What I’m Into (June 2013 Edition)

So, June was on fire. Literally.

At the moment of this post, there are somewhere between 7 and 12 fires burning in my home state of Colorado, one of which had consumed at least 81,000 acres, another of which has destroyed more than 500 homes in Black Forest, a beautiful area of Colorado Springs to the north and east of where I live. It’s also the one year anniversary of the Waldo Canyon Fire that caused us to evacuate our home in less than 45 minutes, driving away with near certainty that our home would be consumed. It wasn’t, but more than 350 homes in our vicinity were, and the view of the burn scar from my office window reminds me daily of the way the verses “I lift up my eyes to the hills—where does my help come from?” in Psalm 121 changed that day.

This month I’ve been writing and wrestling, making progress on the book, and sitting with God in the quiet of the morning. I’ve held hope in my hands and felt the stretch of tragedy and triumph together. I’ve even had more than a few laughs, surprises and sunny days. All in all, a good month.

So here’s what I’ve been into (and up to) this June.

Read and Reading:

My Bright Abyss: Meditations of a Modern Believer by Christian Wiman—OH. MY. WORD. I’m only halfway through this book, and I’ve stopped highlighting, because I’m highlighting absolutely everything. Wiman is the (former as of this month) editor of Poetry magazine, and this book is as much verse as prose, as much poetic and polemic (and probably very little of the latter.) I might be in danger of being rightly accused of proselytizing for this book. I mean, read this:

Our minds are constantly trying to bring God down to our level rather than letting him lift us into levels of which we were not previously capable. This is as true in life as it is in art. Thus we love within the lines experience has drawn for us, we create out of impulses that are familiar and, if we are honest with ourselves, exhausted. What might it mean to be drawn into meanings that, in some profound and necessary sense, shatter us? This is what it means to love. This is what should mean to write one more poem. The inner and the outer urgency of it, the mysterious and confused agency of it. All love abhors habit, and poetry is a species of love.

Sober Mercies: How Love Caught Up With A Christian Drunk by Heather Kopp—Written by a friend of mine, this is a tender, profound memoir that I dip into like sliding into a pool on a warm day.

A Darker Place by Laurie King—I needed some good mind candy. Laurie King is a favorite in that department, and I discovered a book of hers that I haven’t read. This one is about cults and religious extremism. Fun read, especially given my calling.

Canyon Road: A Book of Prayer—This is a beautiful collection of prayers that I came across because of Christy Tennant Krispin‘s recommendation. I’m enjoying leafing through them gently.

On My Nightstand:

The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion—still, yes. I’ll get to it

I’ve got one other Laurie King novel in my Kindle cue, and few other books-to-read related to my writing, but the nightstand is thankfully fairly bare (my floors and bookshelves are another story.)

TV & Movies:

In shock and delight, I realized I’d somehow missed a whole season of Call the Midwife is available. My husband experiences the show as talk-talk-cry-talk-SCREAM-SCREAM-SCREAM-talk-talk, so he doesn’t watch it with me, but I don’t watch The Walking Dead with him (I can’t deal with zombies), so I think we’re even. Some of the people I’ve been unhappily disliking have left the Next Food Network Star, so I’m looking forward to the next few episodes getting real, y’all. And, of course, So You Think You Can Dance is on.

Bryan’s been out to see Man of Steel and World War Z, but I skipped both of those—the former because I’m not a huge Superman fan and the latter because, well, zombies. I’ve been head-down with the book, so I suspect that I won’t be seeing much in the next few months.

That said…. SHERLOCK! It’s coming back this fall, and I’m going to eat the sofa in anticipation of each episode, I’m sure. I’m also considering crumbling to the peer pressure that is Dr. Who. I know I’m late to the party, but the first episode turned me off so badly that I’m really going to have to take it on faith to watch another episode.


I just downloaded the new Patty Griffin album, American Kid. I’m loving it, as I do all of Griffin’s work. “Wild Old Dog” seems to be on repeat for me.

I’m waiting for Sam Phillips’s new album, Push Any Button with anticipation.

And we made it to an Over the Rhine concert the beginning of this month. Bryan and I are a patron of both of their upcoming albums, Meet Met At The Edge of the World, and the Christmas album Blood Oranges In the Snow. I loved hearing some of the new music at their concert in Denver, and can’t wait to get my hands on The Edge of the World.

Words, Words, Words:

I’m at 38,424 words on the book at the moment. It’s a patchwork, really, but I’m excited about having momentum. The sinew is knitting together, the circulatory system is beginning to form. I feel the beat of it’s heart, at a distance from me, and it sounds like thunder.

I’m also in the middle of editing the next issue of Conversations Journal—Be Not Afraid. Arch Hart, Gary Black, Rebekah Lyons, Emilie Griffin, Amy Simpson, to name a few. I’m excited about what Issue 11.2 has in store.

On My Blog & Elsewhere:

I’ve written about storms a lot recently, and I’m particularly proud of this piece over at Elora Nicole‘s on waiting for rain.

I also guest posted for Rachel Held Evans, which resulted in a whole day discussing sex with strangers, but, hey, it was great.

Because of that, I ended up on Andrew Sullivan‘s weekend roundup, which leaves me unsure if I should be honored or horrified. (Warning, the video is horrifying, and Sullivan is an angry atheist.)

Things I Love:

  • This status update from John D. Blase: “I’m interested in writing that speaks of life lives on this dark and marvelous planer, writing that honors dying and sex and cottonwood trees and lower-middle-class cabernet and your daughter’s faded red robe that hangs behind the door and the fact that your grandfather poured cream in his cereal instead of milk. I’m interested in writing that smells and tastes and feels, writing that makes the marrow burn. I’m not interested in any other kind of writing.”
  • This post by Sarah Bessey on slow summer light.
  • These words by Jamie the Very Worst Missionary on Taking Back Eden.
  • This love letter by my friend and mentor Preston (although I think his love‘s post was better—sorry, P!)
  • This blessing of words by Winn Collier on blessing.
  • Skype dates with Tanya Marlow and Lorraine Wheeler. Why must the best people always live in England?

So, how about you? How was your June? What are you into? What are you up to?

What I'm Into at HopefulLeigh

I’m linking up with the wordsmistress Leigh Kramer. Join us, if you’re so inclined!

An Interview with Christine of Abbey of the Arts

I’ve been hosting Christine of Abbey of the Arts on the Anam Cara blog this week, and thought I’d round out the week by asking her a few questions. Feel free to listen in. (And don’t forget to enter the book giveaway to win a copy of Christine’s new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative Practice.)

Christine, thank you so much for all that you do. Your resources and writings have consistently brought healing, life, resurrection and more of God into my life. My first question is this: Can you share with us a time that having “eyes of the heart” helped you to see something (a situation, a place, a person) in a different way, just as the disciples recognized Jesus in the Emmaus story?

For many years now, part of my spiritual practice is to work with family systems and the healing of ancestral wounds, especially those of my father.  He died seventeen years ago, but his death in many ways only amplified my grief over his emotional absence.  About five years ago my husband and I traveled to Riga, Latvia, the city where my father was born.  He later had to flee to Vienna, where his mother’s family lived, because the Russians invaded.  I knew this experience of being a refugee shaped the adult he became.  I walked along the shores of the Baltic Sea, the same beach my father played on as a child and I had a powerful experience of seeing him there in his innocence.  Years of contemplative practice, and learning to soften my vision, broke me open to a whole new layer in my father revealed by being in that landscape.  I came to see him differently and myself, bringing compassion.

You mention in your post that “receiving” pictures is different than “taking” pictures. Can you explain the difference?

We move through so much of life just trying to get by, to “take” what we need from our various encounters.  Perhaps our weekends are filled with purpose-filled activities, like cleaning the house, paying the bills, stopping by the bank.  Maybe we even set aside time to be with our children, but are always thinking about what else needs to get done, or the work waiting for us.  None of these things are bad in themselves.  We do need to navigate, as best we can, a world of demands.

The problem becomes when this perspective infuses everything we do.  We go to the grocery store and feel impatient with the checkout person moving slowly because our time is being wasted.  Even spiritual experiences can become about consuming as much as possible, rather than transformation.

So this becomes translated into our photography.  Taking photos, we often have the urge to grasp at our experience, to record it and mark it.  With digital photography we can take hundreds of photos without thinking twice.  But we sometimes miss the experience itself in our urge to seize it through the lens.

In photography as a contemplative practice, we approach things differently.  We slow ourselves down.  We soften into the moment.  We trust that there is more than enough.  We do not need to rush, or grasp, or seize anything.  We wait and see in a new way, so that we begin to attend to what shimmers in the world around us.  Contemplative photography honors that this practice is about receiving the gift of the moment, not something we are entitled to receive, but sheer grace.

I love the quote you share about the Transfiguration really being about the disciples being transfigured, rather than Jesus. How does living as a contemplative, as a monk in the world, help us to be open to those moments when God invades to help us to see differently?

Those moments are happening all the time, we just aren’t attuned to them.  I believe in a God who is generous and abundant, who cannot help but overflow grace into the world.  So my call as a monk in the world, is to open myself to this possibility: right here, right now, in the most ordinary moment of my life, grace might break in.  Grace is already available, but I might make myself receptive to it.  I might soften the defenses of my heart which say that there is “nothing new under the sun.”

We have a lot of artists and creatives in this community who are also contemplatives. Would you share with us a little about the process of writing this book for you? What was it like? What surprised you?

The writing journey for me is always a process of discovery.  I begin with an outline of ideas I want to explore, but in the searching, I stumble upon new connections and insights.  What I especially loved about writing this book in particular, is that I had taught the material in an online class format for several years.  When I began to work on the book, I was given the opportunity to go into even more depth with the themes and to find new themes.  For example, color wasn’t part of the original class, and yet such a rich avenue of visual exploration.  Then to begin to investigate all the ways color has been symbolically significant in writings of mystics, like Hildegard of Bingen, or in the liturgical calendar.  In my chapter on mirrors and reflections I stumbled on all of these wonderful readings from medieval mystics about the mirror as symbol of the soul.  Writing a book feels like a delicious excuse to lose myself in my subject and follow the threads to see where they lead.  They don’t always lead somewhere, but it is the journey itself that brings so much delight.

Thanks for being with us this week. Join us here to win a copy of Christine’s new book. And now it’s your turn…

Do you have an Emmaus story that caused you to see things differently?

Have you practiced “receiving” pictures rather than “taking” them? What was it like for you?

Photography Party Book Giveaway

Happy Wednesday, Anam Cara Community.

In celebration of Christine Paintner‘s new book, Eyes of the Heart: Photography as a Christian Contemplative, I’m hosting a photography party and book giveaway here on the blog.

I’m giving away two free copies of this beautiful book to anyone who wants to enter.

Here’s what author Jan Phillips says about Eyes of the Heart:


“Opening Christine Paintner’s Eyes of the Heart is like entering a garden in full bloom. It opens up all your senses so you see, smell, taste, and touch the world in a whole new way. Paintner has a gift for reuniting the transcendent and the immanent. She calls God home. She sees the Divine in the pebble on the path, hears its sound in the buzzing mosquito. This modern-day monk knows the essential secrets to sacred living and joyful being and she shares them freely.”

I love that!

So, here’s how you enter:

1. Go to the Flickr Group that I’ve created for this giveaway. You need a free Flickr account first (go to the Flickr home page and click “Sign up now.”) When you go to the link it will ask you to join the group first before posting.

2. Share up to five images (photographs that you’ve taken yourself, recently or in the past) that coincide either with the theme of Resurrection or of Eyes of the Heart.

3. Leave a comment below this blog post to let me know you have joined the giveaway and what your Flickr profile name is (you must include this to be entered into the book giveaway).

4. Post the invitation on your blog or Facebook page and encourage others to come join the party!

I’ll draw two names at random, and announce the winners on Monday, April 29th.

20 Books That I’ve Read (Or Am Reading) While I’m Writing My Book

As you may or may not know, I’m writing a book. Sometimes, I think the book is writing me—showing me things about myself, helping me to become a better person, spiritually directing me, and generally kicking my butt. Part of the process of writing is reading and while reading can sometimes be an excuse not to write, often I find that the more good writing I read the more I want to write. Good writing, whether it’s pertinent to the topic I’m writing about or not, makes me want to dialogue with it, to notice how sentences go together to form not just paragraphs but feelings, to spend time working on my own craft to produce similar results.

In that vein, I thought my final list of books to share would be the (not at all exhaustive) list of books I’m reading or have read while I’m in the process of writing this book. Because there’s so many of them, I’ll only share a sentence or so about each.

The Situation & The Story: The Art of Personal Narrative by Vivian Gornick: A great book on writing creative non-fiction. Helpful from start to finish.

Sex God: Exploring the Endless Connections Between Sexuality and Spirituality by Rob Bell: For someone who writes, teaches and thinks a lot about the connections between sexuality and spirituality, this is one that’s on the top of my list.

A Sensual Orthodoxy by Debbie Blue: A collection of sermons that insist on the sensuality of Jesus. Small bites of inspiration.

The Soul Tells A Story: Engaging Creativity with Spirituality in the Writing Life by Vinita Hampton Wright: Reading this book helped me to remember that I’m not totally insane, and that creativity can be a tiring business.

The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith Shulevitz: Great writing by a New York Times reporter. This book reminds me that it’s possible to write about spirituality without sounding dorky.

Christianity & Eros by Phillip Sherrand: A book of short essays by an Orthodox writer that opens up sexuality and sensuality in a beautiful, soul-expanding way. Underrated and overlooked, I think it’s deeply important.

Mr. Putter & Tabby Write The Book by Cynthia Rylant and Arthur Howard: A children’s book that pokes a little fun at what the writing life is really like. So worth reading every day.

Caring For Words In A Culture of Lies by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre: A reminder of why good writing matters.

Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter To Our Faith by Matthew Lee Anderson: This book is part of the oeuvre into which my writing will (I hope) be placed. Same themes, slightly different perspective.

Marvelously Made: Gratefulness and the Body by Mary Earle: Also along the same lines as what I’m working on, but more focused on the spiritual practices that keep us in tune with our embodiment. A really helpful resource.

The Writing Life by Annie Dillard: This should have also appeared on the list of books I own by am embarrassed I haven’t read yet. It will be read shortly, however.

Before We Get Started: A Practice Memoir of the Writer’s Life by Bret Lott: Because (a) it’s a spiritual memoir and (b) it’s about writing.

Real Sex: The Naked Truth About Chastity by Lauren Winner: Great writing about sexuality. Another good book for those looking to explore the connections between faith and sexuality.

The True & The Questions by Sabrina Ward Harrison: This is actually more of a journal, but it’s an endless source of inspiration.

Sexuality and Holy Longing: Embracing Intimacy in a Broken World by Lisa Graham McMinn: This is a dense book on the subject, but one I recommend to my students often.

Reclaiming the Body: Christians and the Faithful Use of Modern Medicine by Joel Shuman and Brian Volck, MD: This one is an in-progress read for me. It keeps sparking ideas and explorations, which I think good books in the field should.

Keeping House: The Litany of Everyday Life by Margaret Kim Peterson: Different topic, but the same style that I’m writing in.

The Embodied Eye: Religious Visual Culture and the Social Life of Feeling by David Morgan: This book was recently released and is completely fascinating. At the same time, it reads like a series of academic papers and can be hard to slog through. It’s a pick up, skim and start writing type of book for me.

Writing to Change the World by Mary Pipher: Another book on writing and the inspiration thereto. I keep these types of books nearby for when I’m feeling self-pitying or alone.

The Art of Family: Rituals, Imagination, and Everyday Spirituality by Gina Bria: This book reminds me that there are other writers out there who experience the world the way I do—kinesthetically. It’s an odd thing to be someone who needs kinesthetic experience in order to write, but that’s what most consistently inspires and speaks to me. Bria seems to experience the world the same way I do, and her writing encourages me.

And, with that, I’m going to sign off the blog for a while. This exercise of bookshelf snooping has been so very helpful, and I hope that it’s inspired and entertained you as I’ve tracked along with fellow blogger Sarah Bessey. In shaking off the writing cobwebs, I’ve prepared myself for a plunge into the work that shapes my soul, work that I’m called to pursue faithfully. So, I’ll be absent here on the Anam Cara blog for a while as I focus my attention on that part of my writing life. Don’t worry, I’ll pop back here occasionally, and you’ll always be able to find me (and the Anam Cara community) on my Facebook page. You’ll know that the work is complete (or at least complete enough to hand in to my editor) when I resurface here. In the meantime, I’ll leave you with a writer’s blessing by Lisa Gardner:

A Writer’s Blessing

May you always remember the thrill of being swept away by a really good book.
May the words you’re typing on the page be as worthy as the words running through your mind.
May your deadline be behind you.
May a good story lie ahead of you.
And as we go forth
May you always enjoy the journey to finding those two perfect words: The End.

• • •

Oh, and here’s the full set of my books from “10 Book Week”: 

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book

10 Books (Or Let’s Be Honest, Magazines) That I Read On Weekends

It’s a rainy day here in Colorado Springs, which is a blessing long-time coming. We have the front and back doors open to let the wet breeze through; James Taylor is singing “Fire and Rain” over and over to quiet my heart. My husband is baking cinnamon rolls for our church picnic tomorrow, where we will (most likely) gather together in grateful huddles under the pavilions and watch it rain some more.

Weekends are times for play, rest, restoration. I try not to take myself too seriously on a weekend, and I don’t take my reading that seriously, either.

So here are a few things I read on weekends. I pull them from my shelves, load them up on my Kindle, or retrieve them from the pile of magazines that seems to accumulate on the edge of the kitchen counter.

Laurie King’s Mary Russell Series

I love all things Sherlock. I ripped through this series of eleven books with gusto, especially since the main hero is a strong, feisty, intellectual and interesting woman. She studies theology at Oxford—how could I not love her? These books are pure fun, and well-written to boot.

Still Alice by Lisa Genova

This is the book currently on my bedside bookshelf. (What, doesn’t everyone have a bedside bookshelf?) It’s a novel by a writer with a Ph. D. in neuroscience whose main character slowly succumbs to Alzheimer’s. While that doesn’t exactly sound like “fun” reading, it’s a beautiful reminder that we are always and still ourselves, no matter what happens to us.

Kingdom Come by John Estes

I love this earthy, lyric collection of poems by John Estes. Poetry isn’t just for weekends, and I eat these words every day of the week, but they set me to right on these days of rest in a way other reading doesn’t.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C. S. Lewis

My husband and I have been slowly reading this series aloud to one another at bedtime. It’s good to be reminded of reality right before sleep.

Real Simple Magazine

Yup, it’s eye candy. Yup, it can be ridiculous and vapid. And, yes, it can have some really moving articles. A good weekend read for me.

Brain, Child: The Magazine for Thinking Mothers

Although I’m only a step-mom at the moment, I mourned when Brain, Child recently announced that they were going out of print. This is a magazine full of thoughtful articles by moms who aren’t afraid to say that raising a child is incredibly hard, by moms who wrestle with real issues in a literary way, by moms who talk openly about infertility and IVF. I read it when I have downtime because it feeds my brain. While they aren’t producing a print edition any more, they have some really interesting plans for the future. I’ll be following along for sure.

Good Eats: The Middle Years by Alton Brown

Bryan and I are unabashed foodies, and Alton is one of our favorites. His quirky, mad scientist style appeals to Bryan, and the fact that his food is really, really good appeals to me. If we’re reading something together on the weekends, it’s often something like Good Eats, looking for recipes or ideas for our latest creation. There’s something of Eucharist in our marriage that revolves around the food we make and offer to others. It’s when we are most broken that we bake, and in that breaking feed those we love.

Jamie At Home by Jamie Oliver

Another cookbook that is weekend reading at our home, in no small part because we’re doing our best to be seasonal eaters. This is our fourth year with a backyard veggie garden, and Jamie’s recipes are inspirational. Plus, he’s British and uses words like “lovely” all the time.

Comment Magazine

A Christian magazine out of Canada, Comment is thoughtful, culture making and full of writing that makes me want to lick the pages, it tastes so good. Their current issue on how (badly) we deal with legacies is making me think about my family and my faith in a different way.

Image Journal

Art + Mystery + Faith. Need I say more?

Okay, I’ll say a little more. I learned of Image by attending the Glen Workshop in Santa Fe in 2007. I’ve been every year since (with the exception of the year I had my heart attack) and it’s fed my soul. Getting Image is like receiving little piece of the Glen on a regular basis. They also have an amazing blog that’s worth reading not just on weekends but daily.

* * *

Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book

10 Books That Remind Me That God’s the Great Storyteller

I think this might be my favorite of the lists so far. There are many, many books that would fit on this list, as far as I’m concerned, but these are the ones that have been reminding me recently that good stories, real stories are God’s stories, whether He’s mentioned directly in them or not. Those stories remind me of what is Most True, ground me in Love and inspire me to move out into the world with Healing.

Here are my 10…

Julian of Norwich by Amy Frykholm
Somewhere More Holy: Stories from a Bewildered Father, Stumbling Husband, Reluctant Handyman and Prodigal Son by Tony Woodlief
The Missing Piece Meets The Big O by Shel Silverstein
All Is Grace by Brennan Manning and John Blase
Still: Notes on a Mid-Faith Crisis by Lauren Winner
The Narnia Series by C. S. Lewis
Ordinary Losses: Naming the Graces that Shape Us by Elisa Fryling Stanford
The Velveteen Rabbit by Margery Williams and William Nicholson
Unbroken by Laura Hillenbrand
Gilead by Marilnne Robinson
The Forgotten Desert Mothers: Saying, Lives & Stories of Early Christian Women by Laura Swan

Honorary Mentions:

Peace Like A River by Lief Enger
Room of Marvels by James Bryan Smith

Because it’s late on Friday, and because it’s been a long week after a long week, I’m going to simply post this list. I’ll come back this weekend to fill it out, because a few of these require some explanation; in the meantime, what’s your list?

* * *

Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book

10 Books That Help Me Pray

I think prayer can be one of the most confusing parts of the life of faith. What is prayer? How do I pray? Do I need to come to prayer with pure motives, or can God just sort out my muddle? What about the days when I can’t pray, or simply don’t want to?

It’s here, more than almost anywhere else, that I’m grateful for the communion of saints. When it comes to prayer, I’m simply not alone in my wrestling, my wondering and my learning. The spiritual classics on this topic are so numerous that I’m actually skipping them completely in this post (that list is for another day). Instead, I’ll offer you resources that I’ve had around me recently. They’re not necessarily the most authoritative, or the most exhaustive, but they are some of the more inspiring or permission-giving books I’ve come across of late.

Here are 10 (okay, 13) books that I turn to when I need words, ways or wisdom to pray.

Prayer: Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard J. Foster

If there’s a classic on prayer, this is it. Foster helped me to realize that my tears were a form of prayer, that prayer looked very different in different seasons of life, and that contemplative prayer wasn’t as weird and scary as I thought it was. I find myself coming back again and again to this book as a resource and guide for the life of prayer.

“The truth of the matter is, we all come to prayer with a tangled mass of motives—altruistic and selfish, merciful and hateful, loving and bitter. Frankly, this side of eternity we will never unravel the good from the bad, the pure from the impure. But what I have come to see is that God is big enough to receive us with all our mixture. We do not have to be bright, or pure, or filled with faith, or anything. That is what grace means, and not only are we saved by grace, we live by it as well. And we pray by it.”

The Paraclete Psalter: A Four-Week Cycle of Daily Prayer

Along with Phyllis Tickle’s incredible series on the Divine Hours (prayer for summertime, springtime, autumn & wintertime), this condensed version of the psalter (which is simply a collection of the Psalms) guides me in prayer when I don’t have the words. And even when I do, it’s good to be held in prayer by the same prayer book Jesus used (not Paraclete particularly, but the Psalms).

 Your God Is Too Safe: Rediscovering the Wonder of a God You Can’t Control by Mark Buchanan

This book isn’t about prayer per se, but (a) it was written by a Canadian and (b) it shakes me out of my easy assumptions about God. All took often I approach prayer as a way to control God, rather than as a way to be in relationship with Him. Buchanan’s book reminds me that God is wild and good and not safe at all—and that He loves me enough that I can risk real prayer instead of the things I think I should say to Him.

The Artist’s Rule: Nurturing Your Creative Soul With Monastic Wisdom (A Twelve-Week Journey) by Christine Valters Paintner

Another odd book to include in a list of books on prayer, especially since there are so many excellent spiritual classics that I could list (like the Philokalia or the teachings of the desert abbas and ammas) that I believe are invaluable helps to prayer. What I like about The Artist’s Rule is that it gives permission to those drawn to creativity to allow their art-making to be part of their prayer life. It also introduces an adaptation of The Rule of St. Benedict that provides a structure for the exploration of different types of prayer in a creative way. While The Artist’s Rule is not the most orthodox of interpretation of monastic life, I reach for it when I need to be reminded that poetry, art-making and play are all forms of prayer.

The Book of Common Prayer

Well, I’m Anglican. The Book of Common Prayer, although somewhat confusing to newcomers at first, is a lectionary that provides the backbone of services, prayers (communal and individual) and readings that tie together the raggedy, eclectic and mysterious denomination of which I’m a part. I’ve loved it well before becoming part of an Anglican church for its poetry and liturgy. I like knowing that there are hundreds of thousands of people praying the same prayers, reading the same readings—on the days that I pick it up and join in.

Praying in Color: Drawing A New Path to God by Sybil MacBeth

I love this little book, and recommend it often. It’s a slim volume that provides a road map to prayer through, well, doodling. When I picked up this book, I didn’t think that I could draw and that it really wasn’t for me. Soon enough I discovered that my doodling really could be prayer, and that when I prayed for someone visually like that I was much more likely to remember to pray for them orally or silently throughout the day.

The Fire of the Word: Meeting God on Holy Ground by Chris Webb

A recent addition to my go-to books on prayer, The Fire of the Word is a guided journey into the heart of Scripture. Not Sunday School Scripture or ho-hum Bible study. This is a living, breathing transformative meeting with God through the Word. Too many people I know have been beaten with the Bible or taught it by rote so often that it feels like a lifeless set of principles or overwrought stories. Too often I find myself avoiding Scripture because it doesn’t feel like a place where I’ll meet the living God—I’ve been taught to dissect it rather than meet with it. After reading Chris’s book, I wanted to pick up the Bible again, and when I did, Scripture prayed me.

 God With Us: Rediscovering the Meaning of Christmas

I struggled with putting a season-specific prayer book on this list, but I love this book so much I couldn’t leave it out. I use this book every year during Advent and have written about it here. It’s a visual, poetic, prayerful feast and it guides me into the season with grace. I wish they had one for every season of the church year.

Prayers for a Privileged People by Walter Brueggeman

This book of prayers will shake you. A combination of Psalm-like, prophetically voiced poetic gifts, these prayers aren’t easy, simple or comfortable. They call forth the heart, they challenge the mind and they unbury the soul from underneath saccarine religious clichés. I don’t just like this book of prayers, I need it.

Living in the Companionship of God, Trusting God for Everything and Learning to Hear God by Jan Johnson

This little trilogy of what are titled personal retreat guides isn’t just a blueprint for time away with God (although they are excellent at that, and I use them for my own guided retreats). Each of these books is an experience of prayer in and of itself. When my soul needs to be refreshed, I take one of these volumes with me and work through them as prayer, as rest, as renewal in Christ. They may seem simple topics, but they are profound enough to be journeyed through again and again.

What about you? Do you have books on prayer or books of prayer that you reach for regularly?

* * *

Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book

10 Books I Own But Am Embarrassed I Haven’t Read

I admit it. I have a problem. If I have a besetting sin, it’s books. Or, better said, buying books. And now, it’s confession time because, sadly, there are at least 10 books that I own that I can put on a list of books that own but I’m embarrassed I haven’t read yet. Note: These are the books that I’m actually embarrassed about. There are a few others that I don’t feel the least bothered by owning but not having read, because, well, they were either bought because I thought I should or because I was told to for a seminary class and never got through them (I never could drum up the requisite amount of shame for not reading books during my over-burdened seminary years, despite trying valiantly.)

I’ve also strategically placed this blog post on the Fourth of July because, well, I’m actually embarrassed about this list. I paid good money for these books. I really ought to be reading them. And they are all really. good. books. But they keep being displaced by newer (or older) books that called my attention. I’m just too flighty. And that drives me nuts.

*takes a deep breath*

So, here I am. Confessing to you. Getting this off my chest and admitting that, well, there are perfectly good books on my shelves that I haven’t read yet.

The Solace of Fierce Landscapes: Exploring Desert and Mountain Spirituality by Belden C. Lane

This book is embarrassing for the sheer amount of time that I’ve owned it and intended to read it. For about five years, I’ve looked at this book on my shelf and thought, “I really want to read that. I should read that. I need to figure out when I’m going to read that.”

I mean, I live on the side of a mountain in high desert territory. You should think I’d have picked it up by now.

“In the tradition of Kathleen Norris, Terry Tempest Williams, and Thomas Merton, The Solace of Fierce Landscapes explores the impulse that has drawn seekers into the wilderness for centuries and offers eloquent testimony to the healing power of mountain silence and desert indifference.
Interweaving a memoir of his mother’s long struggle with Alzheimer’s and cancer, meditations on his own wilderness experience, and illuminating commentary on the Christian via negativa–a mystical tradition that seeks God in the silence beyond language–Lane rejects the easy affirmations of pop spirituality for the harsher but more profound truths that wilderness can teach us. “There is an unaccountable solace that fierce landscapes offer to the soul. They heal, as well as mirror, the brokeness we find within.” It is this apparent paradox that lies at the heart of this remarkable book: that inhuman landscapes should be the source of spiritual comfort. Lane shows that the very indifference of the wilderness can release us from the demands of the endlessly anxious ego, teach us to ignore the inessential in our own lives, and enable us to transcend the “false self” that is ever-obsessed with managing impressions. Drawing upon the wisdom of St. John of the Cross, Meister Eckhardt, Simone Weil, Edward Abbey, and many other Christian and non-Christian writers, Lane also demonstrates how those of us cut off from the wilderness might “make some desert” in our lives.”

Why wouldn’t I want to read this?

Healing Presence: Curing The Soul Through Union With Christ by LeAnne Payne

This one embarrasses me because so many people I love and respect rave about it. I own it and intended to read it. I’ve even picked it up a few times and gotten a few pages in, only to be distracted by something else. As someone who lives that ministry of presence with others, I would expect to find it really helpful. But I just ain’t got to it yet.

The Orthodox Way by Bishop Kallistos Ware

This one I’m both embarrassed and saddened to say I haven’t read yet. It’s a slim volume, a spiritual classic really, and I haven’t picked it up. Although I’m not Orthodox, I love Orthodox theology and am drawn to the beauty of the Orthodox tradition. I also feel really undereducated when it comes to the history and tenets of the Orthodox Church in a way that feels disrespectful to my Orthodox brothers and sisters. That makes me sad.

“Love and hatred are not merely subjective feelings, affecting the inward universe of those who experience them, but they are also objective forces, altering the world outside ourselves…if this is true of my love, it is true to an incomparably greater extent of Christ’s love. The victory of his suffering love upon the Cross does not merely set me an example, showing me what I myself may achieve if by my own efforts I imitate him. Much more than this, his suffering love has a creative effect upon me, transforming my own heart and will, releasing me from bondage, making me whole, rendering it possible for me to love in a way that would lie altogether beyond my powers, had I not first been loved by him.”

The Color of Light: Poems on Van Gogh’s Late Paintings by Marilyn Chandler McEntyre

This one made the list because I love McEntyre’s Caring for Words in a Culture of Lies. I love poetry. I love Van Gogh. I love the connections between light in art and our realizations of profound spiritual truths. I find McEntyre’s other book, Drawn to the Light: Poems on Rembrandt’s Religions Paintings, both restful and enlightening. But I haven’t picked this one up.

Here’s what an Amazon reviewer had to say about it:

I love VanGogh’s paintings and, as a journalist for many years, I’ve made a point of visiting exhibitions around the world that include his works. But, until I read McEntyre’s book, I had never stopped to think that the famous painting of Van Gogh’s bedroom at Arles includes two chairs and two doorways. I can close my eyes and see this painting after all these years—and, yet, I had never thought of the spiritual implications of two chairs and two doors in this tiny room in this emotionally charged placed in VanGogh’s life.

McEntyre doesn’t belabor these points. Her entire poem on the Arles’ bedroom is shorter than this book review. And yet -I will never look at that painting in the same way, again, having encountered McEntyre’s poetic meditation on the images. I thank her for the seasons she spent reflecting on these images! Through this book, she has become a companion in future reflections in galleries both of bricks and mortar—and galleries of spiritual reflection.

Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer by Richard Rohr

Love him or hate him, Father Richard Rohr has had a profound influence on the landscape of modern contemplative Christianity. I’ve heard him speak, interviewed him and listened to several of his webcasts. I get his Daily Meditation. And yet, I haven’t picked up this book despite the fact that contemplative Christianity is my bread and butter. *shakes her head at herself*

Peace Like A River by Lief Enger

This is another one that I’m more sad than embarrassed to have left unread. Because of the ways that this book has touched some of the most grounded, Godly people I know, I believe that it will be balm to my soul, as well. Sometimes we just don’t pick up the thing that will heal us, no matter how much we know we need it.

“Once traveling, it’s remarkable how quickly faith erodes. It starts to look like something else—ignorance, for example. Same thing happened to the Israelites. Sure it’s weak, but sometimes you’d rather just have a map.”  ― Leif EngerPeace Like a River

The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris

Amazing Grace and Dakota would make this list, too, if I but owned them. I’m embarrassed that I haven’t read this one because it touches so close the home spiritually and literarily.

“I wonder if children don’t begin to reject both poetry and religion for similar reasons, because the way both are taught takes the life out of them.”

God In the Dock: Essays on Theology and Ethics by C. S. Lewis

I’ve read so much Lewis, he may as well be my patron saint. (Although, if I had one, it probably would be another cranky Anglican, Evelyn Underhill.) I’m not sure how I’ve missed reading this collection of essays. I know they would feed me, but I haven’t found the time or space to pick this volume up of the shelf. Admittedly, I didn’t pay good money for this one myself. I inherited it as shared property when I married my husband. I should ask him if he’s actually read it.

On Writing Well: The Classic Guide to Writing Non-Fiction by William Zinsser

The sheer number of books on writing that I own is embarrassing in and of itself. Thankfully, I’ve read most of them. This one, though, I haven’t gotten to. I think I burned out somewhere along the line, or simply realized that what I needed to do was stop reading books about writing and just write. That’s my excuse, anyway. I bought this book three years ago from Eighth Day Books at the Glen Workshop and haven’t cracked the spine since. I suspect I’m going to go on feeling embarrassed about this one for a long time.

Anatomy of the Soul: Surprising Connections between Neuroscience and Spiritual Practices That Can Transform Your Life and Relationships by Curt Thompson

That’s a mouthful of a subtitle, I know, but this final book made the list because it’s current, relevant to my work and, from what I hear from others, transformative. Like anyone in a helping profession, I want to stay connected to the flow of the field that I’m in. Anatomy of the Soul synthesizes recent findings in the field of neuroscience with the ancient practices of Christianity in a way that affirms and undergirds what the Church Fathers and Mothers have been saying for centuries. That alone sounded exciting enough for me to purchase the book. Sadly, haven’t gotten to it yet.

“Remember that emotion is not a debatable phenomenon. It is an authentic reflection of our subjective experience, one that is best served by attending to it.” 

So, now that I’ve confessed, what about you? Are there books that you own that you’ve never read? Are you part of the Willard Wishful community, the phalanx of people who own The Divine Conspiracy but have never read it? (I was, for a much longer time than I’d care to admit.)

* * *

Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book


10 Books That I Keep In My Spiritual Direction Room

Today is my second post in my week long “10 Books” series that I’m writing as I track along with Sarah Bessey. While I don’t (yet) have a library of parenting books (one of the advantages of suddenly become a step-mom to adult children is that I got thrown out of the fridge into the fire and had no time to read books), I thought I’d share a list of 10 books that I always keep on hand in my spiritual direction office. In the meantime, I’ve put all 10 of Sarah’s suggestions on my Amazon Wishlist for future use.

As anyone who has been in my home office knows, I have more than 10 books on that particular bookshelf. In addition to my plaque that says Live by what you trust, not by what you fear and a beautiful shofar are a collection of books that serve as resources for all aspects of the spiritual life. Sometimes I loan them out, sometimes they spark a conversation and sometimes they are a source of prayers or meditations that begin a direction session. They are all, in one sense or another, doorways to the Divine. This list doesn’t preclude the others that line my shelves (many of which are books on the practice of Christian spiritual direction), but they are 10 that I wouldn’t do without.

Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals by Shane Claiborne, Enuma Okoro and Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove

For those unfamiliar with liturgy, a book as thick as this might seem intimidating. Appearances are deceiving here, though, as this book of prayer provides an accessible entryway into liturgical prayer. It’s important to note that this isn’t the same thing as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, although it does incorporate many aspects of that tradition into its generally ecumenical pages. Because the readings are both Scripture and insights from saints modern and ancient, I often use this as a blueprint for my own daily prayer. And when I don’t want to lug the massive thing around, I use the Kindle version (and I’ve since discovered that there’s a pocket edition as well.)

Hearts on Fire: Praying with Jesuits by Michael Harter

This beautiful little companion to St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises is where I first read one of my favorite prayers of all time, “Patient Trust.” You’ll often find this slim red volume in your quarters at Jesuit retreat centers. Although “praying with Jesuits” may sound almost as enticing to you as “dancing with porcupines”, this book is filled with poems, prayers and Scripture references that guide you deeper into the heart of Ignatian spirituality and imaginative prayer. Although it’s designed to accompany the Spiritual Exercises, I often use readings from this book in sessions.

Guerillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder

Despite its belligerent title, Guerillas of Grace is one of the most grace-filled, Spirit-inviting, soul-refreshing collection of prayers that I’ve every found. There are prayers of quietness & listening, thanks & praise, unburdening & confession, comfort & reassurance, restoration & renewal, commitment & change and a final section on seasons & holidays. These prayers are challenging, eye-opening, permission-giving prayers that invite honesty with God and with ourselves. I have at least two copies of this book at all times (and sometimes more, because I give it away so often).

“There Are Things I Do Care About”

Holy One,
most of the time
you don’t seem very close or real to me—
only a word, an ought,
a longing, maybe, a hope—
and, for the most part,
I don’t care much about you,
and that is the not-so-pretty truth of it.

But there are things I do care about:
myself mostly,
and some people I feel close to—
families, friends, children,
most of all children.
I do care what happens to them.

Read the rest here…

Journey with Jesus: Discovering the Exercises of Saint Ignatius by Larry Warner

I’m not going to lie, this book’s a tough one. It’s a version of Annotation 19 of St. Ignatius’s Spiritual Exercises, and it’s a rigorous experience of the life of Jesus. I say experience instead of study, because this is, in essence, a year-long immersion into prayer, Scripture, examen and encounter with Christ. I don’t know a single Christian leader who hasn’t come out of the exercises with a completely renewed, refreshed and awe-filled relationship with God after completing the Exercises—even after being in ministry for decades. Larry Warner’s version is accessible, clear and, in my opinion, kind. He wishes (and I do as well) that he could make it illegal to go through the Exercises without a spiritual director. This isn’t for the curious or the casual, but I keep it nearby because of the deeply transformative power of what was once a 40-day retreat prepared by a 13th century monk.

Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God by Dennis Linn, Sheila Fabricant Linn and Matthew Linn (illustrations by Francisco Miranda)

So many people come to spiritual direction with an image of God as judgmental, angry, punishing or just plain mean. Although they may not be able to articulate this at first, underneath the “correct” Christian answers lies a heart that is suffering from being given distorted ideas of God from often well-meaning sources. Part of the journey of spiritual direction is to accompany them on a healing journey as God reveals Himself as He truly is, bringing hope, life and redemption to weary, battered souls. The Linns are a great guide on the first steps on that journey. Although I don’t personally theologically agree with everything they say (and wouldn’t recommend it for everyone), their book gives people who have been stuck in their questions and fears a way to begin discussing and exploring what a different image of God in Christ might look like.

Enneagram Made Easy: Discover the 9 Types of People by Renee Baron and Elizabeth Wagele

This is my new favorite book on the Enneagram, a personality rubric I use often in spiritual direction. I don’t like boxing people in to personality types per se, but the Enneagram has proven so useful in helping people identify core struggles and passions, as well as defining a clear path to integration and soul health that I just can’t get away from it. I only recently discovered this slim and cartoon-festooned volume, at the recommendation of Jan Johnson (whose books are going to make another one of my lists, shortly), and I love the simple, clear way it presents the types. It’s the only book not pictured, as it’s currently out on loan to a directee.

The Deeper Journey: The Spirituality of Discovering Your True Self by M. Robert Mulholland Jr.

I talked yesterday about the liberation of discovering my false self, and all the ways that I go about trying to project a certain image to the world. The Deeper Journey is another wonderful book (in fact, one of my top ones) that really takes a look at the various machinations of the false self, pulling back the curtain to expose the frightened, needy, utterly loved True Self hidden by all this postering. If it weren’t such a hard book, I’d hand it out like candy. As it is, I keep it on hand as a corrective and a reminder to myself to engage both with my own True Self and to call out both the False and the True of those with whom I journey.

“Our religious false self is a master manipulator, always seeking to leverage our religious world and all those in it in ways most advantageous to its security, its prestige and, especially, our religious agenda.” (55)

To Bless The Space Between Us by John O’Donohue

If you’ve never read anything by John O’Donohue, please correct this immediately. This is a beautiful book of blessings for everything from the birth of a child to a blessing for the artist at the beginning of the day to a blessing for one who is exhausted. O’Donohue is a Celtic Christian, so some of his language may be stretching. So many of these blessings have been starting points for the Holy Spirit to invite, entice, convict and playfully tease during sessions that I can’t wait to see what God does with them when I read one to someone.

The Good & Beautiful God: Falling In Love With The God Jesus Knows by James Bryan Smith

This is the first book in a trilogy of books that are meant to be used in small group study. Smith’s book is another great resource for helping people heal their image of God. Smith takes a long look at our false narratives of God (his reading of Galatians 2:20 is worth the price of the book by itself, and will blow your mind) and provides practices and discussion questions that make engaging with the topics and one another inviting.

Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self by Joyce Rupp

Yup, I’ve got a True Self/False Self theme going. I love this book so much because it uses the door motif as a guiding principle. So many people are in places of transition—life stages, job changes, moves, shifts in self-perception—and so few have permission to engage with those transitions head on. Rupp’s book allows the image of the door guide to guide readers through the various stages of change, inviting God into each of them.

The Psalms: An Artist’s Impression by Eugene Peterson and Anneke Kai

Not every directee responds aurally. Not everyone experiences God the same way. This large-sized, slim volume is a set of beautiful abstract interpretations of The Message version of various psalms. I keep this on hand not only because it is stunning, but because art pierces the soul in ways that words do not (words pierce differently, but no less deeply). Sometimes, when a directee has felt disconnected to God for a long time, an encounter with an image, whether from this book or elsewhere, can open them up to an unexpected and redemptive encounter with the Spirit. I love watching God do that.

Honorary Mentions:

The Return of the Prodigal Son: A Story of Homecoming by Henri Nouwen

The Dark Night of the Soul: A Psychiatrist Explores the Connection Between Darkness and Spiritual Growth by Gerald May

*Not pictured: The Enneagram Made Easy (and somehow one of the books for later in the week, The Paraclete Psalter, snuck in early. Sorry about that.)


Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book



10 Books That Formed Me Spiritually (A Lectio of My Shelves)

When I first started scanning my bookshelves for books that have formed me spiritually (and reading Sarah’s post here), I realized that I’d set myself up. Pretty much every spine on my shelves has formed me in one way or another. This is one of the many reasons that I believe reading is so invaluable. By reading books, we are formed and reformed, pushed, pulled, challenged and soothed. Even the books on my shelves that I wouldn’t recommend are ones that have made some sort of impact on me, forcing me to think through my positions and beliefs, even if only about what constitutes good writing. So, today’s list of 10 is not exhaustive. It’s not comprehensive. It’s not even a list of the “top” books that have formed me spiritually. There are a few books that I’ve left off because I’m not done chewing on them. I may have read them weeks or years ago, but their effects are still rolling through me, still forming me in one way or another.

What this list is is a glimpse inside my soul at the 10 books that most jumped out at me when ran my fingers over bindings and bent before my shelves. In some ways, it’s a lectio divina of my shelves. As such, the list would be different if I had made it yesterday or if I were to make it tomorrow. Enjoy.

Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis

I became a Christian as an adult. In my mid-twenties, I found my spiritual longings inescapable. I was confused, tired, angry, driven and depressed. I wanted God (whoever He or She was) to make sense. I needed know someone else had wrestled with and thought through these questions, too. Lewis was that person:

“It is no good asking for a simple religion. After all, real things are not simple. They look simple, but they are not. The table I am sitting at looks simple: but ask a scientist to tell you what it is really made of—all about the atoms and how they light waves rebound from them and hit my eye and what they do to the optic nerve and what it does to my brain—and, of course, you find that what we call ‘seeing a table’ lands you in mysteries and complications which you can hardly get to the end of. A child saying a child’s prayer looks simple. And if you are content to stop there, well and good. But if you are not—and the modern world usually is not—if you want to go on and ask what is really happening—then you must be prepared for something difficult. If we ask for something more than simplicity, it is silly then to complain that the something more is not simple.” (40)

Finding Faith by Brian McLaren

Finding Faith formed me at the same time and in an almost opposite way from my formation by Mere Christianity. While Mere Christianity gave me answers—good answers, real answers—Finding Faith gave me questions of the same nature. With chapter titles like “Does It Really Matter What I Believe?” and “Why Is Church the Last Place I Think of for Help in My Spiritual Search?”, McLaren took on some of the very questions that I was asking without pummeling me with correct but unsatisfactory responses. At the end of each chapter he supplied me with additional questions to ask—of myself, of others, and of God. The questions eventually became prayers and the prayers became experiences. Finding Faith gave me permission to be on a journey, and the inscription on my battered copy reads, Tara,
May God guide you on your journey of faith. Seek and I know you will find. Luke 11:10.
Molly & Greg

Finding Faith formed me by giving me permission to question in the context of relationship. God met me there, and I’ve been questioning, journeying and loving it all ever since.

The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning

I don’t know how many times I’ve read “A Word Before” at the beginning of The Ragamuffin Gospel aloud. I’ve read it to friends, I’ve read it to myself, I’ve read it to directees. How quickly the gospel of grace, love and forgiveness becomes a gospel of drivenness and guilt. How quickly my own striving took over from the loving embrace of God that I experienced in those early years after God opened my eyes to Him. Brennan Manning reminded me (as he has reminded so many) that I am poor in spirit, trembling, broken, and right to be so. He reminded me this God of grace came and comes and comes again for me as I am, and that all I need do is be embraced by a Father who forgives me before I even repent, One who loves me because of myself not in spite of myself.

The Genesee Diary: Report from a Trappist Monastery by Henri J. M. Nouwen

Although I could pick almost any book by Nouwen as one that’s formed my soul, I chose The Genesee Diary over The Prodigal Son (which I love as well) because in the Diary I read the words of a man just like me. Nouwen’s neuroses and struggles were my own, and his inability to overcome his ego is also my inability to overcome mine. In Nouwen’s irascible prose I heard echoes of my own whiny faith.

Tuesday, 13

This morning Father John explained to me that the killdeer is a bird that fools you by simulating injury to pull your attention away from her eggs which she lays openly in a sandy place. Beautiful! Neurosis as weapon! How often I have asked pity for a very unreal problem in order to pull people’s attention away from what I didn’t want them to see.

Sometimes it seems that every bird has institutionalized one of my defense mechanisms. The cowbird lays her eggs in some other bird’s nest to let them do the brooding job; the Baltimore oriole imitates the sounds of more dangerous birds to keep the enemies away, and the red-wing blackbird keeps screaming so loudly overhead that you get tired of her noise and soon leave the area that she considers hers. It does not take long to realize that I do all of that and a lot more to protect myself or to get my own will done. (108)

Inner Compass: An Invitation to Ignatian Spirituality by Margaret Silf

Inner Compass was my first laywoman’s introduction to Ignatian spirituality, and it captured my soul. In simple terms, Silf made the teachings of Ignatius accessible to me, giving me metaphors and exercises that helped me to see God’s hand in my journey once more. The images Silf uses to explain the concepts of consolation and desolation have stayed with me since I first read them. Inner Compass helped me to read the compass of my own soul, to test the winds and begin to trust the urgings of my heart as they led me forward toward God. Suddenly, I really had my own inner compass, along with a clear manual for its use.

The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence

Five years ago, I spent 9 hours on my knees scrubbing a friend’s basement floor. The linoleum was caked with dirt from years of use. I switched into new knee pads twice and when I was finished, every joint in my body ached. I had a raging headache from the fumes produced by the cleaning products we used. And, because I had just read Brother Lawrence’s The Practice of the Presence of God, it remains to this day one of the deepest, most intimate spiritual experiences of my life.

 The most effective way Brother Lawrence had for communicating with God was to simply do his ordinary work. He did this obediently, out of a pure love of God, purifying it as much as was humanly possible. He believed it was a serious mistake to think of our prayer time as being different from any other. Our actions should unite us with God when we are involved in our daily activities, just as our prayers unite us with Him in our quiet devotions. (24)

Reversed Thunder: The Revelation of John & the Praying Imagination by Eugene Peterson

I could have picked almost anything by Eugene Peterson, from The Message to his most recent memoir, The Pastor. His words, his teaching, his life have inspired and formed me. When he speaks of God, I listen—and I am changed. I picked Reversed Thunder because it changed my relationship to the Book of Revelation. Frankly, I avoided Revelation. It scared me. It was hard to understand. I felt foolish and small in front of it, and, truth be told, Revelation is full of a lot of difficult passages both theologically and emotionally. Peterson’s book gave me a way into the final book of the Bible, a place of relationship, and an understanding of the centrality of worship. It opened the door of this part of Scripture to me, and when I walked in, I was transformed.

“Worship is the act in which our misunderstood and misspoken words are corrected and arranged into an expression of the whole truth of ourselves and our God; it is the act in which we find our fragmented lives corrected and arranged into a whole and perfect offering to God—by the action of the Lamb, we become ‘spotless’.” (129)

The Spirit of the Disciplines by Dallas Willard

Of all of Willard’s books, this one moved me the most. Not because The Divine Conspiracy didn’t—it did. Not because Knowing Christ Today doesn’t move me—it does. But because in the first half of the book (which most people skip because they find it too dry and dull), Willard wove together theology and spirituality in a way that made the disciplines suddenly not only imperative but attractive. Fasting, attractive? Yes, very much so. And I will be forever grateful.

The Gift of Being Yourself: The Sacred Call to Self-Discovery by David Benner

This is the first of a slim series of three volumes by David Benner that I find indispensable (the other two are Surrender to Love and Desiring God’s Will). Like Ragamuffin Gospel, The Gift of Being Yourself is an invitation to be honest with yourself before God—and find yourself loved, truly and completely. It’s also a great resource for understanding the false self—the part of me that I present to the world but isn’t really me. Benner’s book gave me a gentle introduction to my dark side, and allowed me to see that there were parts of me that I needed to accept rather than reject in order to stand fully before God.

Space for God: Study and Practice of Spirituality and Prayer by Don Postema

Space for God was just going to be another book for another seminary class. Spiritual Formation. A required course. Ho-hum. I thought it would be a bird course. Instead, it was a course that changed everything: my degree program, my career path, and my relationship with God. Space for God was a guide to making space for God in my life in ways that Bible studies, classes and Sunday school never taught me. Through nine guided weeks, I spent time in meditation and prayer, and began learning how to find silence and solitude in a schedule that made room for neither. Interacting with Space for God was like being taught to swim for the very first time. Overwhelming and awkward and first. Later, empowering and thrilling. All in the ocean of God’s love, a place I’d only been able to dangle my feet in up to this point. And I say interacting instead of reading on purpose—Space for God is filled with artwork and poetry, anecdotes and Scripture. You don’t simply read Space for God, you experience it.

And one more for good measure:

The Renovaré Life With God Bible

Although I love all sorts of Bible translations, this Bible is the one that I carry with me at all times. Frankly, I couldn’t get through a list of what’s formed me spiritually without mentioning Scripture, but not because I want to beat people with it. The Bible has been friend and foe to me, refuge and prison, a soft place to fall and a concrete wall that I have smashed my heart against. I love this translation and annotation of the Bible the best for lots of reasons (what can be better than quoting the Beatles in a footnote on the Psalms?), but most of all because it reminds me that this really is about life with God.

So, what about you? What would happen if you practiced lectio divina on your shelves, guided by a list of 10 books that have formed you spiritually?


Check back in each day for a new list, and be sure to click on over to Sarah’s blog to read hers as well. I mean, hey, she has a fancy button and everything:

Monday: 10 books that formed me spiritually

Tuesday: 10 books that I keep in my spiritual direction room

Wednesday: 10 books that I own but am embarrassed I haven’t read

Thursday: 10 books that help me pray

Friday: 10 books that remind me God’s the Great Storyteller

Saturday: 10 books I read on the weekends

Sunday: 20 books I read while writing my book