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, 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.”


“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."

  • 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!

Practice Resurrection with Jim Janknegt (Elgin, TX)

Welcome to the seventh guest post in a new-and-improved version of the the Practice Resurrection series!

I’ve invited several friends and acquaintances to share a snapshot of their lives during the weeks of Eastertide (between now and Pentecost Sunday, June 9th). As in other series of guest posts, I pray about who to invite and for this series I was contemplating the ways these women and men consistently invite us through their social media presence to regularly consider restoration, beauty, and goodness even, and maybe especially, in the face of difficulty. I’ve asked each guest to share snapshots of their present daily life inspired by Wendell Berry’s  poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.

Today’s guest is an artist I’ve admired and studied for about a decade. One of the most delightful moments our first year moving to Austin was the opportunity I had to attend an event featuring Jim Janknegt, a long-time friend of our congregation at Christ Church. Today feels like another full-circle moment as I’ve often shared Jim’s art, and now get to introduce him more personally to you. Before I’d ever met Jim, I’d heard about his exemplary work ethic as a prolific artist who simultaneously worked a “day job” (see his bio below for an impressive and varied list!) to support his family. While Mr. Janknegt is now retired, this snapshot into a day in his life provides a beautiful picture of what that work/art balance looks like now that his day job involves cultivating gardens and construction projects on his property in rural Elgin, just east of Austin.

Perhaps most striking is the unifying focus of work and prayer (ora et labora) that gathers together all that the Janknegts endeavor as they seek to daily practice resurrection. May we be encouraged to this kind of gladness of heart in whatever season of life we find ourselves, friends. (For ongoing encouragement, I highly recommend following Jim on Facebook or Instagram.)

First, take a moment to tour Jim’s property as he reads us the poem.

A day in the life and a meditation on Wendell Berry’s

“Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”

Ora et Labora- Prayer and Work make up my life. I am fortunate to be retired. I can structure my life as I see fit. We strive for a kind of monastic rhythm. I have not given up work but only do the work that I think is right to do. It largely amounts to overseeing our little piece of land in the country just east of Elgin, TX (which is east of Austin) and painting.  In my quest to live an authentic Christian life it seems right, as Mr. Berry suggests in his poem, to NOT want more of everything ready made. To be authentic means being at the source, the author, so to speak: the writer of the document, the painter of the painting, the grower and cook of the food, the singer of the song, the builder of the house. Right now I have undertaken a pretty big project: building a cottage. I am doing almost all the work myself. It is currently taking up all of my work time and energy. So I am not doing much painting right now. The hope, of my wife and I, is that some day my daughter, her husband, and future children will come and live in our big house and we will move into the cottage. But you know the old saying: if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans. But plan we do and pray, and work to bring them about.


Our work is an outgrowth of prayer as our day’s work is punctuated by prayer.  A fellow once said in a sermon to say a prayer before you get out of bed in the morning. I took his advice and have done that ever since. As soon as I am awake, I say a Hail Mary, then I jump out of bed, start the coffee my wife prepared the night before, and make tea for my wife.

Some mornings we go to daily mass at our parish, Sacred Heart Catholic Church. As Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI said, “The Eucharistic Celebration is the greatest and highest act of prayer, and constitutes the centre and the source from which even the other forms receive "nourishment": the Liturgy of the Hours, Eucharistic adoration, Lectio divina, the Holy Rosary, meditation.” (Homily, May 3, 2009.)

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After mass we break fast with our friends and eat tacos at a local Mexican food restaurant. Chips and salsa for breakfast: why not?

 On days we don’t go to Mass, I start the day off with coffee, mental prayer, and spiritual reading. Our cat, Philos, often accompanies me. Currently I am reading a biography of Blessed Solanus Casey, a simplex priest and Capuchin porter for most of his life. He had an amazing gift of being able to listen to people who came for counseling and then listen to God so as to pray for what they needed. He kept a journal of each prayer request and the answers. Many, many miracles are documented as a result of his efficacious prayers. He was a humble, obedient servant of God.

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 Before we start work, my wife and I pray a morning offering. Last year I made a card with one of my paintings on the front and the morning offering on the back. Here is one version of the morning offering by St. Therese, the Little Flower:

O my God! I offer Thee all my actions of this day for the intentions and for the glory of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. I desire to sanctify every beat of my heart, my every thought, my simplest works, by uniting them to Its infinite merits; and I wish to make reparation for my sins by casting them into the furnace of Its Merciful Love.

O my God! I ask of Thee for myself and for those whom I hold dear, the grace to fulfill perfectly Thy Holy Will, to accept for love of Thee the joys and sorrows of this passing life, so that we may one day be united together in heaven for all Eternity. 

— St. Therese

Then I get to work. I really enjoy making things. I think back on my childhood and all the times we spent using our imaginations and playing: digging holes, scrounging wood and nails to build clubhouses, and climbing trees. Here I am a grown man, digging holes for foundations, sawing and hammering wood, climbing scaffolding and ladders; I feel like a kid getting to do the things I’ve always loved doing. Right before I start work, I make the sign of the cross and ask for help from our Lord and the intercession of a saint. For this building project, I ask for the help of St. Joseph. When I am painting, I ask for the intercession of Blessed Fra Angelico, my patron saint. When I am about to do something difficult or different, I say a quick prayer.

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If I weren’t occupied with this building, I would be gardening. My wife is taking over some of the vegetable gardening while other things are just on hold. I still get to enjoy the many plants and trees we have planted since we moved here over 20 years ago. I learned how to do aqua-ponics and found it was a great system for propagating perennials. I haven’t kept count, but we have planted over 200 trees of many different species. One of my favorite books (and animated movie) is The Man Who Planted Trees.


Around noon we break for lunch. Today I made tuna salad with lots of veggies, nuts and fruit thrown in. Like the ancient Christians we choose to not eat meat on Wednesdays and Fridays in reparation for our sins and the sins of the world.

After lunch, I take a nap. Naps are civilized. The world doesn’t come to an end if you take time for a nap. After the nap, more work. Over the years, I have learned many skills for which I am grateful. I think of myself as a maker, a creator. The general paradigm I perceive in our culture is to become really good at one thing, say being a doctor or investing. Make as much money as you can, then pay people to do everything else you need done. It is living primarily as a consumer. Money becomes a divide, an insulator, a barrier between need and work, creating or making. It separates us from meaning and authenticity by restricting us to a life of mere consumption.

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At three o’clock we stop what we are doing and pray the Divine Mercy Chaplet. I bought this beautiful rosary at Clear Creek Benedictine Monastery in Oklahoma. We usually sit outside to pray, enjoy the beauty of the land, and watch the birds.

Here is the beginning prayer:

You expired, Jesus, but the source of life gushed forth for souls, and the ocean of mercy opened up for the whole world. O Fount of Life, unfathomable Divine Mercy, envelop the whole world and empty Yourself out upon us. And the ending prayer: Eternal God, in whom mercy is endless and the treasury of compassion — inexhaustible, look kindly upon us and increase Your mercy in us, that in difficult moments we might not despair nor become despondent, but with great confidence submit ourselves to Your holy will, which is Love and Mercy itself.
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 Then more work. I am often accompanied in my work by the animals we keep. Here is our peacock.

We also have chickens, guinea hens, two dogs and one cat. And today I found a Cardinal fledge hiding in a nest while I was peeing by a bush (another benefit of country living)!

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After a shower and supper, (my wife is an excellent cook by the way!) we pray the Rosary for the many intentions of our family, our friends, our church and the world. When we pray, the Communion of Saints surrounds us. Does the head go anywhere without the body? When we pray, Jesus, the head, is present, and his body is present as well, his body made up of the saints in heaven. We have a place to pray that reminds us that it is not just “me and Jesus” but Jesus, us, and our many friends we have made that are not bound by time or space. Some of these icons we made, some we bought, and many are gifts from friends.


Sometimes in the evening, we watch TV (I like building shows, cooking shows and crime dramas) or listen to audio books or listen to music or read.  I stopped watching the news a long time ago. I have considered the facts, (things don’t end well), and I am still joyful. Then it is time for bed. Sometimes I wake up around 3:00 am and can’t get back to sleep. I usually pray another divine mercy chaplet until I get sleepy.

 Ora et labora, work and prayer are not so different as Reverend Reginald points out:

It is, therefore, as necessary to pray in order to obtain the help of God, which we need to do good and to persevere in it, as it is necessary to sow seed in order to have wheat. To those who say that what was to happen would happen, whether they prayed or not, the answer must be made that such a statement is as foolish as to maintain that whether we sowed seed or not, once the summer came, we would have wheat. Providence affects not only the results, but the means to be employed, and in addition it differs from fatalism in that it safeguards human liberty by a grace as gentle as it is efficacious, fortiter et suaviter. Without a doubt, an actual grace is necessary in order to pray; but this grace is offered to all, and only those who refuse it are deprived of it.

Therefore prayer is necessary to obtain the help of God, as seed is necessary for the harvest. Even more, though the best seed, for lack of favorable exterior conditions, can produce nothing, though thousands of seeds are lost, true, humble, trusting prayer, by which we ask for ourselves what is necessary for salvation, is never lost. It is heard in this sense, that it obtains for us the grace to continue praying.
— "The Three Ages of the Interior Life" by Reverend Reginald Garrigou-Lagrange O.P.


As the penultimate prayer, I have long loved the sacrament of the Most Holy Eucharist and believe in the true presence of Jesus: body and blood, soul and divinity. It was only recently that I learned the body of Christ we consume in the Eucharist is the RISEN body of our Lord. What better way to practice resurrection?


James B. Janknegt was born in Austin, Texas in 1953. He attended public schools. He graduated with a BFA from the University of Texas in Austin in 1978 and an MA and MFA from the University of Iowa in 1982. After his return to Austin he exhibited his work in various galleries and museums in Texas and the U.S.

The Janknegts converted to Catholicism in 2005 and were received into full communion in 2007.

In 1998 the Janknegts moved from Austin to Elgin, Texas where the have an ArtFarm. They grow artists, fruits, vegetables, chickens, goat, guinea hens, peacocks, and ducks. They also have two dogs.

Jim  always worked full time to pay the bills and painted in his off hours. He  painted billboards, dressed store windows,  drove a taxi, sold plumbing and hardware supplies, worked as a graphic artist assistant, ran an offset printing press, been a procurement officer and a building manager and taught private art lessons. He worked as the building manager for the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin until he retired in 2015.

When he is not painting he enjoys reading, building things, gardening, tending to animals and camping. He also enjoys watching movies and listening to music.

You can view and purchase Jim’s artwork at his website. You can also follow him at Facebook and Instagram.

(You can see all the Practice Resurrection 2019 guest posts here.)

Practice Resurrection with Brendah Ndagire (Uganda)

Welcome to the third guest post in a new-and-improved version of the the Practice Resurrection series!

I’ve invited several friends and acquaintances to share a snapshot of their lives during the weeks of Eastertide (between now and Pentecost Sunday, June 9th). As in other series of guest posts, I pray about who to invite and for this series I was contemplating the ways these women and men consistently invite us through their social media presence to regularly consider restoration, beauty, and goodness even, and maybe especially, in the face of difficulty. I’ve asked each guest to share snapshots of their present daily life inspired by Wendell Berry’s  poem, “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front”.

This week’s post is from a woman I haven’t yet had the privilege to meet in real life, but have come to respect her perspective as a Ugandan woman telling her own story as well as advocating for others. Brendah consistently speaks with remarkable courage and passion for the marginalized in places throughout the world while also delighting in the beauty in her own life and each place that she’s lived. I’m so glad to be able to share her perspective of practicing resurrection right now. She gives us insight into wonder of the story of the post-resurrection appearance of Christ to his friends on the Emmaus Road and invites us to consider the ways we can join him in that very same conversation right now wherever we live.

First, take a moment to listen to Brendah reading us the poem from her home in Uganda.

Practicing Resurrection on the Road to Emmaus

(Luke 24:13-35)

Kasanvu community along the Uganda Railway, Greater Kampala Area, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

Kasanvu community along the Uganda Railway, Greater Kampala Area, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

When we think about the practice of Christianity, the first ideas that come to mind are: to gather and participate in worship every Sunday morning, getting baptized, or sharing the word of the Lord and participate in Kingdom building, which is also known as discipleship. These acts are all wonderful and they should be celebrated. However, what is usually not paid attention to, is the practice of walking with the poor, the marginalized, the wanderers, and/or hopeless. I equate the latter, with the practice of resurrection, which is derived from Wendell Berry's “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front.”

Plantain Farming in Kisoro District, Western Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

Plantain Farming in Kisoro District, Western Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

In recognition of the Eastertide Season. I am focusing my attention on walking with the hopeless, those who struggle with doubt, who wonder, and those who may be poor in whatever way. After the Christ's resurrection, I love reflecting on Jesus' walk from the grave, the people He encountered on the way (His journey to be with His father), the conversation He had with them, and the encouragement and promises He left with them.

If we were to paint an image of what was going on the Road to Emmaus, we would recognize some of the ways we can practice resurrection with the poor, the marginalized, the wanderers, and/or hopeless in our communities.

Street Kid carrying a bag of trash/rubbish in Kisenyi Slums, Kampala, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

Street Kid carrying a bag of trash/rubbish in Kisenyi Slums, Kampala, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

In Luke 24:14-15, we would identify that people were talking with each other about EVERYTHING (probably about their brokenness over Christ's death, or personal brokenness, daily struggles, their doubts, discontents etc). In an age of social media and smartphones, Christians even in an economically poor nation like Uganda, barely have time to speak with each other about everything. If it is hard enough to speak with those whom we have a close relationship with, how likely that we would be able to speak with the economically poor, socially marginalized, and/or the hopeless in our communities? To practice resurrection is to SPEAK/TALK about everything with those we encounter on the way or in our communities.

What else was happening on that road to Emmaus?

In Luke 24:17, we identify that Jesus also came along and walked with the people. But he did not stop there, He asked an open ended and provocative question, “what are you discussing together as you walk along?” And part of how we can practice resurrection is by asking questions and seek understanding from those we encounter on the way, on the streets, or in the ghettos/ slums of big cities.

For me, may be my questions may not be as rebuking as Jesus'. But when I walk in the streets or slums of Kampala, I am curious to know the stories of the people I encounter there. I ask myself: Why is this child living in this slum? What is s/he doing on the street? Why is/are s/he or they picking from the trash can? Why is this river in Kasanvu is so dirty and smelly? Why are people living near this river in the first place? What they doing for themselves to live a dignifying life? What can I do to affirm their dignity?

River in Kasanvu slum carrying some of the sewage from Kampala City, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

River in Kasanvu slum carrying some of the sewage from Kampala City, Uganda. (Brendah Ndagire's photo)

There were many things happening on that road to Emmaus. Among these were Jesus reminding the people of who He was, and what had happened. I also want to point out another way we can practice resurrection, is inviting others (the poor, marginalized or hopeless) into our lives (see Luke 24:29- 30). It is not enough to ask questions, it is also important to invite, open our doors, and share our (whether scarce or abundant) resources with others, even when they seem not to be in need of them. At the invitation of Jesus Christ “to stay with them, ...He took Bread, gave thanks, broke it, and began to (share) it to them.” And once that happened, “they recognized Him.” I find that particular verse powerful. It teaches me that something beautiful and divine happens when we open our hearts, minds, and lives to strangers, to people who do not necessarily look, have a different economic status, believe/worship, act, or love like us. That too, is the practice of resurrection.

 Prayer for Practicing Resurrection

Give us grace, O God, to dare to do the deed which we well know cries to be done. Let us not hesitate because of ease, or the words of men’s mouths, or our own lives. Mighty causes are calling us - the freeing of women, the training of children, the putting down of hate and murder and poverty - all these and more. But they call with voices that mean work and sacrifice and death. Mercifully grant us, O God, the spirit of Esther, that we say: ‘I will go unto the King and if I perish, I perish.’ — Amen.
— Excerpt from Prayers for Dark People by W.E.B. Du Bois, ed. Herbert Aptheker. 1980. University of Mass Press, Amherst.

My Practice Resurrection Song

“All the Poor and Powerless” by All Sons & Daughters

YouTube | Lyrics


Brendah Ndagire is a Ugandan International Development Professional. She is currently working as a Communications Associate with Uganda Christian University (UCU) Partners - a freelance blog writer, writing stories of impact, empowerment, and affirmation. Interested in peace theology, feminism, social justice, and global politics.

(You can see all the Practice Resurrection 2019 guest posts here.)

Lent Daybook, 32: Stupor

 Lent Daybook, 32: Stupor

Welcome to a Lent daybook for these 40 days of prayer. Click through the title link to see the full post.

Look: The Waiting Room, George Tooker - Source

Listen: “Something to Believe In”, The New Respects - Spotify | YouTube

Read: Psalm 131, 132; Jeremiah 26:1-16; Romans 11:1-12; John 10:19-42

Pray: from Psalm 131

Do: Fast from spending money, and feast on giving alms.

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Lent Daybook, 26: All Creation Groans

Lent Daybook, 26: All Creation Groans

Welcome to a Lent daybook for these 40 days of prayer. Click through the title link to see the full post.

Look: A Grove of 6 Women, Caitlin Connolly - Source

Listen: Listen: “In Labor All Creation Groans” from Lamentations, Bifrost Arts Music - Spotify | YouTube | Lyrics

Read: Psalm 69; Jeremiah 22:13-23; Romans 8:12-27; John 6:41-51

Pray: from Romans 8:26

Do: Fast from taking offense. Feast on acts of forgiveness instead.

Read More