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Top Ten Spiritual Formation Books

July 6, 2012

I must admit, I am writing this slightly begrudgingly.  Somehow, I lost this post the first time I wrote it and my enthusiasm has waned the second time around.  I am wondering if today, only my second full day back from our 3 week plus trip, I have the time to spend 45 minutes again writing this post. My cute introduction filling you in on my month’s absences is gone (long story short–3,400 mile road trip from Texas to the East Coast complete with hiking in the Appalachians and swimming in the Atlantic, all the time hanging out with extended family and life long friends), replaced instead with this slightly whiny intro.  My explanation of how my vacation time fed nicely to some book lists is gone too.  Instead, I have a picture and a list, probably with shorter justifications on why the books are on the list.  That may not be a bad thing at all.

Thanks to Sarah Bessey and her blog for the inspiration to do this.  I am only 5(make that 6) days late on this list of my Top 10 Books (or authors) that aided my Spiritual Formation, but better late than never, right?

Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.  This is not a book you will find at the Christian/Religious section at the bookstore nor will you probably find it anywhere at a Christian Bookstore.   However, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is the book that led to all the other books.  I first read this book almost 20 years ago (yes, friends, I am that old). Pilgrim taught me how to read nonfiction–how to savor words instead of hungrily devouring story lines.  I also learned to be present in the moment and to notice how God is present in the mystery of living and dying which is part of our every day life.

A Celebration of Discipline and Prayer:  Finding the Heart’s True Home by Richard Foster.  I grew up Mennonite and the study of spiritual disciplines was not common.  We prayed, we read the Bible, we had potlucks regularly (some of my best memories of church were running through our church after eating at a potluck), we took communion, we went on mission trips, we washed feet.  However, we didn’t study all the spiritual practices or call them as such.  Foster introduced me to some that were less well-known for me, such as fasting in Discipline.  In Prayer, I learned more how to pray and the importance of prayer.  These helped spark the curiosity of the spiritual disciplines and helped me begin to recognize the inner contemplative I didn’t know was there.

The Summer of the Great-Grandmother, Two Part Invention, and Walking on Water by Madeleine L’Engle.  Somewhere in my early spiritual reading life, I discovered L’Engle.  I remembered struggling through A Wrinkle in Time in upper elementary school, and I just didn’t get it.  However, after reading some of L’Engle’s reflections (they’re memoirs, but that seems like to trite a word for her writing), I fell in love with her.  The Summer of the Great-Grandmother and Two Part Invention introduced me to kairos time–that which I think of now as circular time and God’s time–and the struggle with why bad things happen.  Kairos time allowed me to recognize that God is bigger than I imagined El (L’Engle’s “pronoun” for God).  Within kairos, evolution not only can have happened, but it glorifies God in the process.  Walking on Water helped me realize that God is in everything (art forms in particular), whether it is Christian or not.  L’Engle helped me release God from the little box I had confined El in to be a more  powerful, immense, loving God than I could fathom.

Gracias! A Latin America Journal, The Road to Daybreak, and Here and Now by Henri Nouwen (not pictured, I checked all of those out from the public library).  Like L’Engle, these may be technically be memoirs.  I feel in love with Nouwen 15 years and read all of his works I could get his hands on.  Through these three books, in particular, I learned about God’s unconditional love and seeing God in others.  Nouwen was another  other who reinforced my love of Catholic and Anglican authors and their contemplative ways.

The Jesus I Never Knew by Phillip Yancey.  After reading so much of the Anglican and Catholic traditions, Yancey helped bring me back to mainstream Protestant thought.  L’Engle helped me with how I saw God.  Yancey helped me develop a more biblically aligned view of Jesus–as the Son of God who was not satisfied with the status quo, big business, societies that alienated and malaligned people, and firmly rooted in active nonviolence.

The Chronicles of Narnia by C.S. Lewis.  The Chronicles of Narnia built on what L’Engle started.  I must admit, I read these only because the movie, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe was coming out.  Narnia again encouraged me to imagine God as more than what I had imagined before–in the image of a Lion who was unpredictable and scary and loving and sacrificial all rolled into one.  My favorite scenes in all the books occurred in The Magicians Nephew and The Last Battle though.  I loved Lewis’s interpretation of creation and of heaven.  Why couldn’t have God sung the world into being?  I prefer to think of that way.  I am still drawn to heaven as being a place that is “further up and higher on” as well.  Lewis’ writing is beautiful, captivating, and enlightening.

Barbara Brown Taylor’s Altar in the World.  Sometime between The Jesus I Never Knew and the Chronicles of Narnia, I quit reading.  It wasn’t that I didn’t still love reading or wanted to stop reading, my life got harder and harder to negotiate and reading fell to the wayside.  Over a stretch of about 5 years,  Narnia was probably the only “Christian” literature I had read (thankfully, I had read Walking on Water prior to that and new I could find God in the occasional works of fiction and nonfiction I rarely made time for).  Altar in the World helped me start reading again.  I needed the reminder that God could be found in all things and that we are surrounded by things everywhere that can lead us closer to God.  Taylor helped me accept the fact that I have time for anything I thought I was important and she helped motivate me to make time to work on my relationship with God.  (I have written quite a bit about this book in earlier posts as well).

The One Year Chronological Bible, New Living Translation.  Mennonites are a denomination that could be described as a Bible Church.  In 5th and 6th grade, our Sunday School teacher paid us to read the whole Bible–Old Testament one year and New Testament the next.  After that I read the Bible several times thanks to the leaflets our church passed out about reading the Bible through in the year.  Despite that, there were whole sections of the Bible that were lost to me–I just didn’t get them.  This Bible helped me make more sense of it.  The books and passages were arranged so they were chronological order.  For example, Job was immediately after Genesis and the Psalms were interspersed into Kings, Samuel, and Chronicles (and more) to match the events they were written for.  I love this version of the Bible.  It helped me follow the I and II’s better and I fell in love with the Prophets (mostly the Minor ones—especially Hosea!).  I also particularly enjoyed this translation which I felt fell somewhere between the NIV and the Message.

The Quotidian Mystery:  Laundry, Liturgy, and “Women’s Work” by Kathleen Norris.  One of the things making this book list has revealed to me is how much my spiritual development builds upon itself.  I circle back to similar themes over and over, getting new insights each time.  The Quotidian Mystery continued along the lines of Altars in the World.  This was one of my favorite books I’ve read recently and I’ve come back to it over and over.  One of the things that was especially meaningful was the naming of a malady I’ve suffered from off and on for years—acedia.  Acedia is a sort of spiritual relative of depression.  I’ve very rarely been depressed, but that 5 pm illness that leaves me staring out of the kitchen window hoping someone shows up seems to fit Norris’ description of acedia.  Naming it seemed to make it easier to confront it head on.

The Breath of the Soul by Joan Chittister.  I’ve read this little book for the past two years at Lent.  Each day there is a short reading on prayer, a scripture and then a prayer to repeat throughout the day.  I’ve learned a lot about prayer from Chittister.  Although I read it two consecutive years, it was as meaningful the second time as the first….different things popped out to me.  If I continue my Lent tradition with that book, I’ll probably have the whole book underlined in a few years.  🙂

Also pictured is a small spiral journal.  Around 1996, I started recording quotes from books (many of them listed here) on the left side of the journal and my happy list (which has morphed into my present day thankful list) on the right side.  That journal stands as a reminder for me of the importance of journaling, as a means of remembering and reflecting.

Whew.  That’s it.  Next up, eventually, a list of my 10 favorite nonfiction books/memoirs and 10 favorite fiction books/authors.  Oh and I suspect there is that long lost post on acedia that is waiting to surface as well.

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