Don’t you just feel it? The need to pause and reflect without anything tweeting or beeping or ringing at you? I do. For more years than I can count, I have started my day with a spiritual book. My children know not to bother mom until after she has had coffee, food, and reading time. I’m always searching for spiritual books that will nourish me and stretch my mind and heart. I am delighted to welcome my colleague Marjorie Wilbur to the blog, who provides a great list of books that do both. Enjoy! (And add your own suggestions in the comment section of the blog!
For the past 20 years or so I’ve been purposeful about tending my spiritual journey. These days that journey includes companioning others as they uncover the spiritual direction of their own lives. Both these vocations have been fed by the rich writings of the many, varied authors whose books exploring spirituality I have read and marked, quoted and recommended. My tastes are rooted in a liberal Catholic-Christian tradition that have expanded over time to encompass interspirituality and an image of God beyond gender. I also appreciate an elegant use of language.
Choosing a short list from among all these titles is daunting. Even deciding how to choose them took some effort. But I kept recalling the advice of a wise guide who cautioned me: “Don’t be a spiritual glutton.” She meant that I should learn to discover and savor the small, pure insights in what I read rather than amassing more and more ideas to stuff into my head. So resisting my unrealistic urge to empty the complete contents of my bookshelves into this blog, I’ve selected a few choice books that have nurtured my spirituality in a profound way with the hope that they might offer food for your journey as well.
Sometimes a spiritual snack is just the perfect bite. Books of daily reflections can offer our souls something to nibble on. They are not meant to be provide all our spiritual sustenance, but they can fill us in those in-between times when we can’t sit down to a whole meal. My current favorite is The Book of Awakening by Mark Nepo which several people mentioned to me before I picked it up myself. Each entry includes a brief mantra-like phrase, the author’s musings on some practical aspect of transformative, mindful living and suggested practices to enhance the reader’s own experiences on the topic. This can be a first taste to whet the appetite for someone without much background in spirituality but will satisfy the practiced seeker as well.
During the summer months I’m drawn to spiritual reading that is on the lighter side without being light-weight. Books with this small plates approach contain brief chapters united by an overall theme that can be sampled one at a time. Two that I enjoy that way are by women with long lists of publications and loyal followings. An Altar in the World is Barbara Brown Taylor’s collection of reflections on spiritual practices such as Walking, Being Present, and Saying No. She draws on her experiences as an Episcopal priest, college educator and country-dwelling wife in an easy style that shows both her depth and humor.
The other is Joan Chittister’s Welcome to the Wisdom of the World. Each chapter is a small treasure shaped around a compelling question such as “How can I learn to let go of the past?” “Why do I feel stuck?” and “What is Happiness?” She considers them from the perspectives of the world’s five great religious traditions. As always, her writing here is filled with stories and the wisdom she has gained from her international work as a spiritual teacher and leader in her Benedictine community.
When I crave spiritual writing with a bit more substance, I look for recent offerings from favorite authors. These two books delve into timely spiritual issues and I’ve been recommending them as must-reads. The prolific and popular Richard Rohr’s Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, explores spiritual growth as a developmental task with fundamental differences in the first and second parts of our lives. Movement to the second half often is triggered by some painful experience which opens us to more than we could have imagined for ourselves. He is a Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in New Mexico.
Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer is not strictly-speaking a book on spirituality, but this Madison-based, Quaker-formed educator cannot write a sentence without beauty and soul spilling on to the page. Here he provides us with lessons on the original meaning of democracy in the United States and how the bitter political divisions of recent years threaten its future. His message is urgent and full of possibility.
This final recommendation is a feast for the brain as well as the heart and spirit. The Holy Thursday Revolution by Beatrice Bruteau is part theology, part sociology, part philosophy, part history. She examines a pervasive, long-standing world view that has domination at its center and then leads readers to see how the events of Holy Thursday, foot washing and Eucharist, were radical acts of social transformation that Christians are still trying to understand and follow. Don’t be scared off by the fifty pages of footnotes; this is a chewy but fascinating and very filling read.
Your turn. OK, I stopped at six. I hope one or two of these titles entice you to savor them for yourselves. Some of you may be eager, as I am, to learn more about books that engage and expand our spirits. Rochelle’s blog is the perfect place to share your favorites—please add your suggestions in the comments section below. I’ll be watching for your suggestions.
P.S. I can’t resist passing along a website that reviews books from a spiritual perspective. It also includes movie reviews, spiritual courses by leading wisdom figures and many other resources for the spiritual journey. If you don’t know Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat’s amazing www.spiritualityandpractice.com, you must go there now.
About the Author. Marjorie Wilbur, who lives in the Milwaukee area, is a spiritual companion, program facilitator and member of the CAPACITAR National Team, offering workshops and trainings in the multicultural wellness education practices taught by CAPACITAR, International. She is also an adjunct supervisor in the Spiritual Direction Preparation Program at the Franciscan Spirituality Center in La Crosse, Wisconsin. For eleven years she served as the Executive Director of The Center to BE, an independent, inclusive spirituality center in Milwaukee. She also has had a long career as a senior executive in health care administration. She writes as a way to deepen her understanding of spirituality in everyday life, reflecting on common experiences as doorways to wisdom.