In her CD teaching series Wild at Heart: Radical Teachings of the Christian Mystics, former-Carmelite-turned-desert hermit Tessa Bielecki offers a wealth of suggestions of books one can read to deepen a sense of who Christ is. This veritable library for Christian formation includes poetry, art books, lives of saints and mystics, and children’s stories. In other words, it’s not just a dry selection of commentaries on the Gospels, thank heaven. Indeed, it is such a wonderful list that I took the time to write down all her recommendations, and so I’m archiving it here (this is somewhat of a selfish exercise, for many of these books I myself am unfamiliar with, and so this list is in large measure a wish list for yours truly). Let me begin by recommending Wild at Heart itself: it’s a six-CD set that in many ways beautifully complements my forthcoming Big Book of Christian Mysticism: it celebrates Christian mysticism not as some interesting footnote to church history, but as a living, breathing, dynamic spirituality into which each of us are being called, here and now, in our own unique way of course. If you enjoy reading my blog, I think it’s safe to say you’ll enjoy Tessa’s CDs.
Once you get your hands on Wild at Heart you’ll find disc four to be filled with all sorts of interesting recommendations for further reading. Here is that list, for your browsing pleasure. The first eight titles include poetry, not all of which is necessarily Christian or even religious, but which can initiate us into the mystery and wonder that lies at the heart of an encounter with Christ. Then comes two books that feature images of Christ from around the world, that can help to liberate us from the idolatry of only envisioning Christ in our own image. Bielecki then turns her attention to Christian mystics and to Christian saints, noting that one way to deepen our intimacy with Christ is by learning more about the greatest lovers of Christ throughout history. Finally, she caps off her list by commending C. S. Lewis’s Narnia books, noting that his image of Christ as the wild lion, Aslan, can be particularly useful for those of us who lead overly domesticated lives.
With the poets, Bielecki only mentions the author by name, and so I’ve taken the liberty of selecting a work or two for each author that seems to best represent that particular poet’s work. Of course, if you are drawn to a particular poet, you may well wish to take your exploration further.
So here’s the list:
- Mary Oliver, New and Selected Poems: Volume One and Volume Two
- Denise Levertov, The Stream and the Sapphire
- Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Major Works
- Czesław Miłosz, Selected Poems
- Peggy Rosenthal, Divine Inspiration: The Life of Jesus in World Poetry
- Peggy Rosenthal, The Poet’s Jesus
- Peggy Rosenthal, Praying Through Poetry: Hope for Violent Times
- Peggy Rosenthal, Imagine a World: Poetry for Peacemakers
- Frederick Buechner, The Faces of Jesus
- Ron O’Grady, Christ for All People: Celebrating a World of Christian Art
- Harvey Egan, An Anthology of Christian Mysticism
- James Harpur, Love Burning in the Soul: The Story of Christian Mystics from Saint Paul to Thomas Merton
- Phyllis McGinley, Saint-Watching
- Robert Ellsburg, All Saints: Daily Reflections on Saints, Prophets and Witnesses for Our Time
- C. S. Lewis, The Chronicles of Narnia — incidentally, Bielecki strongly recommends that the Narnia books be read in the order in which Lewis wrote them (beginning with The Lion, the Witch, the Wardrobe) rather than in chronological order according to the story (i.e., beginning with The Magician’s Nephew). Newer versions of the Narnia box set arrange the books in story-chronological order; but older, out of print boxed sets — like the one I’ve linked to here — arrange the books in the order written.
So there you go. Happy reading, and happy deepening of your intimacy with Christ.