Spiritual growth, guidance, and journeys
When Faith Meets Reason: Religion Scholars Reflect on Their Spiritual Journeys,Charles W. Hedrick, editor (Polebridge Press, 2008) This interesting book is made up of scholars’ essays describing their personal spiritual journeys that have led them to their present beliefs and occupations. At the end of the October 2009 Connections you can read quotes from 3 of the essays.
In Search of Belief, by Joan Chittister (Liguori, 1999/2006) In discussing what the Apostles’ Creed means today, Benedictine Sister Joan Chittister comments on what saying “I believe” means for her. Read more in the May 2010 Connections.
Travel as a Political Act, by Rick Steves (Nation Books, 2009) This book by a well-known travel-guidebook writer and host of travelogues on PBS TV is essentially an inspiring spiritual autobiography, in addition to being an impassioned plea to Americans to open their eyes, minds, and hearts and actively promote justice. Steves urges Americans to go deliberately beyond their mental, emotional, cultural, and religious comfort zones, whether by traveling physically or by looking outside their familiar home settings in other ways. The book includes reliable, easy-to-read information and discussion about liberation theology, economic-justice issues, Islam, and how empire shows up in today’s world, but it also has beautiful color photos on almost every page. Read more in the August 2009 Connections.
Seed Pods and Periscopes: Stories and Reflections About Living Deeply and Living Well, by Chandler W. Gilbert (privately published, email@example.com, 2008) Gilbert is a retired United Church of Christ minister who was born in China to Congregational missionaries, moved to the U.S. as a teenager, and now lives in New Hampshire. He choose his book’s title, he says, because seed pods hold seeds of new life and periscopes let the user see things from a different perspective than might otherwise be available. The part of his book that I especially liked was its fourth and final section, “Living with Questions.” That part had me saying “Yes, yes!” all the way through it. In the box on page 1 of the April 2009 Connections, you can read a few quotes from what I liked so well.
In Times Like These: How We Pray, by Malcolm Boyd and J. Jon Bruno (Church Publishing, 2005) I found this book about prayer, by two Episcopal priests, a welcome change from most other books I come across on this subject. It’s a collection of pieces by a diverse group of authors, describing the wide variety of ways in which they experience prayer. Read about it in the January 2006 Connections.
The Wisdom Way of Knowing: Reclaiming an Ancient Tradition to Awaken the Heart, by Cynthia Bourgeault (Jossey-Bass, 2003) Bourgeault, an Episcopal clergywoman, writes about the Wisdom tradition. It has been part of all major religions, including Christianity, since their beginnings, but is unknown to many Christians. She observes that this tradition’s “nuts and bolts of transformation” are essentially the same in all religions: surrender, detachment, compassion, and forgiveness. Read more about this ancient tradition, its vision of God and the world, and its potentially life-transforming spiritual practices, in the May 2005 Connections.
Soul Feast: An Invitation to the Christian Spiritual Life, by Marjorie J. Thompson (Westminster John Knox, 2005) Thompson, an ordained Presbyterian minister, gives helpful guidance for traditional spiritual practices: spiritual reading, various forms of prayer, corporate worship, fasting, self-examination and confession, spiritual direction, and hospitality. I especially appreciated her comments about times when we find corporate worship a source of frustration rather than fulfillment. I included a brief mention of this book on page 1 of the May 2005 Connections.
Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool, by Lauren Artress (Riverhead Books, 1995) This intriguing book tells about a practice used in Christianity and other religions for centuries, which has been rediscovered by many Christians as a way of what Artress, an Episcopal clergywoman, calls “body prayer.” Read more about it in the September 2003 Connections.
In Search of Stones: A Pilgrimage of Faith, Reason and Discovery, by M. Scott Peck (Pocket Books/Simon and Schuster, 1995) Through his account of a trip he and his wife made to ancient sites in Britain, Peck tells readers what he has learned about himself and his faith. Some of his descriptions of physical changes that come with aging are a little too explicit for my taste, but they also reassured me that I’m not alone in experiencing such changes and that life can go on in spite of them. As a frequent traveler I especially appreciated his many observations about travel and its relation to the spiritual journey. Because I happen to be the same personality type as Peck, my annoyance at his apparent arrogance and self-absorption kept reminding me to beware of similar tendencies in myself. All in all, I found this a fascinating look at the searches and journeys, physical and spiritual, that I believe are essential parts of growing as a Christian. For Peck’s thoughts about being called, see the box on page 1 of the May 2000 Connections.
The Art of Pilgrimage: The Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau (Conari Press, 1998) Cousineau sees pilgrimage as a powerful metaphor for “any journey with the purpose of finding something that matters deeply to the traveler.” I found his book intriguing as I thought about both the spiritual journey and the many geographical ones I’ve taken. You’ll find more on this subject in the January 2001 Connections.
Growing Up Religious: Christians and Jews and Their Journeys of Faith, by Robert Wuthnow (Beacon Press, 1999) Wuthnow, director of the Center for the Study of American Religion at Princeton University, tells what he observed from interviewing so-called ordinary people about their religious beliefs and practices. Everyday practices in homes, he finds, have much more influence than what happens in church or what religious leaders say. Ways in which families observe holidays–especially Christmas–have surprisingly strong influence. If he’s right, what does this say about our Christmas customs? Read about it in the December 1999 Connections.
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith, by Kathleen Norris (Riverhead/Penguin Putnam, 1998) Norris, a poet and a Presbyterian laywoman, is a Baby Boomer who grew up active in the church, dropped out and felt quite turned off by it for years, then returned to very active participation. I’ve quoted from this book in the February 1999 and November 1998 Connections.
Two Ways of Praying, by Paul Bradshaw (Abingdon, 1995) I found Bradshaw’s discussion of the differences between what he calls cathedral prayer and monastic prayer helpful and interesting. See the January 1999 Connections.
Uncommon Decency, by Richard Mouw (InterVarsity, 1992) Here the president of Fuller Seminary writes about getting along together. In the August 1998 Connections I quoted his comments about priestly and prophetic roles.
Let Your Life Speak: Listening for the Voice of Vocation, by Parker J. Palmer (Jossey-Bass, 2000) A Quaker tells how his view of the Quaker saying “Let your life speak” has changed over the course of his life. He urges us to listen for what God wants us to make of our lives, rather than to try to copy anyone else or to listen to society’s call. More of his views are in the May 2000 Connections.
Evensong, by Gail Godwin (Ballantine, 1999) This novel about an Episcopal clergy couple looks at the subjects of God’s call and church life in a thought-provoking way while keeping the reader engrossed in its plot. I’ve quoted one of its characters in the May 2000 Connections.
Finding Our Voices: Women, Wisdom, and Faith (Crossroad, 1997), Patricia O’Connell Killen This book doesn’t apply only to women, but to anyone longing for God but not being fed by the Christian heritage as they find it in their church. Killen calls this “standing by a river, dying of thirst,” which I used as the theme of the November 2002 Connections.
The Angry Christian: A Theology for Care and Counseling (Westminster John Knox, 2003) and Coping with Your Anger: A Christian Guide (Westminster, 1983), by Andrew D. Lester The first of these 2 books is designed mainly for counselors, but it includes some useful pointers for angry people too. The second book focuses on ways to deal with one’s own anger. Suggestions from both of them are in the June 2003 and July 2003 Connections.
Wide Skies: Finding a Home in the West, by Gary Holthaus (University of Arizona Press, 1997) At first glance this stunning book of personal essays seems to be only an account of travels in the western U.S., the people the author encountered there, and the author’s deep concern for the natural environment. But it’s about much more. Holthaus gives readers a compelling account not only of geographical travels and natural beauty, but also of his spiritual journey, in a way that is always beautiful but often wrenching as well. An unforgettable book for me. Read more about it in the August 2003 Connections.
Grace: A Memoir, by Mary Cartledgehayes (Crown, 2003) Cartledgehayes, a United Methodist clergywoman, tells how she came to realize her call to ordained ministry and describes her experiences with the ordination process, seminary, her first pastorate, and the challenges she faced as a woman in a field where many men and other congregation members thought women didn’t belong. She uses language and frankly describes feelings and experiences that some church members will consider taboo for clergy, but her very well written book is one of the most compelling I’ve read in a long time. See the August 2003 Connections.
Wrestling with God, by Rick Diamond (Relevant Books, 2003) In this intriguing book, Diamond speaks mainly to non-churchgoers, especially to those in younger-than-baby-boom generations, but he expertly describes the Christian spiritual journey in a way that readers of all ages will find unusually potent. I was distracted by his use of capitalized masculine pronouns to refer to God throughout the book, but the book’s many valuable features far outweigh this drawback. For more, see the August 2003 Connections.
In Defense of Doubt: An Invitation to Adventure, by Val Webb (Chalice, 1995) I found this book by a lay theologian very helpful in its presentation of process theology, and very reassuring in its description of the spirals, nudges, and uncertainties of the spiritual journey. I say more about it in the August 2003 Connections.
Hope Against Darkness: The Transforming Vision of Saint Francis in an Age of Anxiety, by Richard Rohr (St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2001) We often replace real faith with religious group-identity, says Rohr, turning Christianity into reactive tribalism. And the cross has become our company logo instead of something we’re transformed by. Read more about Rohr’s book in the August 2003 Connections.
The Ascent of a Leader: How Ordinary Relationships Develop Extraordinary Character and Influence, by Bill Thrall, Bruce McNicol, and Ken McElrath (Jossey-Bass, 1999) This book is mostly too corporation-oriented and mega-church-oriented for my taste, but I found its discussion of vulnerability quite pertinent to the spiritual journey, and very thought-provoking. You’ll find a little more about this in the August 2003 Connections.
Using spiritual discernment for church decision-making Scripture and Discernment: Decision Making in the Church, by Luke Timothy Johnson (Abingdon, 1996) Johnson, a former Roman Catholic monk and priest who was a professor at Emory University’s Candler School of Theology when he wrote, feels that the church’s claim to be a community of faith often isn’t reflected in its actual communal life. Our decision-making, Johnson says, shows more about what we really believe than do our official rules, rituals, or public statements. Read more in the April 2008 Connections.
Discerning God’s Will Together: A Spiritual Practice for the Church, by Danny E. Morris and Charles M. Olsen (Upper Room Books, 1997) Morris and Olsen give specific suggestions for practicing discernment in church meetings. “People are weary,” these authors find, “from church business as usual, from church gatherings that do not connect with the deeper meanings of their life and faith.” See the March 2008 Connections for more.
Claiming All Things for God: Prayer, Discernment, and Ritual for Social Change, by George D. McClain (Abingdon, 1998) McClain, the former director of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, gives some helpful pointers about using discernment in meetings. See the box on page one of the September 1998 Connections.