A Miscellaneous List of Books I Like (And Recommend)

A Miscellaneous List of Books I Like (And Recommend) July 28, 2018

So many books, so little time...
So many books, so little time…

I love booklists. I find browsing someone’s list of recommended titles is a great way to find a new treasure. This is an admittedly idiosyncratic list of books that I recommend for your consideration. Obviously I lead off with books on contemplation/mysticism, since that’s the main focus of this blog. But I wander a bit off topic as the list goes on… browse on, you’ll see for yourself. It’s an eclectic, ecumenical, and interfaith-friendly assortment.

Books are like people — none are perfect. I’ve included each title on this list because I believe it has something to offer the general reader; I am not suggesting that these works are above criticism; nor am I implying that every book listed here is equal to all the others in its merits or its relevance to any particular reader. Use discernment and common sense when reading a book and/or evaluating whether or not it is useful for your spiritual practice. When in doubt, consult with a trusted friend or spiritual companion.

N.B. I know it’s rather hucksterish to include my own books on a list like this, so please forgive me for yielding to the demands of marketing. I humbly hope you will find my writings worthy to be included among the fine books noted here.

The Christian Mystics: Introduction, History, Theology

  • Carl McColman, The Big Book of Christian Mysticism: The Essential Guide to Contemplative Spirituality — When I was a youth, Evelyn Underhill’s Mysticism (see below) changed my life, initiating my own lifelong love for Christian mysticism. This book is my “thank you” to Underhill, published 99 years after hers. In it I reflect on what Christian mysticism is, and how it makes a different in peoples’ lives.
  • Carl McColman, Christian Mystics: 108 Seers, Saints and Sages — a companion volume to the “Big Book,” this book offers a basic introduction to the life, major writings, and key ideas of mystics from Biblical times to the present day, celebrating how diverse the tradition of mysticism is.
  • Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Spiritual Consciousness — this 1911 study of visionary spirituality, primarily though not exclusively Christian, influenced numerous seekers, including C. S. Lewis, Thomas Merton, and Alan Watts. Dated but still essential.
  • Evelyn Underhill, Practical Mysticism — originally subtitled “a little book for normal people,” Underhill’s concise explanation of mystical spirituality for laypersons remains surprisingly relevant even after a century. Topics include meditation, recollection, and three forms of contemplation.
  • John R. Mabry, Growing into God: A Beginner’s Guide to Christian Mysticism — Explores the mystical life through a traditional model of awakening, purgation, illumination, dark night and union; also includes a generous selection of quotations from the mystics and suggested spiritual practices.
  • Margaret Smith, Introduction to Mysticism — A graceful and clearly-written invitation to explore “the longing that men and women of every religion have always felt for union with their God; a desire to know the Absolute, not out of curiosity or self-interest, but in order to love.”
  • Louise Nelstrop, Christian Mysticism: An Introduction to Contemporary Theoretical Approaches — An academic survey of mysticism which includes a survey of the main themes of mysticism, including topics such as erotic imagery, philosophical foundations, and mystical symbolism, but then tracing later developments in the tradition leading up to contemporary criticism. Heavy reading, but worth it to appreciate contemporary scholarship on the topic.

The Christian Mystics: Primary Texts for Study and Devotion

  • Bernard McGinn, ed., The Essential Writings of Christian Mysticism — a superb anthology, arranged thematically, featuring excerpts from the most renowned works of the great mystics, in English translation. McGinn’s detailed and perceptive commentary makes the teachings herein come alive.
  • Teresa of Ávila, Collected Works Volume 2: The Way of Perfection and The Interior Castle gathers together in one volume the two most important works by this amazing (and colorful) sixteenth century Carmelite nun and reformer. Teresa belongs on the short-list of any serious exploration of Christian mysticism; her words are as relevant today as they were when written centuries ago.
  • Julian of Norwich, The Writings: A Vision Showed to a Devout Woman and A Revelation of Love, edited by Nicholas Watson & Jacqueline Jenkins — don’t be afraid to read Julian in her original Middle English! This text provides generous annotations to make Julian’s own words come alive.
  • Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing, edited by Evelyn Underhill — one of the most respected editions of a fourteenth century English mystical/contemplative classic. Underhill’s edition retains much of the voice of the medieval original text, while modernizing the language enough to make it accessible to the average reader.
  • Meister Eckhart, The Complete Mystical Works, translated by Maurice O’C Walshe, foreword by Bernard McGinn — Nearly one hundred of the great Dominican mystic’s sermons, originally preached in German, are collected here, revealing the breadth of his visionary theology and spiritual wisdom.
  • John Ruusbroec, The Spiritual Espousals and Other Works — Ruusbroec (also spelled Ruysbroeck) is a lesser known younger contemporary of Eckhart’s whom Evelyn Underhill considered the greatest of all Christian mystics. Reading this contemporary English edition of his major works, it is easy to see why. Ruusbroec’s writing is literary and poetic, his thought profoundly nondual, and his theology beautiful and orthodox.
  • Cynthia Bourgeault, The Heart of Centering Prayer: Nondual Christianity in Theory and Practice — Bourgeault learned the deeply meditative practice of centering prayer from Thomas Keating. But she liberates it from its monastic roots and connects the dots between contemplative Christianity, other wisdom traditions, and the non-dual heart of all mystical spirituality.

The Heart of Silence

  • Cassidy Hall and Patrick Shen, Notes on Silence — this book, a companion volume to be beautiful documentary In Pursuit of Silence, examines how silence is an essential feature of human life, touching not only spirituality but creativity, health, psychology, and education. Beautifully illustrated with the authors’ photographs, the book is truly a meditation on the beauty and necessity of silence.
  • Sara Maitland, A Book of Silence — the single most beautiful book I’ve ever read about silence. Deeply spiritual (and religious in the best sense of the word), this book combines memoir and general nonfiction to celebrate the beauty of soundlessness.
  • Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation — one of the best and clearest introductory books on contemplative (silent) prayer. Grounded in the writings of the saints and mystics, and inspiring in its invitation into ever-deeper silence.
  • Thomas Merton, Dialogues with Silence — a short book which pulls together prayers and drawings from the renowned Trappist author to invite the reader into the silence which informs Merton’s thought and spirituality. It’s a wonderful, and devotional, introduction to his work.
  • Anne D. LeClaire, Listening Below the Noise — the author calls this book “a meditation on the practice of silence” — it recounts how she was drawn to devote two days to silence each month, and how her journey into silence gave her insight and inspired her creativity.
  • Maggie Ross, Silence: A User’s Guide (Volume 1: Process) — surveys the history of how contemplation became marginalized in western Christianity, and critically assesses how contemporary spirituality is often trammelled by narcissism, solipsism or psycho-babble.
  • Maggie Ross, Silence: A User’s Guide (Volume 2: Application) — following up on the first book, this shorter volume offers insight in learning how to read with a contemplative heart, teasing for the treasures of silent wisdom encoded in the Bible and other sacred texts.

Contemporary Spirituality & Contemplative Prayer

  • Carl McColman, Answering the Contemplative Call: First Steps on the Mystical Path — another book I wrote in response to Evelyn Underhill, this work reflects on Underhill’s notion of “the awakening of the self” — what I call “the contemplative call,” or the vocation to an intentional spiritual life.
  • Mary Margaret Funk, Thoughts Matter: Discovering the Spiritual Journey — This is the first of a series of inviting and insightful books on basic contemplative spirituality written by a Benedictine nun, covering a variety of relevant topics. This book, grounded in the wisdom of the desert fathers and mothers, shows how contemplation is a way to bring healing to our thinking minds.
  • Kenneth Leech, Prayer and Prophecy: A Ken Leech Reader — if this were a just world, everyone would be reading Ken Leech. His writing combines a deep love of God with a clear contemplative vision and an insightful understanding of both holiness and justice, and the forces that undermine them. Absolutely essential reading.
  • Richard Rohr, Everything Belongs: The Gift of Contemplative Prayer — an accessible introduction to the inclusive, nondual practice of contemplation, a prayer of gently accepting the “call to the center” where we are invited to receive God’s radical grace.
  • Gerald May, Will and Spirit: A Contemplative Psychology — another book, like Ross’s, which doesn’t provide a “how-to” on silent prayer, but offers an excellent insight into the Christian meditative mind, written by a psychiatrist/spiritual director.
  • Macrina Wiederkehr, Seven Sacred Pauses: Living Mindfully Through the Hours of the Day — contemplative Christianity emerged out of the monastic cloister, and one of the most meaningful ways to foster a contemplative spirituality is through praying the Liturgy of the Hours: a regular rhythm of “sacred pauses” that can instill a sense of holiness and divine presence throughout your day.
  • Debra Farrington, Living Faith Day by Day: How the Sacred Rules of Monastic Traditions Can Help You Live Spiritually in the Modern World — a guidebook for creating a personal rule of life: a “game plan” for living mindfully and spiritually in today’s hectic and noisy world.

Cistercian Monasticism and Lay Cistercian Spirituality

  • Carl McColman, Befriending Silence: Discovering the Gifts of Cistercian Spirituality — organized around St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s concept of the three steps of truth, this book examines different aspects of Cistercian and Trappist spirituality, reflecting on how the wisdom of the cloister can bless everyone, not just monks or nuns.
  • Trisha Day, Inside the School of Charity: Lessons from the Monastery — the story of a lay woman who spends three months living in a Trappistine convent as a “monastic guest” and how the nun’s spirituality impacted her own faith journey after returning to secular life. An excellent introduction to Cistercian spirituality, especially for the laity.
  • Elias Marechal, Tears of an Innocent God — Poetic and luminous, this non-linear collection of stories, parables, reflections and dream sequences celebrates not only the wonder of contemplative living, but also how Jesus’s radical message of equality and inclusivity offers a road map to a joyous and deeply transfigured life.
  • Agnes Day, Light in the Shoe Shop: A Cobbler’s Contemplations — A charming and richly spiritual series of meditations from the former Abbess of Wrentham Abbey in Massachusetts. She leads  the reader through the year, reflecting on the changing of the seasons and the liturgical year, seen through the lens of her work as the monastery’s cobbler. Also includes her autobiography and a selection of poetry.
  • Paul Quenon, In Praise of the Useless Life — this “monk’s memoir” reveals just how rich the cloistered life can be. Quenon, who was a novice monk under Thomas Merton, revels in poetry, classical music, and the wonders of nature, and shows how all these weave together in a joyful life of prayer.
  • Jean-Marie Howe, Secret of the Heart: Spiritual Being — this slender volume of meditations by a former Trappistine abbess explores the prayerful encounter with the Mystery of Christ that Cistercian spirituality engenders.
  • Charles Cummings, Monastic Practices — one of the textbooks I used when I was in formation as a Lay Cistercian, this gently written and delightfully illustrated book reflects on how to live a monastic way of life — and although written for monks and nuns, it has plenty of wisdom for the rest of us.

Celtic Spirituality

  • Carl McColman, An Invitation to Celtic Wisdom: Mystery, Spirit and Compassion — drawing on myth, folklore, poetry, and the lives of the Celtic saints, this little book invites you into the magic and mysticism of the Celtic soul, by reflecting on the elements of Celtic spirituality, the lives of some of the most renowned saints, and Celtic practices that are universally meaningful.
  • Esther De Waal, Every Earthly Blessing: Rediscovering the Celtic Tradition — maybe the best single introduction to Celtic Christianity as it is understood in our time: an expression of the faith that is poetic, mystical, nature-positive, optimistic, and resonant with stories of the saints we love, like Brigit, Patrick, and Columba.
  • John O’Donohue, Anam Cara: A Book of Celtic Wisdom — one of the bestselling books of Celtic spirituality, and deservedly so. O’Donohue writes with a poet’s love of language and a mystic’s sensibility of wonder, creating a book which reads more like a guided meditation than anything else. Luminous, dreamlike and entirely lovely.
  • Seán Ó Duinn, Where Three Streams Meet: Celtic Spirituality — Benedictine monk Seán Ó Duinn is one of my favorite authors, a Christian who appreciates how the ancient Celtic lore of the mythological era continues to inform and shape the spirituality of Ireland and the other Celtic lands. What emerges is a beautiful, holistic expression of spirituality.
  • David Cole, Passing the Harp: Four Celtic Allegories — David dives deep into the rich tradition of Celtic storytelling to offer four tales designed to stir your heart and your mind, to remind you “what the Creator could do through ordinary people who were living in the Divine Glow.”
  • Christine Valters Paintner, The Soul’s Slow Ripening: Twelve Celtic Practices for Seeking the Sacred — Christine is an American contemplative author who has lived for many years now in Galway, and like me she combines a deep love for monastic wisdom with a rich Celtic sensibility. Her books are really retreats in written form: filled with poetry and insightful prompts for prayer and journaling, all designed to nourish your soul.
  • Mary C. Earle & Sylvia Maddox, Holy Companions: Spiritual Practices from the Celtic Saints — a book of meditations that invites you deeper into the world of Celtic wisdom by introducing you to eighteen saints of the Celtic lands, their stories, their spirituality, and their relevance for today.

Narnia and C. S. Lewis, and Related Topics

  • C. S. Lewis, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader — Lewis wrote a number of books worth reading, but Dawn Treader is my towering favorite (see below for my commentary on it). This book, part of the “Narnia” series, provides insight into the Christian spiritual life, under the guise of a charming sea adventure informed by Celtic mythology.
  • Carl McColman, The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader: Spiritual Lessons from C. S. Lewis’s Narnia — Each chapter of my commentary on The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is keyed to the same chapter in Lewis’s book. I aim to show how Dawn Treader functions as a sustained metaphor for the mystical life.
  • David C. Downing, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C. S. Lewis — C. S. Lewis insisted he was not a mystic, but Downing makes a compelling argument that maybe the author was just being humble. He also provides one of the best, most down to earth definitions of Christian mysticism I’ve ever seen, which alone makes this a must-read.
  • Michael Ward, Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis — one of the sources I used for The Lion, the Mouse and the Dawn Treader, Michael Ward provides a fascinating hypothesis: that Lewis organized the seven Narnia books around a medieval understanding of cosmology, and mythic/planetary symbolism.
  • Joy Davidman, Smoke on the Mountain: An Interpretation of the Ten Commandments — Davidman is perhaps best known as the wife of C. S. Lewis, but her insightful study of the ethics and the spirituality of the Ten Commandments stands on its own. Lewis wrote the foreword, praising how the book illuminates unexpected ways we resist the grace of the commandments.
  • Joy Davidman, A Naked Tree — poems written over a thirty-year period are collected here, including a number of love sonnets that illuminate the tenderness between Davidman and C . S. Lewis.
  • Diana Pavlac Glyer, Bandersnatch: C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, and the Creative Collaboration of the Inklings — the Inklings, who met weekly for many years at the Eagle & Child pub in Oxford, may well be one of the most renowned literary associations of modern times. This book explores how Tolkien, Lewis, and their comrades inspired each other to write literature that would become modern-day classics.

Miscellaneous Titles I Recommend

  • Wendell Berry, Sex, Economy, Freedom & Community — an incisive and insightful collection of essays from America’s favorite curmudgeonly farmer-poet. The introduction to this book is alone worth the price of admission, but Berry’s ruminations on land, agriculture, and the dangers of our entertainment culture are wise and important.
  • Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life — this book, about the vocation of a writer, has been so helpful to me. When I hit a rough spot in my writing, I like to dip into Bird by Bird, both because it’s side-hurtingly funny, but also because it gently reminds me that writing is a nutty business — and that’s okay.
  • James Martin, Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are At the Heart of the Spiritual Life — James Martin is one my favorite living authors, and in this book, he reminds us why joy and laughter belong at the very heart of the spiritual life.
  • Kathleen Dowling Singh, The Grace in Dying: How We Are Transformed Spiritually as We Die — when my daughter was in hospice I read several books on death and dying, and this was by far the best. Approaching the topic from a Jungian and transpersonal perspective, Singh shows how dying is actually a deeply contemplative experience.
  • Phyllis Theroux, The Good Bishop: The Life of Walter F. Sullivan — I grew up in Virginia, where Sullivan was the Catholic bishop; although I would not myself become Catholic until years later after moving to Georgia, the witness of Bishop Sullivan remained with me. He was a true hero of faith who was not afraid to rock the boat for his convictions.
  • Ken Wilber, Sex, Ecology, Spirituality: The Spirit of Evolution — as the architect of “Integral Theory,” Ken Wilber has created a fascinating map of how science, psychology, philos0phy, eastern spirituality and western mysticism can be woven together to create a single holistic understanding of the cosmos. Whether you agree with him or not, his ideas are compelling and, I believe, filled with hope.
  • Dennis, Sheila Fabricant, and Matthew Linn, Good Goats: Healing Our Image of God — I often talk about healing our image of God in classes and retreats, and this is my go-to resource on the topic. A gentle and nurturing book that demonstrates how our image of God shapes our entire faith experience and indeed worldview — so taking care to ensure we have a healthy image of God yields rich blessings indeed.

Living the Christian Faith Today

  • Marcus Borg, The Heart of Christianity — Borg offers an incisive analysis of the tensions within modern Christianity between a literalist/dualist approach to the faith, and a more mystical/nondual approach. While he is clear in his criticism of the literalist position, he provides a positive and affirming approach to a way of being Christian which is unafraid of dialogue, committed to justice, and thoroughly at home with mystery.
  • Robert Davis Hughes III, Beloved Dust: Tides of the Spirit in the Christian Life — this academic book offers a thorough and scholarly consideration of what a comprehensive Christian spiritual theology, grounded in the mystics yet engaged with the issues of the twenty-first century, could look like. I think the book’s survey of why spirituality fell into disrepute beginning with the Reformation and culminating in the secularized twentieth century, alone makes this a “must-read,” yet the exploration of the developmental spiritual life (following the map first set out by Evelyn Underhill) is also first-rate.
  • Philip S. Kaufman, Why You Can Disagree and Remain a Faithful Catholic — as a convert to Catholicism, it saddens me that this is a controversial book, but I think that’s because spiritual people often are uncomfortable with conflict. Yet this is by no means an anti-Catholic or anti-Christian book; the author, who was a Benedictine monk, simply tries to set the record straight that throughout church history, people of good will have often disagreed vehemently over doctrine and morals. If we disagree with our church, our job is to prayerfully seek to follow the will of God as best we can. Maybe we’re in the wrong — but maybe we’re being led by the Holy Spirit to help the church grow. Humility, prayer, and a willingness to dialogue are the keys.
  • Anne Lamott, Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith — Before this book, Lamott had achieved some renown as a novelist, but Traveling Mercies made her a “rock star.” An honest and gritty memoir, she details her descent into alcoholism and unlikely but grace-filled journey into her own uniquely postmodern expression of faith. Lamott is a gifted writer, a natural storyteller, both funny and poignant, ironic and yet sincerely heartfelt. She is the patron saint of skeptics, cynics, anyone in recovery, and (of course) writers.
  • Brian McLaren, A Generous Orthodoxy — if we are serious about ecumenism, perhaps the first step is truly learning to appreciate the beauty of all the different types of Christian expression, and evangelical/emergent author Brian McLaren does beautifully in this book. Surveying the many flavors of Christian expression from Orthodox to Catholic to Anglican to mainline Protestant to evangelical and charismatic, McLaren effectively articulates what is lovely, Godly, and worthy of emulating in each denominational tradition. This is not a book about “mixing it up” or “blending it all together,” but rather about reasserting that true orthodoxy is marked by generosity and hospitality, not defensiveness and isolation.
  • Kathleen Norris, The Cloister Walk — Like Anne Lamott, Norris is also a littérateur (in her case, a poet) who became famous for her spiritual memoir (Dakota, listed below). Norris is a Benedictine oblate, and The Cloister Walk details a year of meditations and journal entries in which she explores the tensions at work in her journey: a woman associated with a men’s monastery; a Presbyterian affiliated with a Catholic community; a postmodern American finding spiritual sustenance from an ancient spiritual discipline. Because of her gifts as a poet, she makes the cloister — and her singular relationship to it — come alive.
  • Phyllis Tickle, The Great Emergence — this book makes sense of why things in the realm of institutional Christianity seem so unsettled and fragmented these days. Tickle suggests that the Church holds a big “rummage sale” every 500 years, and we’re due for another one! A fascinating look at the megatrends impacting Christianity in our time.

Spirituality, Social Justice, and Current Events

  • Simone Campbell, A Nun on the Bus: How All of Us Can Create Hope, Change and Community — Sr. Simone is one of my heroes: a deeply spiritual yet politically savvy woman who wants to find ways to bring people together, despite political, social or theological differences.
  • Howard Thurman, Jesus and the Disinherited — Thurman, like Kenneth Leech, was both a prophet and a mystic; but of all his luminous writings, this book — much loved by Martin Luther King Jr. — may be his most essential title.
  • Barbara A. Holmes, Joy Unspeakable: Contemplative Practices of the Black Church — Dr. Holmes offers much insight into how contemplative spirituality has taken different forms among black American Christians than it has historically manifested in the white community.
  • Gregory Boyle, Tattoos on the Heart: the Power of Boundless Compassion — inspiring story of a Jesuit priest who makes a difference in the lives of gang members in some of the roughest neighborhoods in Los Angeles. Boyle is a natural storyteller — and clearly loves the mystics, too!
  • Vicky Beeching, Undivided — a fascinating and poignant memoir of a popular evangelical Christian musician and worship leader who, after years of fighting it, finally accepted that she was a lesbian. It’s a brave and honest book that I think all Christians should read, regardless of your politics — or theology.
  • Joan Chittister, Radical Spirit: 12 Ways to Live a Free and Authentic Life — Does monastic spirituality have anything creative to say to our age, especially given the political and social challenges of our time? Sr. Joan shows how ancient wisdom remains timelessly relevant.
  • Otis Moss III, Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World: Finding Hope in an Age of Despair — Building a wonderful analogy involving blues, jazz, and other forms of music, Moss celebrates what unites us and charts how faith leads to hope, even in times of conflict.

Embodied Faith: Spirituality, Earth, Nature

  • David Abram, The Spell of the Sensuous: Perception and Language in a More-Than-Human World — a philosophical meditation on  language, the senses, the nature of perception (and the perception of nature) and the necessity of honoring the intricate web of relations between humankind and our living environment.
  • Wendell Berry, The Art of the Commonplace: The Agrarian Essays — Berry is a gifted poet but also a keen and insightful essayist, exploring his commitment to the land (he is a Kentucky farmer), his horror at the excesses of our technocratic society, and the simple pleasures of his faith as a Christian. The Art of the Commonplace gathers together twenty essays that explore themes of faith, economy, love of the land, and criticism of our unbalanced culture.
  • Douglas E. Christie, The Blue Sapphire of the Mind: Notes for a Contemplative Ecology — What is the relationship between contemplative practice and a healthy relationship with the land? Christie, a professor at Loyola Marymount University, details how his exploration of Christian monastic spirituality and eco-activism has led to many points of convergence.
  • bell hooks, Belonging: A Culture of Place — one of the leading voices in writing about issues of race, gender and class her turns her thoughtful eye to the question of place — how we are defined by where we live, and how our relationship with the land is often defined by our political challenges.
  • Gerald G. May, The Wisdom of Wilderness: Experiencing the Healing Power of Nature — May chronicles a number of excursions into the natural world he undertook in the decade prior to his death; he finds the wilderness to be a congenial venue for deepening his contemplative view and practice.
  • Mary Low, Celtic Christianity and Nature: The Early Irish and Hebridean Traditions — Celtic spirituality is popularly understood to be “nature-based” and this book explores the rich folkloric, mythic and poetic traditions that underlie this rich expression of Christian faith.
  • Elizabeth Kolbert, The Sixth Extinction: An Unnatural History — just a sober little reminder that if we push Mother Earth just a little too hard, she’s likely to retaliate. I suspect it’s good for our humility to ponder that forces bigger than us might take over if we aren’t careful.

Interspirituality and World Mysticism

  • Andrew Harvey, The Essential Mystics : Selections from the World’s Great Wisdom Traditions — a poetic survey of writings and teachings from around the world, arranged for devotional rather than scholarly use, with a particular emphasis on the Divine Feminine.
  • Mirabai Starr, God of Love — one of the leading interspiritual voices of our time, Mirabai’s wisdom and knowledge crosses all religious boundaries, and — as this book attests — is grounded in love. Here she connects the dots between divine love as expressed in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
  • Geoffrey Parrinder, Mysticism in the World’s Religions — a classic book that attempts to explain “mysticism” as a universal category of spiritual experience found in all of the major religions.
  • Joan Chittister, We Are All One — Chittister is a Benedictine nun who (like Mary Margaret Funk and many others) has a strong commitment to interfaith dialogue and respect across religious boundaries. This book is a call to a mindfulness-based practice that encompasses unity and mutual care as the marks of both healthy community and healthy spirituality.
  • Huston Smith, The World’s Religions — Originally called The Religions of Man, this book celebrates each of the major faiths for its own unique contribution to human spirituality. Smith manages to make each faith appealing and beautiful.
  • Pema Chödrön, Living Beautifully With Uncertainty and Change — this Tibetan Buddhist nun is probably my favorite Buddhist writer, and while her writing is clearly grounded in the dharma, her gentle humor and compassionate, insightful wisdom is truly universal in its scope.
  • Arthur Stein & Andrew Vidich, Let There Be Light — an accessible and informative survey of world mysticism focussing on the encounter with supernal light or heavenly sound. The book covers all the major traditions as well as Baha’i, Sant Mat, shamanism, and near death experiences.

Literary Treasures

  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek — this literary treasure is a classic exploration of the spirituality of the natural world (and nabbed Dillard the 1975 Pulitzer Prize for Nonfiction). The writing is luminous, and truly ushers the reader into an appreciation of the mystical heart of nature.
  • Kathleen Norris, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography — Part memoir and part celebration of an austere landscape, this is the meditations of a poet who found spiritual meaning in her homeland of South Dakota.
  • Flannery O’Connor, The Habit of Being — O’Connor was famous as a “southern gothic” novelist and story writer, but her letters, published after her death at age 39 from lupus, reveal a sharp wit and a profoundly Catholic sensibility. Since O’Connor received spiritual direction from the monks of Conyers, she is very much an inspiration to me.
  • Mary Oliver, Devotions Mary Oliver is said to be the best-selling living American poet, and this wonderful anthology shows why. Her  verse is lucid, sensual, accessible, thoughtful, and resonant with vivid and unforgettable imagery. In many ways she is the poetic counterpart to Annie Dillard, for her earthy writing sings of the beauty of nature in a way that is never dogmatic but frequently mystical.
  • Coventry Patmore, The Rod, the Root and the Flower — another underrated gem from the 19th century, this collection of contemplative meditations from a Victorian poet is surprisingly earthy, deeply Catholic, and mystical in the best sense of the word — luminous with its appreciation of God’s ineffable mystery.
  • Barbara Brown Taylor, Learning to Walk in the Dark — Taylor’s frank, honest reflection on the spirituality of darkness (and doubt/unknowing) might seem threatening to those who want their spirituality tidy and self-contained, but it strikes me as an honest and beautifully written statement of how faith in our day always carries a shadow.
  • George MacDonald, At the Back of the North Wind — MacDonald was a nineteenth century author and his books embody the worst of Victorian sentimentalism; but they are also luminous with spiritual depth and mythic resonance. This novel, about a sickly child who befriends the spirit of the north wind, offers an honest meditation on life, illness, death and eternity.

Enjoy reading this blog?
Click here to become a patron.


Browse Our Archives