7 Spiritual & Religious Books That Have Changed My Life

March 23, 2018

Is there anything better then opening the cover of a new book? The anticipation of learning something new, the excitement of starting a new journey.  Over the last decade of my spiritual quest I’ve collected and devoured numerous volumes of theology, spirituality, and memoirs. Some resonated with me, others did not. I’ve put together a short list of my very favorites for you. What are some of your favorites?

The Mermaid Chair, Sue Monk Kidd

“All my life I’ve thought I needed someone to complete me, now I know I need to belong to myself.”  -Sue Monk Kidd, The Mermaid Chair

Okay, okay. So yea, I’m starting this list with fiction but I don’t care. I read Kidd’s The Mermaid Chair probably 9 years ago and I recommend it all the time. Maybe it’s because I so strongly identify with a healing mother-daughter relationship or because the book was my first introduction to the feminine face of God but I find myself returning to its pages again and again.

From the first chapter, my love of mermaids was established well beyond the cultural “in” that exploded a few years later. Instead, the mermaid became a spiritual totem for me and beckons me to remember my inner wildness and wisdom.

From Goodreads: Telling the story of Jessie Sullivan — a love story between a woman and a monk, a woman and her husband, and ultimately a woman and her own soul — Kidd charts a journey of awakening and self-discovery illuminated with a brilliance that only a writer of her ability could conjure.

The Dance of the Dissident Daughter, Sue Monk Kidd

“There is no place so awake and alive as the edge of becoming. But more than that, birthing the kind of woman who can authentically say, ‘My soul is my own,’ and then embody it in her life, her spirituality, and her community is worth the risk and hardship.” ― Sue Monk Kidd, The Dance of the Dissident Daughter

If you have talked to me at length about my personal spiritual journey I have probably mentioned this book. It is both an atlas and an invitation to continue searching for the Divine Feminine. This book shattered my Christian bubble of recited faith and made it impossible for me to return to an inauthentic and borrowed doctrine. Kidd didn’t just touch my soul, she helped me find it.

From Goodreads: Sue Monk was a “conventionally religious, churchgoing woman, a traditional wife and mother” with a thriving career as a Christian writer until she began to question her role as a woman in her culture, her family, and her church. From a jarring encounter with sexism in a suburban drugstore to monastery retreats and rituals in the caves of Crete, Kidd takes readers through the fear, anger, healing, and transformation of her awakening. Retaining a meaningful connection “with the deep song of Christianity,” she opens the door for traditional Christian women to discover a spirituality that speaks directly to them and provides inspiring wisdom for all who struggle to embrace their full humanity.

Woman: An Intimate Geography, Natalie Angier

“Women never bought Freud’s idea of penis envy: who would want a shotgun when you can have an automatic?” ― Natalie Angier, Woman: An Intimate Geography

I was introduced to this book in college and have held onto it dearly ever since. My highlighted, underlined, and dog-eared copy made it in the first round of packing for my cross-country move. That’s how serious I am about this book. After reading it I felt power course through my all feminine veins- I proudly countered annoying college fraternity types  with “No dude,- you’re busting my ovaries!” I still cite sections of this text when extolling the miraculous nature of breast milk. Who wouldn’t love a book with chapters titled: “On the Evolution of the Clitoris” and “The Prodigal Uterus”?  

(Oh and, if you think a book about connecting women back to their own bodies and biological power isn’t deeply spiritual you may be reading the wrong blog.)

From the cover:  “Angier takes readers on a mesmerizing tour of female anatomy and physiology that explores everything from organs to orgasm, and delves into topics such as exercise, menopause, and the mysterious properties of breast milk. Woman ultimately challenges widely accepted Darwinian-based gender stereotypes. Angier shows how cultural biases have influenced research in evolutionary psychology (the study of the biological bases of behavior) and consequently lead to dubious conclusions about “female nature.” such as the idea that women are innately monogamous while men are natural philanderers.”

Finding Faith: A Search for What Is Real & Finding Faith: A Search for What Makes SenseBrian D. McLaren

“There is a difference — subtle but very significant — between having faith in my faith (i.e., faith in my intellectual concepts about God — another way of saying “leaning on my own understanding”) and having faith in God. There is a corresponding difference between doubting my faith and doubting God.” ― Brian D. McLaren, A Search for What Is Real

I found these two books at the perfect time in my spiritual crisis and it is not an exaggeration to say that without them I would not be writing this blog today. They are both simple reads, not heavy academic theology texts. McLaren does not tell you what to believe, but guides you in learning how to believe. Each chapter ends with a practical way to respond and a prayer. At a time when my faith was falling around me, these books taught me how to knit together my own tapestry of beliefs.

From the covers: Does having faith mean abandoning reason? It’s easy to get that impression. Still, it seems reasonable that a supremely intelligent God would want you to use your God-given intellect on your spiritual journey as much as in any other aspect of life. Faith may not stand on rational thinking alone, but a solid faith should walk hand in hand with intellectual integrity… This book helps you sort through the questions, objections, and concerns you can’t help but raise… [it] will help you think your way clearly and honestly to answers that satisfy because they’re your answers-conclusions you’ve arrived at personally without manipulation, coercion, or game playing.  

 

 

 

Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life, Fr. Richard Rohr

“If you accept a punitive notion of God, who punishes or even eternally tortures those who do not love him, then you have an absurd universe where most people on this earth end up being more loving than God!” Richard Rohr, Falling Upward: A Spirituality for the Two Halves of Life

About 8 years ago I was in a book club with some Franciscan nuns (seriously) and some lay people at the Franciscan Center in Tampa, Florida. It was the sisters who first introduced me to Father Richard Rohr through this book. True, it is more about the second half of your life in terms of age, but it also applies to a person having gone through a great trauma or time of suffering, and who is coming out looking for transformation. And that’s where I was when I read this. I find myself going back often because like all great works, it is new with each visit.  This book is the reason I claim Fr. Rohr as my Spiritual Grandfather.

From the cover:  In the first half of life, we are naturally and rightly preoccupied with establishing our identity- climbing, achieving, and performing. But those concerns will not serve us as we grow older and begin to embark on a further journey, one that involves challenges, mistakes, loss of control, broader horizons, and necessary suffering that actually shocks us out of our comfort zone. Eventually, we need to see ourselves in a different and more life-giving way. This message of “falling down”- that is, in fact, moving upward- is the most resisted and counterintuitive of messages in the world’s religions including and most especially Christianity.  

The Cloud of Unknowing-, Anonymous

“For I tell you this: one loving, blind desire for God alone is more valuable in itself, more pleasing to God and to the saints, more beneficial to your own growth, and more helpful to your friends, both living and dead, than anything else you could do.” ― Anonymous, The Cloud of Unknowing

I have barely scratched the surface of the wisdom offered in this book. I began it as a sort of primer for my journey of contemplation and mysticism and I am still grappling with it. It is thanks to The Cloud of Unknowing that I have found rest in the cloud of darkness that exists between myself and God which prevents me from fully understanding. This book taught me, in a sweet and humble way, that true faith comes from resting in the Mystery of the Divine and being comfortable with not knowing.

From the cover: Written by an anonymous English monk during the late fourteenth century, The Cloud of Unknowing is a sublime expression of what separates God from humanity and is widely regarded as a hallmark of Western literature and spirituality. A work of simplicity, courage, and lucidity, it is a contemplative classic on the deep mysteries of faith.


 

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