The pile of books on my night table (and scattered in other parts of my house) waiting to be read is enormous and growing day by day. There is often little rhyme or reason as to which book gets put on the top of the pile….and the top of the pile changes often. But listed below are some books I’ve been reading. The list is not in any order of imporance; rather as I add new entries to this page, the new entires will appear at the top of the list.
Navigating the Interior Life: Spiritual Direction and the Journey to God, Daniel Burke, 2012
This book is designed to help people understand what spiritual direction is and why having a spiritual director is beneficial. My review of the book is here. Added 3/28/13.
Jesus of Nazareth: The Infancy Narratives, Pope Benedict XVI, 2012
Testament of Mary, Colm Toibin, 2012
This book was one of my Christmas presents. A quick read, but a thought-provoking one. I talk about it here. Added 1/5/13.
Forming Intentional Disciples: The Path to Knowing and Following Jesus, Sherry A. Weddell, 2012
Breaking Through: Catholic Women Speak For Themselves, Helen M. Alvare (ed), 2012
I reviewed this book for the Catholic Company. You can read my review here. Added 11/12/12.
Two Statues, Brian Kennelly, 2012
I reviewed this great read for St. Benedict’s Press. My review is here. Added 10/30/12.
The Environment,, Pope Benedict XIV, 2012
I reviewed this book for the Catholic Company. My comments are here. Added 10/18/12
The Secret Life of John Paul II, Lino Zani, 2012
My review of this wonderful picture of the private life of John Paul II is here. Added 9/24/12.
The Essential Texts of Vatican II, 2012.
My review is here. Added 9/8/12.
Reflections on the Eucharist, Raymond Cardinal Burke, 2012
My review of this book of commentary on two papal documents on the Eucharist is here. Added 8/19/12
I thought this book was wonderful and I know it is one I will come back to frequently. Wonderful discussion of love, conscience, sin and suffering and a great discussion of the virtues. I talk about the book here and here. Added 6/28/12.
My friend Kathy Berken spent a number of years living in a L’Arch community. In this book she shares what she learned during that time. It is an honest and beautiful account of loving and being loved, healing and being healed. I made a brief observation about the book here. Added 6/28/12.
Rohr sets out an insightful and new paradigm for understanding two very different phrases of our lives. There is much here to reflect on and much that will help soften our reactions to what seem to be the failures of the first half of life. I talk about different pieces of the book here, here and here. I can’t recommend the book highly enough. Added 6/28/12.
Stories and prayers to inspire those in caregiving situations. My review of the book is here. Added 5/19/12
I read this gem of a book as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer Program. It explores how to maintain a lifelong, loving relationship with God, using the metaphor of dating as a way to help us understand the developing and maintaining of that relationship. I review the book here. Added 4/17/12
There are many challenges to effective witness to the Gospel in the world in which we live. Archbishop Chaput addresses some of them in his new e-book, which I review here. Added 3/27/12.
Recommended to me by a friend, I found this a provocative book. I talk about it here. Added 3/23/12.
An inspiring book about faith, the book weaves the story of three fisherman lost at sea with that of a man adrift. I review the book here. Added 3/20/12
A great read. I knew nothing at all about Peter Morrone, who became Pope Celestine V. Sweeney does a great job telling his story as well as giving us a good glimpse of the Church during the Middle Ages. I talk about the book here. Added 3/11/12
I have no way of evaluating Williams as the leader of the Anglican Church, but he is a wonderful theologian and I always find his writings beneficial. This book shares wisdom of the desert fathers, helping us see why their teachings have relevance to us today. I talk about the book here, here and here. Added 3/4/12
Fr. Groeschel shares with readers his favorite saints. Offering a visit with some old friends and the beginning of a relationship with some new ones, a worthwhile read. I talk about the book, which I reviewed for Catholic Company, here. Added 2/25/12
Christopher West’t most recent book on the Theology of the Body. I write about the book here. Added 2/21/12
A wonderful aid to prayerful reflection on the Gospel of Luke. I review it here. Added 1/21/12
I found this to be a very worthwhile book. I review it here. Added 1/5/12
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer’s program. My review of it is here. Added 12/11/11.
I love James Martin and I’ve benefitted greatly from everything he has written. This book is a wonderful exploration of (as the subtitle suggests) “why joy, humor, laughter are at the heart of the Spiritual Life.” I share some thoughts about the book here. Added 11/26/11.
My friend Darleen Pryds sent me a copy of this book of hers and I am enormously grateful that she did. It is a wonderful read about some extraordinary women. I talk about the book here. Added 11/5/2011.
This book was recommended to me by my cousin Jeremy and I’m glad he did, since I’m not sure I would have come across it otherwise. The 2002 shooting at a tranquil abbey in 2002, which killed two monks and injured two others had an enormous impact on Johnson. I talk about the book here. Added 10/23/2011.
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer program. My review of the book is here. Added 10/23/11
The Evagelization Equation, Fr. James A. Wehner, 2010
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program. My comments on the book are here. Added 9/21/11
I loved this book, which I read at my friend Steve Shiffrin’s suggestion. This writer is someone who understands Eucharist. I talk about the book in a post here. Added 8/16/11
St. Francis, The Journey and the Dream, Murray Bodo, 2011
I review the 40th anniversary edition of this wonderful book here. Added 7/30/11
What’s So Amazing About Grace?, Philip Yancey, 1997
I’m a big fan of Yancey’s; the couple of books of his I’ve read have been very thought-provoking. I picked this one up while I was on retreat and it was a perfect supplement to my prayer during that 8-day period. The book is a wonderful effort to help us embrace deeply that grace “is not about finishing last or first; it is about not counting,” that grace is “a gift from God, not as something we toil to earn.” His discussion of forgiveness is very powerful, as his criticism of legalism. Added 7/24/11
I am a big fan of Fr. Jim Martin and so when I saw this book sitting in the box of a book exchange I picked it up, and finished it the day I started it. It is an engaging account of Martin’s discernment of vocation to the Jesuits and of the time leading up to the taking of his initial vows as a Jesuit. It is a book about God’s call and the response to that call. A good read for anyone, Robert Ellsberg accurately called it “a Seven Storey Mountain for a new generation of seekers.” Added 7/24/11
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program. My comments on it are here. Added 6/25/11
I can’t say enough good things about this book, which was hard to put down once I started reading. Compelling. Challenging. Put is on your summer reading list. My review of the book is here. Added 6/4/11
My friends Marcia and Doug talked a bit about this book one night at dinner and so my husband bought it for me as a Mother’s Day gift. And a wonderful gift it was. Some wonderful and thought-provoking tales. I talk about the book here. Added 5/24/11
A wonderful book about the root of our faith. Williams’ book invites deeper exploration into what it means to believe in God and what it means to follow Christ in the world today. I talk about the book here, here and also here. A book all Christians can benefit from. Added 5/21/11
An accessible but thought-provoking reflection on the Eucharist. Fr. Barron’s CD, with accompanying study guide is a good resource for those wishing to deepen their understanding and appreciation of this central sacrament of our faith. My review for the Catholic Company is here. Added 5/17/11
A wonderful account of Martin’s six months with an off-broadway group producing a play about the trial of Judas. I talk about the book here. Added 5/10/11
Love Wins, Rob Bell, 2011
There is a lot packed into the small volume by Rob Bell. The book presents a theology some would Evangelicals (and perhaps other Christians) would label heretical. But I found it a thought-provoking read and much he writes resonated deeply with me. I talk about the book here. Added 4/29/11
God Sent his Son: A Contemporary Christoloty, Christoph Cardinal Schonborn, 2010
Combines theological learning with deep spiritual insights. A beautiful book of Christology, which I review here. Added 3/22/11.
Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 2006 edition
I have been meaning to read this book for a long while and am glad I finally did. It is a powerful book that offers much to reflect on concerning the meaning of our lives and how we deal with suffering. I talk about the book in a blog post here. Find the time to read it if you have not yet done so. Added 3/15/11.
Glass Halo, Colleen Smith 2010
Looking for a good novel to read? I highly recommend this one, which I review here. Added 3/3/11
Each chapter in this book explores a different clause of the Apostles’ Creed. Chittister shares her understanding of the Cree in refreshing terms. Women particularly (although not exclusively) will appreciate the struggles Chittister has faced in finding meaning in her faith. It is a book that invites us to think more deeply about what we are affirming when we recite the creed. I talk about her reading of a couple of lines of the creed in posts here and here. Added 1/30/11.
An engrossing memoir of a man who has lived an extraorindary life. I reviewed this book for the Catholic Company Reviewer Program and you can read my review here. Added 12/27/10
I reviewed this wonderful resource for the Catholic Company. You can find my review of it here. Added 11/16
Jesus, the Revelation of the Father’s Love, Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., 2010
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer progam. My review of the book is here. Added 10/1/10
I read this book as part of a “blog book tour.” In it the authors offer vignettes of their lives as a way of illustrating God’s presence to them. I review the book here. Added 9/25/10.
What Good is God, Philip Yancey, 2010
I found much to think about in Yancey’s efforts to illuminate signs of God’s presence even in the midst of challenging situations. A hopeful book that is worth reading. My post about it is here. Added 9/16/10
Exercising Your Soul, Gary Jansen, 2010
A nice tool for one’s daily prayer, this book contains a number of short prayer exercises designed to appeal to those with limited time. I talk about the book at more length here. Added 9/5/2010
God is Not One, Stephen Prothero (2010)
Although I don’t see eye-to-eye with Prothero on everything, I think this is a book well-worth reading by anyone interested in inter-religious dialogue or, indeed, in learning more about religions other than one’s own. I give a fuller sense of my views of the book here. Added 9/1/10.
Walking With God: A Journey Through the Bible, Tim Gray and Jeff Cavins, 2010
I read and reviewed this book as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer program. My thougths about the book are here. Added 8/25/10
For a year people have been telling me I had to read this book. I confess I was not as enamored of it as many others have been. (I started skimming before page 20, which is generally not a good sign for me.) Having spent time in each of the three main venues of her travels – Rome, India and Bali, I could relate to some of her reactions and descriptions of the three different cultures. But I didn’t find it as rich in spiritual insight as I had expected (and hoped) from all I had heard about the book. Added 8/14/10
The Jesuit Guide to Almost Everything, James Martin, S.J., 2010
A wonderful book for neophytes to the Ignatian tradition as well as for those of us with a longer and deeper exposure to the subject. Martin is a wonderful writer and I always appreciate his work. This was no exception. I talk about different aspects of the book in posts here (his treatment of the vows of poverty, chastity and obedience), here (definitions vs. stories) and here (sin). Added 8/3/10
Toward a True Kinship of Faiths, HH Dalai Lama, 2010
The Dalai Lama’s books are always wonderful to read and this one is no exception. It is a major contribution to efforts to establish greater understanding between religions. I talk extensively about it here. Added 7/20/10
Deeper than Words: Living the Apostles’ Creed, Brother David Steindl-Rast, 2010
I have been a big fan of Brother David’s for a long time and this most recent book may be the best thing I’ve read of his. There is much to reflect on – and much that will challenge – in his discussion of each line of the creed. I share my general reactions to the book here and talk about two individual chapters here and here. This is a book you shouldn’t pass up reading. Added 7/16/10
Subtitled A Christian Response to Mental Illness, this is a worthwhile read both for those suffering from illness of various kinds and for those who minister to them. I talk about it in two posts, which you can find here and here. Added 7/11/10
Always interested in materials for Bible Study, I read this as part of the Catholic Company Reviewer Program. My discussion of the book is here. Added 6/26
I heard about this book from a number of sources and I love Rohr and so couldn’t wait to read this book. It is, as the subtitle suggests, an invitation and instruction to experience God directly, as did the mystics. I talk about the book here. Added 6/9/10
This book was recommenced to me by my spiritual director and I am glad for that. I found it a powerful, honest and compelling. I posted some throughts on the book here. Added 5/22/10.
The Art of Choosing, Sheena Iyengar, 2010
I reviewed this fascinating book for the Hachette Group. My review is here. Added 5/19/2010
The Noticer, Andy Andrews, 2009
An beautiful allegorical tale, and a very worthwhile read. The lessons are at the same time simple and profound. I talk about book here. Added 5/6/2010.
An inspiring book with the stories of eight people who devoted themselves to working for peace and justice. My review is here. Added 4/16/2010
Quarantine, Jim Crace, 1999
A fictional telling of Jesus’ 40 days in the desert with a focus on the people he encountered and the effect on them of the encounter. From reviews I’ve seen, I didn’t think it was a great as some people did, but still found it provocative. I talk about one aspect of it here. Added 4/11/10
I review this book here. Added 4/8/10
I review this book and another book by Meyer, Hearing from God Each Morning, here. Both are worthwhile reads. Added 2/28/10
Practicing Catholic, James Carroll, 2009
Another book recommended to me by my friend Joe that I thought was a highly worthwhile read. It is both a personal spirtiual journey and a story of the movement of the Church through the post-Vatican II years. I wrote about particular thougths in the book here, here and here. Added 2/11/10
As the book’s subtitle reveals, this is a lectionary-based catechsim for adults. My review of this book is here. Added 1/28/2010
A Pilgrim in a Pilgrim Church: Memoirs of a Catholic Archbishop, Rembert G. Weakland, OSB, 2009
My friend Joe recommended this book and I always take his recommendations seriously. Although Weakland is a controversial figure for many, this is an honest account of both Weakland’s personal struggles but of those of the Church in the post-Vatican II period. His evaluations of the evolution of the Church during that period will offend some, but he raises serious points that deserve consideration as the Church continues to face challenges today. I found much in the book that I want to go back and think about. Added 1/9/10
Go to Joseph, Fr. Richard W. Gilsdorf, 2009
A small volume devoted to increasing our learning about St. Joseph and providing material to bring to prayer. My review of the book is here. Added 12/3/09
Can God be Trusted, Thomas D. Williams, 2009
For many people, trusting God can be a struggle. Williams explores why this is the case and tries to explain why God is worthy of our trust. My review of the book is here. Another post in which I talk about something that struck me in the book is here. Added 11/19
Saint of the Day: lives, Lessons & Feasts, ed. Leonard Foley, 6th ed. 2009
The saints provide powerful inspiration and strength for us. I review the sixth edition of this classic book here. Added 11/11.
Mary, Mother of the Son, Mark Shea, 2009
Mary is beloved by many Catholics at the same time that Marian ideas and devotion cause great difficulty for many non-Catholic Christians. Shea’s three-volume set is a particularly good read for the latter, but also has much for the former. My extensive review of the book, which links to some other posts in which I talk about ideas in the book, is here. Added 10/10
A friend recommended this book to me and I am incredibly grateful that he did. It is a wonderful book about discerning vocation and about understanding that vocation is not just about my talents and desires, but is deeply tied to the needs of the world in which we live. For anyone intent on hearing the call of God in their lives, this is a good read. There are many things in this book worthy of reflection; I posted on Neafsey’s discussion of authenticity here and on his discussion of the prophetic imagination here. Added 9/14/09
The Woman Who Named God, Charlotte Gordon, 2009
I quickly became completely engrossed by this story of Abraham, Sarah and Hagar (to whom the title of the book refers) and I learned a lot in reading the book I had not known before. I give a fuller review of the book here. Added 9/3/09.
Mission in the Gospels, R. Geoffrey Harris, 2004
This is a very interesting and informative book that traces the theme of mission in the four Gospels. It finds similarities among all the Gospels in conveying the idea that there are “stages in the unfolding of salvation history, and that every stage has its own time and place in the scheme of things.” I found the book to provide cogent explanations of things that on the surface may seem baffling (e.g., why there are two feeding miracles in some Gospels, which I discuss here), as well as of certain things Jesus said to his disciples. The book also contains a good discussion of the consequences for us of the mission theme of the Gospels. One warning: although this book is very readable, it is more scholarly than a lot of the books I’ve listed here. It is not light reading. In addition to the post linked above, I also discuss one aspect of the book here. Added 8/28/09.
Learn to Study the Bible, Andy Deane, 2009
Many people have never engaged in formal Bible study and yet a greater understanding of the Bible is valuable for all of us. This book offers 40 methods for studying the Bible. I talk more extensively about it here. Added 8/25/09.
Fire of God’s Love, 120 Reflections on the Eucharist, Mike Aquilina, 2009
This book is a collection of thoughts on the Eucharist from a variety of writers from across the ages. I posted a review of the book here. Added 8/19.
Why Go to Church? The Drama of the Eucharist, Timothy Radcliffe, OP, 2009
I loved this book, as I did Radcliffe’s previous book, Why Be a Christian? The book unfolds “the drama of the Eucharist” in three acts, which for Radcliffe correspond to faith, hope and love. I wrote two posts on different thoughts conveyed in the book, which you can find here and here. Added 8/14/09.
This is a wonderfully inspiring book that gives flesh to what it means to be a “mystic-activist,” to unite a commitment to social justice with faith. DeYoung uses three extraordinary figures as primary examples of mystic activists – Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Malcolm X and Aung San Suu Kyi – as well as some other examples, some well known to us and others less well known. I knew the most about Bonhoeffer before reading the book, but learned more about him, as well as a tremendous amount about Malcolm X and Aung San Suu Kyi. I have posts talking about different aspects of the book here and here. A very worthwhile read. Added 8/5/09.
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company reviewer program. My review is posted here. Added 7/27/09.
Letter to A Child Never Born, Oriana Fallaci, 1975
I just finished reading this novel, which takes the form of a monologue between a pregnant woman and the unborn child she ultimately miscarries. It reveals the mixed feelings of a woman experiencing an unplanned pregnancy, who both decides she wants to have her child and resents what the pregnancy does to her body. It is at one and the same time incredibly sad and thought provoking. I wanted to both shake the woman and comfort her for the experiences that led to to such a bleak view of life. Worth a read. Added 7/8.
The Book of Books: The Old Testament Retold, Henri Daniel-Rops (1955)
As the title suggests, a retelling of the chronology of the Old Testament. Although I applaud efforts to increase our teens’ knowledge of the Bible, this is not the vehicle I’d choose for that aim. See my fuller account of the book, which explains why, here. Added 7/7.
An thought-provoking and enjoyable novel. A fast-read. I review the book in a post here. Added 6/23.
A worthwhile collection of Pope Benedict’s catechesis on St. Paul. See my full discussion of the book here. Added 5/28/09.
The Way of Discernment, Elizabeth Liebert, 2008.
This wonderful tool of discernment was recommended to me by my spiritual director. It is worth reading and going back to again and again. I talk about ths book in a post here. Added 5/5/09.
Infinity in the Palm of Her Hand: A Novel of Adam and Eve, Gioconda Belli, 2009
I can’t figure out whether I recommend this novel or not. See my post on it, which expressed my mixed reactions. The post is here. Added 4/26/09.
Francis of Assisi, Michael de la Bedoyere, 1999
I love Francis and I thoroughly enjoyed reading this account of his life. I posted a review of the book here. Added 4/14/09.
A Long Retreat: In Search of a Religious Life, Andrew Krivak, 2008
I can’t remember who recommended this book to me, but I loved reading Krivak’s account of his journey into and then our of the Jesuits. I have a post talking about the book here. Added 4/6/09
The Good Life: Where Morality and Spirituality Converge, Richard M. Gula, S.S., 1999
My husband picked up this novel for me (having a Barnes & Noble gift certificate that was burning a hole in his pocket). It tells the story of a cloistered Carmelite nun, whose prayers lead her to a deeply ecstatic state. When she discovers that the visions are the product of epilepsy, she must choose whether to accept a “cure” that will mean the end of her visions. The book raises important questions about the meaning of faith and about what it is that we seek from God. A quick read, but one I enjoyed and that offers a lot to think about. Added 3/17/09
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company’s reviewer program. My review is here. Added 3/17/09.
Grace Cafe, Donna-Marie Cooper O’Boyle, 2008
I read this book as part of the Catholic Company’s reviewer program. My review is posted here. Added 2/3/09.
I read this book on the recommendation of my friend Tim and I would recommend it to everyone to read. I talk about it in a post I made this morning here. Added 12/14
Jesus, Present Before Me, Father Peter John Cameron, O.P., 2008
I read this book as part of The Catholic Company’s review program. My review is posted here. Added 11/14.
Led by Faith, Immaculee Ilibagiza, 2008
I received this book yesterday morning as part of my birthday gift from my husband and just finished reading it now, which I hope conveys how compelling the book is. This book is a follow-up to Immaculee Ilibagiza’s first book, Left to Tell, mentioned below. It takes off where the other book left off, and gives us the story of the author’s journey as she struggles to finding meaning in her life after the Rwandan holocaust. Her courage and faith are heroic and humbling. Her gift of forgiveness is extraordinary and her message of love is universal. Here is an antidote for any who doubt the power of our God, who time and time again demonstrates His love and care for his child who suffered so much and who turns to him in complete faith. An inspring story I encourage everyone to read. Added 11/3
Being Catholic Now, Kerry Kennedy, 2008
As the subtitle of this book explains, this is a book in which “Prominent Americans Talk about Change in the Church and the Quest for Meaning.” The book contains short essays by people prominent in various fields and includes priests and nuns as well as lay men and women. Some are people who were raised in the Catholic faith and remain Catholics, others have left Catholicism and still others were born into some other faith tradition and converted to Catholicism. Some are more powerful than others, but the book is a quick read and worth the time to read it. I was particularly moved by Kennedy’s own preface to the book and her testimony to how her Catholicism has enriched her life. Added 10/24
Left To Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, Immaculee Ilibagiza, 2006
I’ve been meaning to read this book for a while, so when a copy appeared this week as part of my anniversary gift from my husband, I immediately opened it. And almost couldn’t put it down. What an incredibly powerful book by a woman who somewhoe survived the slaughter of almost one million Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994, including virtually her entire family. It is a story of faith and of forgiveness that surpasses imagination. If God can be found in the world and experience of Immaculee, then truly God can be found no matter how deeply hidden. It is impossible to read this book and not be touched deeply by God’s power and love and by the power of forgiveness in healing the world. Added 10/5
Mother Teresa’s Secret Fire, Joseph Langford, 2008
I wrote an extended post on this book, which I reviewed for the Catholic Company, here. Added 9/22.
I read this book as part of The Catholic Company’s review program. My review is posted here. Added 9/6.
Reflections for Ragamuffins, Brennan Manning, 1998
I picked up this book when I saw it in a secondhand bookstore because I enjoyed reading Manning’s The Ragamuffin Gospel. This is not a book to read cover-to-cover, but rather is a daily devotional. Each day Manning shares a verse of scripture and a brief meditation, taken from Manning’s writings over the years. Manning’s goal in sharing them is “not to transmit inspiritng thoughts, but to awaken, revive, and rekindle radical, ruthless trust in the God bodied forth in the carpenter from Nazareth. It is a nice book to have on the shelf and go to now and again. Added 8/26
A Thread of Grace, Mary Doria Russell, 2005
Having enjoyed the author’s previous two books (see 5/13 and 5/18 entries) I picked up this one, which presents in fictional form what the author intends as an accurate account of the German occupation of northwestern Italy during 1943-45, and the courage and generosity of the Italian people who tried to save Jews in the area from the hands of the Germans. The title of the book is explained late by one of the characters, a rabbi. He recounts a Hebrew saying: “No matter how dark the tapestry God weaves for us, there’s always a thread of grace.” As he explains to the nun he is speaking to, “People all over Italy helped us. Almost fifty thousand Jews were hidden. Italians, foreigners. And so many of them survived the occupation. I keep asking myself, Why was it so different here? Why did Italians help when so many others turned away?” Would that there was a good answer to that question. A worthwhile and engaging read. Added 8/15
Audrey, Gloria Conde, 2008
I read this book as part of The Catholic Company’s review program. My review of the book is posted here. Added 8/5
The Contagion of Jesus: Doing Theology as if it Mattered, Sebastian Moore, 2007
This book was another fabulous recommendation by my friend Tim. Moore is a Benedictine monk and this book, which contains a number of essays and homilies written at various times, was published to coincide with his 90th birthday. The pieces in the first part on love, Jesus, Resurrection and the Eucharist offer much to pray with and reflect on. The first part of the book also includes some wonderful pieces on Mary. Although the second part of the book contains material some might view as dissenting from the Church’s position on matters of sexuality, Moore is clear that his intent is to encourage additional thought and growth, not to dissent. The second part also contains some useful discussion and description of focusing. A delightful inclusion is quite bit of Moore’s own poetry. Added 8/1
I picked this book up in the second-hand bookstore at the retreat house where I just finished doing my 8-day retreat. Doubtless it was the title that grabbed me, since I had just finished a period of meditation walking the labrynth. The author is an Ursuline sister and an avid reader. She starts from the recognition that the spiritual life is “a life, something living and growing within us and not merely a matter of keeping rules and regulations and fulfilling religious obligations.” And so she explores in the book how reading shapes our spiritual lives and expands our knowledge of self and others. Her discussion is not limited to what we think of as spiritual reading and she talks about the value of, e.g., secular biographies and novels in enhancing our knowledge of the world and ourselves. I thought it was a nice little find, especially for those who love to read. Added 7/23
[no image available], As Bread That is Broken, Peter van Breeman, S.J., 1974
This is a gem of a little book, another one I found on the shelves of the second-hand bookstore at the retreat house. It is not a book to be read in a single sitting. Rather, each of its twenty chapters should be read slowly and will serve as a wonderful basis for contemplation. Van Breemen writes about God’s limitless love and total acceptance of us as we are, about prayer, about the centrality of the Resurrection and about what it means to live a life devoted to Christ. The foreword to the book warns, “[t]his is a dangerous book. Read with faith and openness, it will compel you to follow Him more totally or ‘to go away sad’ (Mk10:22).” This is a book I plan to keep and go back to over and over again. Added 7/23
Say You’re One of Them, Uwem Akpan, 2008
As soon as I saw a New York Times article discussing this book last week, I knew I wanted to read it. My husband came home with it from the bookstore the other day and I opened it and couldn’t put it down. The book contains a set of stories (three short stories and two novellas) written by an African Jesuit that convey something of the life of many children in Africa. Two children watch their Hutu father kill their Tutsi mother. Another child narrowly escapes being sold into slavery by his uncle, but is unable to bring his sister with him to safety. A Muslim teenager is killed by Christians seeking to flee to the south in Nigeria. Another child’s Christmas treat is glue for sniffing, which kills hunger pangs. The stories are powerfully told and one wishes this book of fiction did not have such a strong basis in reality. Added 7/6
The full title of this book is Looking for Mary or, The Blessed Mother and Me. My friend Lisa gave it to me to read after she read in on her vacation. It is a memoir of the author’s search for faith through Mary. The book records her visit to various sites where Mary appeared, including her pilgrimage to Medjugorje, Bosnia. Her life changes as she opens her heart to Mary and, through Mary, finds redemption. It is by no means a great book, but it is a nice and quick read. Added 7/4
I know there are many who have been critical of this book, calling it heretical or blasphemous. But while the totality of Tolle’s worldview may not be completely consistent with the Christian worldview, I found much in the book to be worthwhile and helpful to a committed Christian. In particular, there is tremendous wisdom in much of what the book says about how the ego operates and the consequences of our failure to live in the present moment. It is true that much of what is in the book has been said before in different ways, but the ideas are presented here in a way that is clearly accessible to many people. Added 6/30
Exiles, Ron Hansen, 2008
Readers may remember Hansen from his earlier novel, Mariette in Ecstasy. In Exiles, Hansen weaves two parallel stories. The first is the story of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins and his struggle in writing his poem The Wreck of the Deutschland. The second is the story of the shipwreck that prompted the writing of the poem and of five nuns who were among those who lost their lives in the wreck. (Hopkins’ dedicated the poem, which broke the literary silence he imposed on himself when he entered the Jesuits, ”to the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875.”) Very little is known about the lives of the five nuns, but Hansen creates a captivating picture of five very different women bound for America as a result of the anti-Catholicism of the German government. More is known of Hopkins, so there is more weaving of fact with fiction here and I found the portrait of Hopkins and his struggles compelling. The weaving of the two stories is wonderfully done, as is the weaving of different parts of the poem itself. I’m guessing even those who don’t love Hopkins poetry as much as I do will enjoy the book. Added 6/15
This is a gem of a little book about friendship. Chittister, in an interview about the book, called friendship a ”social sacrament, a sacred act far above and beyond ‘connections,’ acquaintanceship, or the neighborliness of social contacts.” The book explores the sacred dimension of friendship through the lens of various Old and New Testament women. For each of the women, she explores a particular dimension of friendship – wisdom, support, presence, acceptance, and so on. As my post of this morning suggests, reading the book led me to reflect on the friends who have graced my life. Added 6/1
In place of some work I should have been doing this past week, I read this sequel to The Sparrow, mentioned immediately below. I gather opinion is mixed on how this book compares with the first, but I enjoyed it. Russell describes the book as being about “the aftermath of irreversible tragedy, about the many ways we struggle to make sense of tragedy.” The moral of the story in her words: “Be suspicious of your own certainty….Don’t be so damned quick to judge!” Added 5/18
I colloquially call this book, Jesuits in Space, and I enjoyed reading it a lot. Makes sense that when life is discovered elsewhere, the Jesuits, with their long history of contact with other cultures, would be the first to explore. What happens when they get there is more than unpredictable and shocking and the only member of the exploration party to remain alive is forced to confront the question whether his belief in God can withstand what happened to him and those he loved. The author calls the book “an exploration of the risks and beauties of religious faith.” It also a serious treatment of the celibacy of the priesthood. There is a sequel, Children of God, which I hope to get to soon. Added 5/13
[I thought it interesting that the day after I posted this note, BBC News reported that the director of the Vatican Observatory, Father Gabriel Funes, has said that intelligent beings created by God could exist in outer space.]
The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne, 2006
The subtitle of this book is Living As an Ordinary Radical. It is both a description of how a growing group of people are attempting to live an authentic Christian life and a challenge to the rest of us to (re)discover a new (or perhaps old is more accurate) way of living as Christians. It is an invitation to radically change the world with the love of Christ; an effort to spread “a way of life that exists organically and relationally and is marked by such a brilliant love and grace that no one could resist it.” The book excites…and it challenges. Added 5/2
The Art of Possibility, Rosamund Stone Zander & Benjamin Zander, 2000
“You have to read this book,” my friend Tim announced during one of my recent trips to NY. And I’m grateful for the recommendation. The authors combine the perspectives of a musician/conductor and a therapist to “offer strategies to surmount the hurdles of a competitive world…and sail into a vast universe of possibilities,” to replace limits with possibilities. The book is divided into a number of practices, each of which offers much to reflect on. My favorite chapter title is “Rule Number 6,” which rule has to do with not taking ourselves too seriously, with allowing the “calculating self” to lighten up so that our “central self” can shine through. Added 4/12
Gift of the Red Bird, Paula D’Arcy (2002)
Several people have recommended this book to me over the last couple of years and I was looking for something to read on my flight to Boston earlier today and picked it up from the shelf in my study. (My flight was sufficiently delayed that I finished the book before we landed in Boston.) Joyce Rupp calls the book a “powerful testimony of how the Divine woos the soul into a sacred embrace.” It describes the author’s encounter with the God who wants us to want him more than we want anything else and her effort to learn that all is gift (not possession) and that all life is of God. “There is only God. There is your own name being called and your own response. There is the awareness that human beings are stewards, not owners.” (Added 4/6)
Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa (2007)
Virgin Time: In Search of the Contemplative Life, Patricia Hampl (1992).
My husband gave me this book as an Easter present this year. It is an account of the author’s pilgrimage (although she rejects the use of that term) to Assisi and to Lourdes and ultimately to a retreat house in California in search of the meaning of her faith. Those who, like me, were raised Catholic, will relate to her inability to let go of aspects of her Catholic upbringing. Loving Francis as I do, I particularly enjoyed her account of her time in Assissi and surrounding areas.
My friend Maria lent me this book when I visited her and her husband in Oklahoma in February. This is the second or third book I’ve read recounting a pilgrimate to Santiago de Compostela and every one I read whets my appetite to make the pilgrimage myself. And it contains some good reminders: “When you are moving towards an objective, it is very important to pay attention to the road. It is the road that teaches us the best way to get there, and the road enriches us as we walk its length.”
The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd (2002)
I’m not sure where I discovered this book (on my bookshelf? in a box of books sent by my friend John?), but I noticed it as I was preparing for a Women’s retreat I gave in NY last month. Those who have not read any of Kidd’s books have a lot to look forward to and this is a wonderful book for women trying to work through questions about the role of women and the search for a feminine spirituality.