming less fearful of the more abstract terms I’ve read in my study of spiritual direction. For example, the following explanation of God as Mystery felt helpful to me:

“The Mystery we call God is just that - mystery; not mystery in the sense of an unknown, but eventually knowable, stranger, but mystery in the sense that God is too rich, too deep, and too loving to be knowable and is, therefore, God. Spiritual directors can be only helping companions to those who travel the way of such a God.”

Another paragraph I found especially helpful as I consider offering spiritual direction as a wife of a parish priest was Barry and Connolly’s description of “working alliances” and “conflicting loyalties” in chapter 9.

“Spiritual direction, therefore, explicitly acknowledges what is often only implicit in other forms of pastoral care: that the directees' desire for more life, more integration, more union with God is grounded in the indwelling Spirit and that God is an active Other in the relationship. The working alliance is thus grounded in mystery and explicitly acknowledges that the way, too, is mystery.”

18. Holy Invitations: Exploring Spiritual Direction by Jeannette A. Bakke

(Baker Books, 288pp. October 1, 2000)

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“Directors and directees helped write this evangelical guide to the ancient spiritual direction process..”

Micro Review: Using the reflection questions at the close of each chapter helped me thoughtfully apply the themes of faith stages to my own spiritual journey. In the various timelines I sketched out from my individual experience, I was able to bring some painful patterns into the light. Some are fairly current experiences with loss and disillusion, some from childhood, but the most significant as I enter spiritual direction seem to be surrounding some difficult pastoral relationships from about ten years ago. Reflecting on the lifeline of friendships I drew in response to chapter 1 in Holy Invitations, one plain observation is that relationship - specifically those formed in family and church - mark out the ebb and flow of my journey. The stalls, sputters, and carefree cruising through my faith journey are most impacted, for good or ill, by my relationships at every point throughout my life.

The other theme in my reflections is the question of trust. In chapter 4 of Holy Invitations, I answer the question, “Do you see yourself as a predominantly trusting or untrusting person?”. My answer: “There’s definitely a paradox here!”  In the overview of my lifetime, trust swings like an overwound pendulum. In one season, the trust pendulum swung full-force one direction toward a wholehearted trust and belief in the best of people. In another season, the trust pendulum swung in the opposite direction toward a cautious, slow discernment before investing trust into others. When the pendulum gets stuck on the trust-at-all-costs side, I’ve lived out of an idealistic, romanticized, and boundaryless view of others. On the other extreme, I’ve operated out of a fearful, critical, hyper-vigilant suspicion of people and their motives. Neither extreme is actually a place of wholeness and openness. In the healing light of openness to the Holy Spirit’s guidance, both extremes are actually acts of relational sloth and self-protection, fueled by a kind of relational “cruise control”. 

I drew this paradox into my journal as an actual line with the extremes labelled at each end, and then marked over the middle the words “Freedom to trust people appropriately”. This sort of balance of the trust pendulum is weighted by the belief that the Holy Spirit instructs and nurtures my ability to give and receive trust. He is the source of true wholeness, and will lead and protect through, and, sometimes, in spite of, my relationships with others.

In some ways this observation is the pivotal point for my entry into spiritual direction training. While my non-denominational church upbringing included many blessed opportunities to give and receive formal and informal spiritual counsel, my understanding of the classic definition of spiritual direction came through the back door of my conversion within the last ten years to the Anglican communion. This is no small order of events, as the call to Anglican worship was, in part, my response to a truncated appreciation for the historic and universal Church which permeated everything from corporate worship to individual spiritual counsel and discipleship from pastors in the non-denominational congregations I’d worshipped in for the first forty years of my life.

 While the Holy Spirit’s ability to guide and heal us is not limited by our theological depth, the way we practice listening to the Spirit within our church communities impacts our Christian journey profoundly. In my experience in a church environment that preached the Gospel with clarity, but practiced it as a separate identity from the worldwide communion of saints, I found myself deeply wounded by an overemphasis on the authority and counsel of individual leaders. Even the pastors with gifts of discernment and an appreciation for the active presence of the Holy Spirit were limited in their ability to bless because there was a lack of accountability to a community of believers throughout the world and across time. I see this deeper dive into a classical understanding of spiritual direction as an important companion to my learning of the liturgy and theology of the ancient church. In the course of learning, I hope to grow deeper in a trusting communion with God, the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. May it be so.

19. Holy Listening: The Art of Spiritual Direction by Margaret Guenther

(Cowley Publications, 160pp. January 25, 1992)

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“Guenther uses the images of the spiritual director as host, teacher, and midwife to describe the ministry of spiritual direction today. She pays particular attention to spiritual direction for women, and addresses such down-to-earth questions as setting, time, and privacy. The stories of real people bring the practice of spiritual direction alive. "In the pages that follow, I will attempt to describe the shape that spiritual direction might take for people of our time, aware that the subject is an elusive one. I am speaking to the beginner, those persons lay or ordained, with or without formal theological training, who find themselves drawn to this ministry. Perhaps they feel the stirring of their own unacknowledged gifts. Or perhaps they wonder about receiving direction, whether it is a ministry available to 'ordinary people' or reserved for the especially holy. I hope some dark corners will be illuminated and some questions answered.”

Micro Review: I’ve read and re-read many of the insights she shares in chapter 4, “Women and Spiritual Direction”, including the following:

 “Maternal conversation is an appropriate mode for spiritual direction. The director is willing to listen and to be present to the directee where he is. By the very nature of the relationship, the director has been given tacit permission to ask questions. (This is in contrast to  polite conversation, which forbids asking anything that really matters.) But they must be the right questions, asked in a spirit of attentive love.”

“In the meantime, [women]  must still work to be taken seriously - especially lay women, whose gifts in spiritual direction are often unrecognized or undervalued. It is easier for directors who are ordained or are members of a religious order: a clerical collar or a religious habit makes a statement of authority. While academic courses or an impressive certificate cannot form a director when the innate gift is not there, seminary study, programs of certification, or a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education can set a woman director free to acknowledge and claim her authority. This is not to minimize the importance of formal study or supervised work, but the chief value of training is to legitimize this ministry in a time obsessed with credentials.”

Guenther’s insight into the potential overlaps between spiritual direction and motherhood provoked another whoop of “Amen!” later in the same chapter:

”While I haven’t yet reached this state of detachment, I have spent too long with the day-to-day realities of mothering to be sentimental about it. If I am now perceived as a motherly person, I would prefer to be seen as desert amma rather than a Hallmark mommy. Most important, for good or ill, I know that my own experience in mother colors the way in which I  do spiritual direction. And lest it sound as if I am excluding a large segment of the population, Meister Eckhart reminds us that we can all be mothers. While the experience of bearing nurturing a child is unique, maternal ways of being are available to all of us, men and women.”

20. Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color by Sherry Bryant-Johnson, Therese Taylor-Stinson, Rosalie Norman McNaney

(Morehouse Publishing, 158pp. March 10, 2013)

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• A solid new addition to the Morehouse collection for spiritual directors

• First book addressing the concerns and issues of people of color in spiritual direction

• Wide ecumenical appeal

“These essays speak of how we have incorporated our contemplative practices into our family life; our urban, non-religious background; how we have been nurtured in struggles for health and life through our contemplative prayer practices and our courage to survive and even thrive in the midst of dire circumstances. We speak of the unfolding bridge between faith and culture; our conflicts with an Interspiritual journey with a Christian foundation; our sexuality; our journey to healing and authenticity; and how we are taking this practice that began in the
first centuries of the church with the desert mothers and fathers to the present and into the future with spiritual direction through the Internet across the world.” ―from the Introduction”

Micro Review: Editors Sherry Bryant-Johnson, Roslie Norman-McNaney, and Therese Taylor-Stinson and provided a literal fleshing out of the exhortation that spiritual formation is for the sake of others. In the context of the themes of the Releasing Rhythm, highlighted the historical experience of the African American church as an entire community shaped by a wilderness experience of marginalization, poverty, and loss.

Within the context of relational dynamics and tensions within spiritual direction relationships, I continue to appreciate readings from Embodied Spirits: Stories of Spiritual Directors of Color. Sherry Bryant-Johnson, in chapter 3, gave me greater insight into the loneliness of shared experience that persons of color find in texts for spiritual direction training. I’m grateful to Selah for introducing us to a few teachers who can provide a first-person witness to an experience other than my own as a white woman. I noticed with admiration Bryant-Johnson’s generosity to receive the wisdom of those who do not share her story, and feel called to do the same in searching out and listening to the wisdom of spiritual teachers from backgrounds different than my own. 

 I was drawn deeply to the short video of Sherry's conversation with Francoise Mbazoa, a spiritual director Sister from Cameroon. Their conversation gave me a greater sense of the rhythms of an African contemplative, and am grateful for the increased awareness of the ways in which cultural context affects how direction is explained and offered and experienced. I will carry this learning with me especially as I head into a second summer providing spiritual direction within an explicitly multi-cultural context. 

21. Spiritual Direction: Beyond the Beginnings by Janet K. Ruffing

(Paulist Press, 183pp. June 1, 2000)

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“Explores issues that arise in the advanced stages of spiritual direction from both a practical and theoretical perspective..”

Micro Review: Ruffing provides great insight into the ongoing work spiritual direction offers as we seek to help others draw closer to God. I found her insights on the subconscious phenomenon known as resistance that almost everyone naturally experiences at one time or another in response to God’s relentless pursuit of intimacy with His children.

For example:

“...Most of us are engaged in endlessly inventive evasion not only of the implications of spiritual experience, but often, and more confusingly, of the experiences of God that we claim to desire. God gently lures us into intimacy and unexpectedly explodes us into mystery. Such encounters with mystery are simply too much for most of us until our capacity expands and our tolerance increases over the course of our spiritual development. Most of us lose our nerve somewhere between the lure and the explosion. As T. S. Eliot wrote in the Four Quartets, “...human kind / Cannot bear very much reality.” Paul Tillich put it slightly differently and sympathetically: “If you’ve never run away from your God, I wonder who your God is.” Evasion is directly related to both the closeness of God’s approach to us and to our instinctive withdrawal from God’s presence. Experiences of God as mystery evoke awe, even fear, in the face of the numinous and uncontrollable otherness of God.”

22. The Critical Journey, Stages in the Life of Faith (Second Edition) by Janet O. Hagberg and Robert A. Guelich

(Sheffield Publishing Company; 2nd edition, 268 pp. December 31, 2004)

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“Guenther uses the images of the spiritual director as host, teacher, and midwife to describe the ministry of spiritual direction today. She pays particular attention to spiritual direction for women, and addresses such down-to-earth questions as setting, time, and privacy. The stories of real people bring the practice of spiritual direction alive. "In the pages that follow, I will attempt to describe the shape that spiritual direction might take for people of our time, aware that the subject is an elusive one. I am speaking to the beginner, those persons lay or ordained, with or without formal theological training, who find themselves drawn to this ministry. Perhaps they feel the stirring of their own unacknowledged gifts. Or perhaps they wonder about receiving direction, whether it is a ministry available to 'ordinary people' or reserved for the especially holy. I hope some dark corners will be illuminated and some questions answered.”

Micro Review: I found the sum total of the parts of each book I read for my certification a helpful clarification to some ambiguous feelings I’d harbored about the use of the word “journey” when describing one’s faith. In a recent conversation with my sister, I mentioned this dissonance and she said, “You’d better get use to that word because it’s going to come up all the time in spiritual direction training!” 

With special attention to The Critical Journey by Janet O. Hagberg and The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun, what became clearer for me are the concrete mile markers that flesh out the more abstract notion of a journey. It’s the abstract that felt a bit dangerous to me, too open for individual interpretation and, therefore, a false understanding of Christian faith and discipleship. With more clarity (heightened by the overlap of agreement among the various readings) on the universal stages of a faith journey, I can now understand the term better as an individual timeline within a communal pathway (most simply described by Christ in John 14:6). I have a better appreciation for the Holy Spirit’s leadership to initiate and fuel the stages along the journey which creates a Christian counter to the nebulous journey of self-actualization described in the dominant culture.

“The Wall, a dark and sacred place, reeks of God. In the Wall we are vulnerable enough to listen to what God says - whether it is in the guise of other people’s voices, God’s voice, or serendipitous experiences. Once we believe that God is in the midst of the darkness with us, it can be a transforming place. We don’t necessarily get cured or erase our pain or become saints, but we learn how to embrace our pain, how to stay with it and learn what it is trying to teach us, how to look fear in the ace and keep moving into it. The Wall invites us each to heal.”


“The Wall invites us to integrate our spiritual selves with the rest of us. And that involves facing our own and others’ demons. We must face that which we fear the most, and that is why it is fo unsavory, and why so many people only enter the Wall under duress. At the Wall we are usually asked to embrace our illnesses and addictions and to relinquish that which we’ve clung to our which we worship. We encounter oceans of unresolved grief covered by anger, bitterness, martyrdom, hurt, or fear. The Wall is a place where we confront the desire to deny or disguise the inner self and begin to mentor the true self - the self God intended for us - and to recognize the meaning of our shadow.”

23. Care of Mind/Care of Spirit: A Psychiatrist Explores Spiritual Direction by Gerald G. May

(HarperOne, 256pp. May 8, 1992)

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“Although secular psychology addressed a great deal about how we come to be the way we are and how we might live more efficiently, it can offer nothing in terms of why we exist or how we should use our lives," writes Gerald May in this classic discussion of the nature of contemporary spiritual guidance and its relationship to counseling and psychiatry. For millions turning for answers to the world of the spirit, May shows how psychiatry and spiritual direction are alike, how they complement one another, and how they ultimately diverge.”

Micro Review: In the realm of learning discernment as I encounter various spiritual experiences among those I direct, I was grateful to Gerald May’s description of “unitive experiences” in chapter 3, and later about “excessive preoccupation with psyche and evil”.

And also:

“Excessive preoccupation with psyche and evil - either from supportive or antagonistic standpoints - fosters a degree of self-consciousness and self-importance that is very likely to eclipse the ever-present mystery of God's truth. Discernments are essential, but it is not at all necessary or helpful to become attached to making them. If possible, it is best to see psychological phenomena such as dreams, fantasies, images, and thoughts as manifestations of God's potential in the same way that nature, art, relationships, and all other phenomena are. Gazing into an empty, blue sky, kneeling in prayer in a cathedral, and recalling memories associated with a dream can all be worthwhile spiritual explorations. They can also all be distractions from spiritual exploration. The beauty of the sky or the cathedral can create an absorption with sensate experience, just as dream analysis can create ego-absorption.”

My personal experience growing up around a variety of church denominations with various understandings of the role of the Holy Spirit through a variety of natural and supernatural pathways has left me a bit skeptical of the experiences that fall on the more supernatural end of the spectrum. At the same time, I’ve experienced some of those hard-to-articulate connections with God and I long for a better understanding of what it means to discern those kinds of encounters. I found Dr. May’s encouragement to “test the fruits” enlivening and confidence-boosting: 

“The importance of experiences lies not so much in their precise nature as in one's response to them. In part this represents a harkening back to an old principle of discernment...of evaluating an experience in relation to its fruits. More deeply, however, we are speaking of remaining attentive to the mystery and reality of God behind all phenomena, refusing to allow superficial appearances to distract us from this central concern. We do a disservice to ourselves and others when we allow our interest in the nature of a phenomenon to obscure the mysterious wonder of the very existence of that phenomenon.”

And also:

“In spiritual direction, however, there has to be an ongoing awareness that anything can happen; that the Holy Spirit is already affecting the person; and that one must participate in this work through careful discernment and support. here again, it is necessary to walk the fierce path of free will and dependence. We must always claim the freedom we have been given; to do otherwise would devalue our humanity. But at the same time, we will increasingly recognize the extreme inadequacy of personal will and knowledge in figuring out what life is or how we should live it. As we grow in wisdom, we also grow in the realization of our utter dependence upon the Lord in all things. it seems to me, then, that in its purest human form spiritual direction is a journey towards more freely and deeply choosing to surrender to God.”

24. Armchair Mystic: Easing Into Contemplative Prayer by Mark E. Thibodeaux

(Franciscan Media, 180pp. April 1, 2001)

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“This user-friendly book blends theory and practice, gently and concretely taking the reader through the first steps of contemplative prayer. Armchair Mystic begins with the necessary details of time and place to pray, then presents the maturation of the prayer life in four stages: Talking at God, Talking to God, Listening to God and Being With God. Each chapter begins with an Orientation and ends with a concluding summary. Step-by-step exercises throughout the book provide concrete examples of how to use the concepts discussed. Armchair Mystic will prove invaluable to individuals and small groups who are new to contemplative prayer, or who wish to deepen their experience of it,”

Micro Review: Easily accessible insights into the practice of contemplative prayer.

A few favorite quotations:

“This is what actually distinguishes a mystic from a novice pray-er. Mystics often have as many distractions as novices do, but the difference is in their perception of and their reaction to them….”

Chapter 13 “Why I’m Bored With God: Hints of an Explanation”

“There is a common strand in the images presented thus far. All of them imply that there is great value in self-sacrifice. The relationship images, in particular, seem to indicate that this sacrifice may be a necessary element of mature, intimate relationships. Perhaps this is what God is up to when he allows dryness in my prayer: God sets up a situation that allows me to make a sacrifice for our relationship, thereby strengthening the bond between us.”

P. 151

“Specifically, I define prayer as recognition of God, transformation by God and union with God.”

P. 159

“So then, when I pray I become attuned to the presence of God in my everyday life (recognition of God). I also begin to surrender all of my life to God’s lordship during prayer (transformation by God). Finally, when I pray I come into mystical union with God, a oneness not severed when I rise from my prayer time (union with God). These are the three most important qualities of prayer.

Note, however, that the three are really one and the same quality. The transformation that takes place in prayer is ultimately a transformation of perception. What is surrendered in this transformation - my lordship and my separateness from God - never really existed in the first place? They were only illusions and mirages, smoke and mirrors. God has always been God and has always carried me in his bosom (see Isaiah 40:11). From the moment of my creation, God and I have always been together in mystical oneness. I just didn’t know it until now.”

P. 162

“The Bible warns time and again against the fallacy that holds that I can be close to God without being close to God’s people. It condemns any sort of God-and-me spirituality that does not result in an outpouring of love toward others: (Is. 58:5-7).”

P. 168

“Any prayer life that does not make me an instrument of God's saving action in the world is an inauthentic one. Even cloistered monks, who live lives of solitude, do not view their vocation as being set apart from the world. Trappist contemplative Thomas Merton writes:

‘One of the worst illusions in the mystical life would be to try to find God by barricading yourself inside your own soul, shutting out all external reality by sheer concentration and will-power, cutting yourself off from the world and other men by stuffing yourself inside your own mind and closing the door like a turtle...We do not go into the desert to escape people but to learn how to find them.’”

25. The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism (Modern Library Classics) by Bernard McGinn

(Modern Library, 592pp. December 12, 2006)

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“This clear and comprehensive anthology, culled from the vast corpus of Christian mystical literature by the renowned theologian and historian Bernard McGinn, presents nearly one hundred selections, from the writings of Origen of Alexandria in the third century to the work of twentieth-century mystics such as Thomas Merton.

Uniquely organized by subject rather than by author, The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism explores how human life is transformed through the search for direct contact with God. Part one examines the preparation for encountering God through biblical interpretation and prayer; the second part focuses on the mystics’ actual encounters with God; and part three addresses the implications of the mystical life, showing how mystics have been received over time, and how they practice their faith through private contemplation and public actions.

In addition to his illuminating Introduction, Bernard McGinn provides accessible headnotes for each section, as well as numerous biographical sketches and a selected bibliography.”

Micro Review: Of all the required reading for my spiritual direction certification, the mystics challenge me the most. Their ardor and affection for the triune God reveals layers of 21st-century cynicism that cloud my ability to adore God.  For example this stunning exclamation from St. John of the Cross  

“O sweet burn!

O delicious wound!

O tender hand! O gentle touch

That savors of eternal life,

And pays every debt!

In slaying you have changed death into life” 

In Thomas Merton, I feel like I’ve found the most helpful guide in holding together the two ends of one rope - contemplation and obedience (or surrender).

“Contemplation is also the response to a call: a call from Him who has no voice, and yet who speaks in everything that is, and who, most of all, speaks in the depths of our own being: for we ourselves are words of his. But we are words that are meant to respond to him, to answer to him, to echo him, and even in some way to contain him and signify him. Contemplation is this echo. It is a deep resonance in the inmost center of our spirit in which our very life loses its separate voice and re-sounds with the majesty and the mercy of the Hidden and Living One. He answers himself in us and this answer is divine life, divine creativity, making all things new. We ourselves become his echo and his answer. It is as if in creating us God asked a question, and in awakening us to contemplation he answered the question, so that the contemplative is at the same time, question and answer.” ( Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

In Merton’s call to both hold closely our contemplative encounters with God and our desire to share the joy with everyone we meet, I heard a beautiful echo of what I believe to be God’s calling on my life:

“At the same time [the contemplative] most earnestly wants everybody else to share his peace and his joy. His contemplation gives him a new outlook on the world of men. He looks about him with a secret and tranquil surmise which he perhaps admits to no one; hoping to find in the faces of other men or to hear in their voices some sign of vocation and potentiality for the same deep happiness and wisdom. He finds himself speaking of God to the men in whom he hopes he has recognized the light of his own peace, the awakening of his own secret: or if he cannot speak to them, he writes for them, and his contemplative life is still imperfect without sharing, without companionship, without communion.” (Thomas Merton, New Seeds of Contemplation)

Among the other highlights from reading this anthology, I appreciated learning the influence of John Cassian on the prayers we use in the daily offices (“O Lord, make haste to help us”) and his teaching emphasis on “puritas cordis” (purity of heart) and “oratio ignita” (fiery prayer). I’m always encouraged by Julian of Norwich, and in this reading it was hearing more about her teaching on the “motherhood of Jesus”. Julian of Norwich provided me with what I’d love to be my own eulogy: “I wanted to live so as to love God better and for longer, and therefore know and love him better in the bliss of heaven...Good Lord, may my ceasing to live be to your glory.” (p. 239)

Amen. May it be so!

26. The Spiritual Life: Four Broadcast Talks by Evelyn Underhill

(Martino Fine Books, 142pp. February 5, 2013 reprint of 1937 edition)

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“Evelyn Underhill was an English Anglo-Catholic writer and pacifist known for her numerous works on religion and spiritual practice, in particular Christian mysticism. This book contains in an expanded form the four addresses on the Spiritual Life which were given by Underhill in 1936. The are published in response to numerous requests from listeners and in the hope that they will be found suitable for Lenten reading. The spiritual life is here considered, not as an intense form of piety peculiar to saints, but as the living heart of all religion, and therefore of vital concern to ordinary men and women. Its essence is held to consist in a growing communion with God, a growing cooperation with Him, inspiring and transforming every kind of action from the most routine to the most heroic. Essays are: What is the Spiritual Life The Spiritual Life as Communion with God The Spiritual Life as Co-operation with God Some Questions and Difficulties.”

Micro Review: I’ve been meaning to read more by Evelyn Underhill for a long time and was thankful for this opportunity. These transcripts from four of Underhill’s radio broadcasts pack much depth and mystery in concise paragraphs surrounded, aptly, by a lot of white space on each page. This is the perfect book to read and re-read devotionally for those who wish to grow closer to God within the paradox of His mystery and His invitation to intimacy.

Highly recommend!

27. Spiritual Disciplines Handbook: Practices That Transform Us by Adele Ahlberg Calhoun

(IVP Books, 352pp. November 19, 2015 reprint of 2005 edition)

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“In Spiritual Disciplines Handbook Adele Calhoun gives us directions for our continuing journey toward intimacy with Christ. While the word discipline may make us want to run and hide, the author shows how desires and discipline work together to lead us to the transformation we're longing for--the transformation only Christ can bring. Instead of just giving information about spiritual disciplines, this handbook is full of practical, accessible guidance that helps you actually practice them. With over 80,000 copies in print, this well-loved catalog of seventy-five disciplines has been revised throughout and expanded to include thirteen new disciplines along with a new preface by the author. Mothers, fathers, plumbers, nurses, students--we're all on a journey. And spiritual disciplines are for all of us who desire to know Christ deeply and be like him. Here is direction for our desire, leading us to the ultimate destination: more of Christ himself.”

Micro Review: Adele Ahlberg Calhoun is a Selah faculty member, and I had the privilege of hearing her teach during one of our residencies. The Spiritual Disciplines Handbook provides an index of spiritual disciplines from millenia of Christian practice and, in the process, gave all of us a rich gift. Calhoun orders 75 disciplines within the framework of the acronym WORSHIP:

  • Worship [Celebration, Gratitude, Holy Communion, Rule for Life, Sabbath, Visio Divina, Worship]

  • Open Myself to God [Contemplation, Examen, Iconography, Journaling, Pilgrimage, Practicing the Presence, Rest, Retreat, Self-Care, Simplicity, Slowing, Teachability, Unplugging]

  • Relinquish the False Self [Confession and Self-Examination, Detachment, Discernment, Mindfulness/Attentiveness, Secrecy, Silence, Sobriety, Solitude, Spiritual Direction, Submission, Waiting]

  • Share My Life With Others [Accountability Partner, Chastity, Community, Covenant Group, Discipling, Face-to-Face, Connection, Hospitality, Mentoring, Service, Small Group, Spiritual Friendship, Unity, Witness]

  • Hear God’s Word [Bible Study, Lectio Divina/Devotional Reading, Meditation, Memorization]

  • Incarnate the Love of Christ [Blessing Others/Encouragement, Care of the Earth, Compassion, Control of the Tongue, Forgiveness, Humility, Justice, Solidarity in Jesus’ Sufferings, Stewardship, Truth Telling]

  • Pray [Breath Prayer, Centering Prayer, Contemplative Prayer, Conversational Prayer, Fasting, Fixed-Hour Prayer, Inner-Healing Prayer, Intercessory Prayer, Labryinth Prayer, Listening Prayer, Liturgical Prayer, Prayer of Lament, Prayer Partners, Praying Scripture, Prayer of Recollection, Prayer Walking, Welcoming Prayer,]

    Calhoun’s work to not only define the various practices but to order them in a way that orients us toward the entire goal of our spiritual journey - to worship God and enjoy Him forever - is a gift within a gift. I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It should be a mandatory reference book for everyone who wishes to not only be a Christian, but a disciple of Jesus.

28. Invitation to Retreat: The Gift and Necessity of Time Away with God (Transforming Resources) by Ruth Haley Barton

(IVP Books, 144 pp. September 18, 2018)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

Come away and rest awhile." Jesus invites us to be with him, offering our full and undivided attention to him. When we choose retreat we make a generous investment in our friendship with Christ. Truth is, we are not always generous with ourselves where God is concerned. Many of us have done well to incorporate regular times of solitude and silence into the rhythm of our ordinary lives which means we've gotten pretty good at giving God twenty minutes here and a half an hour there. And there's no question we are better for it! But we need more. Indeed, we long for more. In these pages Transforming Center founder and seasoned spiritual director, Ruth Haley Barton, gently and eloquently leads us into an exploration of retreat as a key practice that opens us to God. Based on her own practice and her experience leading hundreds of retreats for others, she will guide you in a very personal exploration of seven specific invitations contained within the general invitation to retreat. You will discover how to say yes to God's winsome invitation to greater freedom and surrender. There has never been a time when the invitation to retreat is so radical and so relevant, so needed and so welcome. It is not a luxury, but a necessity of the spiritual life.”

Micro Review: Many people I know interested in the work of spiritual formation cite Ruth Haley Barton frequently. I’m new to her work and enjoyed this book. While I didn’t need to be convinced of the renewing power of the spiritual discipline of retreat, I was grateful for the practical suggestions and itineraries she offers in this easy-to-read book.

29. Mirror for the Soul: A Christian Guide to the Enneagram by Alice Fryling

(IVP Books, 180pp. July 14, 2017)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

"Who in the world am I?" The Enneagram is like a mirror, reflecting dimensions of ourselves that are sometimes hard to see. In this helpful guide, spiritual director and Enneagram teacher Alice Fryling offers an introduction to each number of the Enneagram and their respective triads. More than just helping us discern our number, this book relates the Enneagram to our spiritual journey, as a way to identify our gifts as well as our blind spots. With Scripture meditations and questions for reflection and discussion, Mirror for the Soul offers a new perspective on our unique temperament so that we might know and extend God's grace more fully. Knowledge of the Enneagram leads us into more authentic self-awareness, richer relationships, and deeper places in the soul where we can worship God in truth and grace.

Micro Review: I’d already read several of the books at the top of the Enneagram suggested reading list and while this accessible work from Alice Fryling probably wouldn’t be my first recommendation for an introduction to the Enneagram, it definitely would be what I recommend for those wanting a theologically and biblically-oriented viewpoint. Of the Enneagram books I’ve read written for the Christian reader, this might be my favorite because it provides a bit more substance and integrates some of the common language of Christianity with specific application points with the Enneagram.

I also appreciated the author’s value for honoring the mystery inherent to each of us as made in the image of a mysterious and always-revealing God even as we try to know ourselves in a deeper, God-honoring way.

For example:

“So how do we learn our number? This is another great puzzle. There are many online tests and in-book inventories, but often they give suspicious results. This is because it is so very difficult to uncover our blind spots. We respond to inventories with what we know about ourselves, which is often an incomplete picture. The Enneagram describes motivation rather than behavior, and most tests ask about behavior, or our answers reflect our behavior.”

And

“I have found that the Enneagram respects the observation that the soul is shy, like a wild animal. Parker Palmer says that ‘if we want to see a wild animal, the last thing we should do is to go crashing through the woods, shouting for it to come out.’ Instead, we need to ‘walk quietly into the woods and sit silently’ until ‘out of the corner of an eye we will catch a glimpse of the precious wildness we seek.’ Palmer is not writing about the Enneagram, but this is a good reminder that we dare not crash through the woods of the Enneagram yelling for our soul to come out. The Enneagram is much more likely to give us ‘glimpses’ into our souls. The process may be painful, but it is gentle.”


30. Self to Lose - Self to Find: A Biblical Approach to the 9 Enneagram Types by Marilyn Vancil

(Redemption Press, 208pp. June 3, 2016)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“Self to Lose-Self to Find examines the invitation of Jesus to lose yourself in order to find your true self, and presents the personality system known as the Enneagram within this biblical framework. It will guide you toward liberating self-awareness by detailing nine distinct personality patterns, each with particular gifts and challenges. By learning about your type, you will: -Embrace the truth about your God-given identity -Uncover your deeper motivations, longings, and ways of suffering -Discern between the self to lose and the self Jesus invites you to find -Enhance your relationships by appreciating others more -Own-up to what keeps you from possessing the abundant life Jesus offers. Marilyn Vancil, a spiritual director and certified Enneagram professional, weaves three threads - the biblical story, the Enneagram wisdom, and real-life experiences - into this compelling and essential resource for those who long for a more free and fruitful life. Dr. David Daniels, co-author of The Essential Enneagram, describes this book as "a thoughtful and ground-breaking analysis of the Enneagram system and its valuable contribution to the work of development in the Christian life.”

Micro Review: Another Christian perspective on the Enneagram that I found helpful in more of a devotional than academic sense.

My favorite description from the author for the Enneagram Type 5 (me!):

“Type Fives will experience more generosity, community, and trust when they release their insatiable quest for the knowledge they believe will protect and save them from being swallowed up by a demanding world. They will no longer fear being depleted, but will experience a new freedom to give away what they have. They will offer their gifts of time, energy, and talent with faith in a God who is generous and will meet their needs. In this way, they will become an available resource so people can access their wisdom and expertise.

Fives will become less driven to be self-sufficient and will seek out and enjoy the companionship of others with whom they can share their lives and learn together. Their need for time alone will change from a survival tactic to a desire to contemplate and connect with their own heart and God’s presence. When they shift their focus from trying to make sense of things, they allow for mystery and the unknown. Spiritual truths will be experienced as living realities rather than examined as abstract concepts. Their divine gift of inner knowing will equip them to listen for the nudging of God’s Spirit and bring their gifts of perception and insight forward to help others know and experience His deeper truths and wisdom.”

31. What's Your God Language?: Connecting with God Through Your Unique Spiritual Temperament (Nine Spiritual Temperaments--How Knowing Yours Can Help You) by Myra Perrine

(Tyndale Momentum, 229pp. August 1, 2007)

Amazon | IndieBound | Hearts & Minds Booksellers

“In What's Your God Language? Myra Perrine describes nine types of spiritual temperaments and suggests disciplines and faith expressions that fit best with each unique temperament (or blend of temperaments). Drawing on her doctoral research that built on the work of Gary Thomas and others, Perrine calls readers to stop fighting the way God wired them and to experience a deeper intimacy with Christ by embracing their unique "spiritual circuitry."
Features:

  • In-depth analysis of nine categories of spiritual temperaments

  • Spiritual temperament assessment tool for assessing one's individual temperament

  • Biblically supported and thoroughly researched

  • Written in a friendly, anecdotal style

  • Foreword by Gary Thomas

  • Web site with additional intermediate and advanced exercises

The 9 Languages:

  • The Activist

  • The Ascetic

  • The Caregiver

  • The Contemplative

  • The Enthusiast

  • The Intellectual

  • The Naturalist

  • The Sensate

  • The Traditionalist

Micro Review: Full disclosure: This is the final book I read for my certification and I needed to kind of skim through it. While I’m always grateful for vocabulary to help us know ourselves in the light of God’s creation of us as humans, I found the construct distracting to the work I was already doing learning the language of the Enneagram. I’d especially recommend this book for those who don’t find the Enneagram helpful in their spiritual journey, but wish to understand the abundance of unique expressions Christ’s followers embody in pursuit of knowing and enjoying life with God.


Books I read for spiritual direction certification that I’ve shared previously:


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2018 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!


I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!


Weekend Daybook: I've got plenty to be thankful for edition

Seven days of collecting what I've been up to lately: places, people, books, podcasts, music, links & more for your weekend downtime.

(1) photo from this week

Thanksgiving Day, 2018

Thanksgiving Day, 2018

Can you even believe these are our people? We weren’t in Austin for Thanksgiving, but a giant part of my heart was there. How can I calculate the value of friends who become family and gather my brood as if they were their own? That’s exactly what our daughter-in-law Rebekah’s parents, Bernie & Jodi, did for our kids. Not only did they feed my children on Thanksgiving but Jodi took some dang good photographs as a bonus!


(2) new blog posts from this week

  1. Glad Thanksgiving (I’m so grateful for you all! You can see all Thanksgiving posts from previous years here.)

  2. Savior King (A post for Christ the King Sunday. You can see all the previous years’ posts for celebrating this final Sunday of Ordinary Time here.)


(3) updates for my internet homes

  1. I’ve added a Tip Jar to my blog page. Would you consider helping to support my work here? Picture the little jar at your favorite coffee shop and that I’m adding a sweet froth to your favorite beverage each time we meet here. Every little bit is appreciated!

  2. A linktree for @a_sacramental_life on Instagram: Finally! Here’s an easier way to specific links through the blog’s Instagram page.

  3. Advent Daybook 2018 subscription: You may have noticed a little pop-up box when you visit the blog. If you don’t receive blog posts via email already, Advent is a great time to start!


(4) photos from my spiritual direction residency in North Carolina

In mid-November I attended my second-to-last residency for my spiritual direction certification. We met at the lovely St. Francis Springs Prayer Center in North Carolina. I only managed to get photos of one of my walks through the woods (which included a prayer labryinth and chapel). My friend Amy got a few of actual people so I’ve borrowed from her one of a few of us on our last morning together.

Only one more residency to go before we graduate. All the normal bittersweet feelings seem to be queuing up for that time. I’m forever grateful for this call that rose up like a road to meet me.

Spiritual Direction is a "one-to-one" ministry of coming alongside others to help them pay attention, become curious, and move toward the ongoing invitations of God to experience freedom, and enjoy life to the fullest as beloved sons and daughters in the Kingdom. The Selah Certificate Program is a two-year, cohort-based, low-residency course that’s preparing me to offer trained spiritual direction vocationally and ministerially among our local church as well as those the Holy Spirit connects with me from around the world. You can find out more or contact me with any questions on my Spiritual Direction page.


(5) photos from our Thanksgiving


(6) links to get ready for Advent

If you've ever considered following the ancient rhythms of the  liturgical calendar, there's no better time to start than at the Church's New Year: Advent. Even if your church follows the civic calendar more prominently than the liturgical, you can follow along with your brothers and sisters in Christ across the globe from the quiet spaces of your own home. You could create -- figuratively or, even, literally -- a family altar. This does not have to be elaborate, time-consuming, or expensive.  Simple tangible acts will impress themselves upon your hearts and minds for a lifetime: a book or two filled with rich images and time-tested writings, mealtime prayers, a candle or two.

  1. Advent home page

  2. How We Prepare For Advent (Join us?)

  3. A Few Simple Ways to Decorate for Advent

  4. Our 10 Favorite Advent Devotional Books (for all ages)

Two links from the Homely Hours that I recommend especially if you have little ones living in your house.

  1. Keeping Advent: Some Daily Practices

  2. Advent Plans

Advent.18.jpg

(7) blog posts from this week in the archives

  1. 2017 - 7 Celebratory Quick Takes (Last year, when we said good-bye to a dear lady, welcomed our kids to Connecticut, visited family for Thanksgiving, and celebrated our anniversary with a professional photo shoot - all within about 10 days time!)

  2. 2015 - Why We Give New Names to Our Kids on Their 21st Birthdays

  3. 2014 - Monotonous Monogamy (In which my grandparents - who celebrated their 72nd wedding anniversary last month! - share some marriage advice.)

  4. 2011 - Our Weekly Mary Poppins Day (One of my best mom ideas ever! Moving by the seat of my pants during that short season of homeschooling a middle & high-schooler.)

  5. 2011 - Happy Advent Eve! (When we were still new at living out the church calendarAll sorts of Advent posts through the years at this link.)

  6. 2009 - I Wanna Marry You All Over Again (We celebrated our 28th wedding anniversary last week! You can read some of my wedding anniversary reflections at this link.)

  7. 2009 - Advent #2 (This post includes one of my all-time favorite poems, that manages to be true for Advent and pretty much any old day of the year.)

Marriage Unrehearsed title card.3.jpg

28 years ago

November 24, 1990

November.Anniversary4.jpg

May your weekend include some time at home and some time with friends that welcome your tears as well as your laughter. Peace...

p.s. This post may contain affiliate links because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!

What I Read (waaayyy back) in November & December

Saw these lovely fresh releases of some l'engle favorites at a bookstore in November. didn't buy them ... yet.

Saw these lovely fresh releases of some l'engle favorites at a bookstore in November. didn't buy them ... yet.

See what I read in JanuaryFebruary & March/AprilMay/JuneJuly, & August. September & October.

I'm way behind on book updates, so forgive me for cheating with publisher book blurbs and one-sentence micro reviews! I rely on the blog as my reading record so this will be better than nothing! 

40. An Unhurried Life: Following Jesus' Rhythm of Work and Rest by Alan Fadling (IVP Books, 2013. 199 pages)

"The 2014 Christianity Today Book Award of Merit Winner (Spirituality) "I am a recovering speed addict." Beginning with this confession, pastor and spiritual director Alan Fadling goes on to describe his journey out of the fast lane and into the rhythms of Jesus. Following the framework of Jesus' earthly life, Fadling shows how the work of "unhurrying" ourselves is central to our spiritual development in such pivotal areas as resisting temptation, caring for others, praying and making disciples. Here is a book that affirms that we are called to work and to do work. Productivity is not a sin―it is the attitudes behind our work that can be our undoing. So how do we find balance between our sense of calling and the call to rest? An Unhurried Life offers a way."

Micro Review: Ironically, I had to hurry through my reading of this book for a spiritual direction certification assignment (lack of planning on my part) and look forward to reading again the thoughtful, reflective invitation to enter into a life not given to the demands of striving. Highly recommend for individual or group reading!

41. Beginning to Pray by Anthony Bloom (Paulist Press, 1970. 128 pages)

"Beginning to Pray has established itself as a modern spiritual classic. Hailed by both Catholics and Protestants, it was written by an Orthodox archbishop for people who had never prayed before, and has been read and loved by persons at all levels of spiritual development.

'The realm of God is dangerous,' says the author. 'You must enter into it and not just seek information about it...The day when God is absent, when he is silent - that is the beginning of prayer.'"

Micro review: This is one of the most helpful books on prayer I've ever read, and one I plan to reference again and again. Highly recommend for individual or group reading!

42. Keeping the Sabbath Wholly: Ceasing, Resting, Embracing, Feasting by Marva Dawn (Eerdmans, 1989. 217 pages)

"According to Dawn, the phrase “going to church” both reveals and promotes bad theology: it suggests that the church is a static place when in fact the church is the people of God. The regular gathering together of God’s people for worship is important—it enables them to be church in the world—but the act of worship is only a small part of observing the Sabbath.

This refreshing book invites the reader to experience the wholeness and joy that come from observing God’s order for life—a rhythm of working six days and setting apart one day for rest, worship, festivity, and relationships. Dawn develops a four-part pattern for keeping the Sabbath: (1)ceasing—not only from work but also from productivity, anxiety, worry, possessiveness, and so on; (2) resting— of the body as well as the mind, emotions, and spirit—a wholistic rest; (3) embracing—deliberately taking hold of Christian values, of our calling in life, of the wholeness God offers us; (4) feasting—celebrating God and his goodness in individual and corporate worship as well as feasting with beauty, music, food, affection, and social interaction. 

Combining sound biblical theology and research into Jewish traditions with many practical suggestions, Keeping the Sabbath Wholly offers a healthy balance between head and heart: the book shows how theological insights can undergird daily life and practice, and it gives the reader both motivation and methods for enjoying a special holy day. 

Dawn’s work— unpretentiously eloquent, refreshingly personal in tone, and rich with inspiring example—promotes the discipline of Sabbath-keeping not as a legalistic duty but as the way to freedom, delight, and joy. Christians and Jews, pastors and laypeople, individuals and small groups—all will benefit greatly from reading and discussing the book and putting its ideas into practice."

Micro review: The practice of attending church every week as a spiritual, Sabbath-keeping practice needs many champions now, and Dawn is a skilled, conscientious champion if not my favorite author on this particular subject (which feels like sacrilege to admit!) Recommend for individual or group reading.

43. Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner (Modern Literary Classics, 2002. 335 pages)

"Called a “magnificently crafted story . . . brimming with wisdom” by Howard Frank Mosher in The Washington Post Book World, Crossing to Safety has, since its publication in 1987, established itself as one of the greatest and most cherished American novels of the twentieth century. Tracing the lives, loves, and aspirations of two couples who move between Vermont and Wisconsin, it is a work of quiet majesty, deep compassion, and powerful insight into the alchemy of friendship and marriage."

Micro review: I chose this novel after repeated recommendations from the savvy Modern Mrs. Darcy ("This gorgeous, graceful novel will appeal to fans of Wendell Berry and Marilynne Robinson.") and thoroughly enjoyed being absorbed into the ordinary accounts of an extraordinary friendship that spans forty years, and  that, in many ways, reminded me of some of my own. Recommend for readers of gentle but poignant literary fiction.

44. What the Land Already Knows: Winter's Sacred Days by Phyllis Tickle (Loyala Press, 2003. 128 pages)

via Goodreads: "In her three-book series that spans the liturgical year, renowned author Phyllis Tickle recalls simple stories from life on her family's farm in Lucy, Tennessee. In these spiritually uplifting and nostalgic memoirs, Tickle records the richness of faith in everyday life. What the Land Already Knows celebrates Advent, Christmas, and the Epiphany. Wisdom in the Waiting reflects on Lent, Easter, and Pentecost. The Graces We Remember provides tales from the end of Pentecost to the beginning of Advent." 

Micro review: Picking up where I left off in the Farm In Lucy short stories trilogy, I found this volume a wonderful introduction to the beginning days of winter. Highly recommend for those who enjoy true stories of family/farm/home life with a liturgical slant.

45. The Abundance: A Novel by Amit Majmudar (Picador, 2014. 272 pages)

"When Mala and Ronak learn that their mother has only a few months to live, they are reluctantly pulled back into the Midwestern world of their Indian immigrant parents. In the brief time between diagnosis and deterioration, busy, efficient Mala commits to mastering her mother's slow art of Indian cooking. Perfecting the raita and the rotli, the two begin not only to work together but also to talk, confronting their deepest divisions and failures. But when Ronak hits upon the idea of selling their cooking-as-healing experience as a high-concept memoir, immigrant and native-born must find a way to cross this last divide.

With grace, acuity, and wry compassion, in Abundance, Amit Majmudar has written anew the immigrant experience, the clash of cultures, the conflicts of assimilation, and, most poignant, the tangled ties between generations."

Micro review: I read this enjoyable, satisfying novel after seeing it mentioned in Sarah Arthur's wonderful Light Upon Light: A Literary Guide to Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany, and especially appreciated the insight into the lives of an immigrant Indian family making sense of their Hindu faith traditions within the context of the United States. Recommend!

46. The Best Christmas Pageant Ever by Barbara Robinson (HarperCollins, 2005. 128 pages)

"Laughs abound in this bestselling Christmas classic by Barbara Robinson! The Best Christmas Pageant Ever follows the outrageous shenanigans of the Herdman siblings, or “the worst kids in the history of the world.” The siblings take over the annual Christmas pageant in a hilarious yet heartwarming tale involving the Three Wise Men, a ham, scared shepherds, and six rowdy kids.

Ralph, Imogene, Leroy, Claude, Ollie, and Gladys Herdman are an awful bunch. They set fire to Fred Shoemaker’s toolshed, blackmailed Wanda Pierce to get her charm bracelet, and smacked Alice Wendelken across the head. And that’s just the start! When the Herdmans show up at church for the free snacks and suddenly take over the Christmas pageant, the other kids are shocked. It’s obvious that they’re up to no good. But Christmas magic is all around and the Herdmans, who have never heard the Christmas story before, start to reimagine it in their own way.

This year’s pageant is definitely like no other, but maybe that’s exactly what makes it so special."

Micro review: This was my selection for Advent for our church's reading group (Apostles Reads) because it's the rare kind of book that both adults and children find both hilarious and heartwarming. Recommended reading for everyone, every year!

47. Saint Maybe by Anne Tyler (Knopf, 1991. 352 pages)

"Ian Bedloe is the ideal teenage son, leading a cheery, apple-pie life with his family in Baltimore. That is, until a careless and vicious rumor leads to a devastating tragedy. Imploding from guilt, Ian believes he is the one responsibly for the tragedy. No longer a star athlete with a bright future, and desperately searching for salvation, he stumbles across a storefront with a neon sign that simply reads: CHURCH OF THE SECOND CHANCE.

Ian has always viewed his penance as a burden. But through the power of faith and the love of family, he begins to view it as a gift. After years spent trying to atone for his foolish mistakes, Ian finds forgiveness and peace in the life he builds for himself."

Micro review: Another Christmas-oriented novel mentioned by Sarah Arthur (and, I think, also in Eugene Peterson's Take & Read), I found the plot intriguing and the characters beautifully developed, but did not love several of the ways the plot played out over the several decades and left the book feeling disappointed. Still recommend as a well-written novel by a well-loved author.

48. The Good and Beautiful God: Falling In Love With the God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith (IVP Books, 2009. 232 pages)

"God wants me to try harder." "God blesses me when I'm good and punishes me when I'm bad." "God is angry with me." We all have ideas that we tell ourselves about God and how he works in our lives. Some are true--but many are false. James Bryan Smith believes those thoughts determine not only who we are, but how we live. In fact, Smith declares, the most important thing about a person is what they think about God. The path to spiritual transformation begins here. Turning to the Gospels, Smith invites you to put your ideas to the test to see if they match up with what Jesus himself reveals about God. Once you've discovered the truth in Scripture, Smith leads you through a process of spiritual formation that includes specific activities aimed at making these new narratives real in your body and soul as well as your mind. At the end of each chapter you'll find an opportunity for soul training, engaging in spiritual practices that reinforce the biblical messages on your mind and heart. Because the best way to make a complete and lasting change is to go through the material in community, small group discussion questions also accompany each chapter. Those who are leading apprentice groups will also find additional help and opportunities to interact with other leaders at the Apprentice website, www.apprenticeofjesus.com. This deep, loving and transformative book will help you discover the narratives that Jesus lived by--to know the Lord he knew and the kingdom he proclaimed--and to practice spiritual exercises that will help you grow in the knowledge of our good and beautiful God."

Micro review: We read this as a Sunday morning small group, and I was impressed not only with the author's substantive theological insight, but also with his gracious tone and impeccable recommendations for spiritual practices to make each theological truth about God's character root itself deeply in our hearts. Highly recommend - especially for group reading!


Go to my reading lists page to see my reading lists from 2016 and previous years.

Here's my Goodreads page. Let's be friends!

I'd love to hear from you in the comments below!  

What are you reading these days? 

#

p.s. This post includes affiliate links in this post because I'm trying to be a good steward, and when you buy something through one of these links you don't pay more money, but in some magical twist of capitalism we get a little pocket change. Thanks!