Here's a look at what I've been reading the past two weeks. If you can believe it, all of them were purchased by Kirk -- so I say he's got exceptional taste!
Crossing the Desertby Robert J. Wicks
Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith by Henri Nouwen
As has been clear from recent posts, I've been walking through a desert experience and, as a result, am learning to listen more closely to the life of the heart in this long walk of faith. As such, these two books have been a fitting and tremendous gift to take with me along the path.
Crossing the Desert shares wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers about what happens when we move into the desert. The author applies four questions to the desert experience: What am I filled with now? What prevents me from letting go? How do I empty myself? and What will satisfy me yet leave me open to more? I'm sure you can tell from my recent writings how relevant these questions would be for me to consider right now. Perhaps they'll be relevant for you to consider, too.
The spiritual direction book by Henri Nouwen was published posthumously as a collection of his thoughts on the subject by two people who studied him extensively and knew him well. Some of the writings included in the collection were previously published, and some were excised from his private journals and notes. This book speaks quite sensitively to the life of the heart and how to live from a place of belovedness in Christ. Many sections made me feel as though Nouwen was speaking to me from across a table in a coffeeshop or armchair-to-armchair in his office. He writes with great tenderness and compassion, for he understands all too well the duplicity that can be found in our hearts and the aimless and useless striving we often employ to cope with the world.
A gifted and successful writer who wrote five years for GQ (and was nominated for several awards along the way), Gilbert gave it all up to spend a year exploring the balance between pleasure and devotion. The clincher is how she did it: by spending four months in Italy to learn pleasure, four months in India to learn devotion, and four months in Bali to learn a balance between the two.
This book is absolutely a gorgeous read, as well as funny, tender, and even heartbreaking. To be honest, I wrestled at times with her section on devotion (she follows the Yogic tradition), even setting down the book in a huff or wanting to throw it across the room at times because of our major differences in faith, but in the end I found myself grateful, stimulated, and challenged by what she learned from her struggles to attend more faithfully to her faith and meditation practice.
Echoing Silence: Thomas Merton on the Vocation of Writing by Robert Inchausti
These are two excellent books more contemplative in nature.
Becoming Who You Are is written by a Jesuit priest culling primarily from the writings of Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen on the subject of the true self. I appreciated so much the humble honesty the author brings to this discussion, especially in sharing his own journey to finding his authentic self and walking away from a life of falsity. His story and the gentle way in which he writes moved me to even try to track down his e-mail address online in order to thank him! (I was unsuccessful in this attempt.) In short, this is a great read for those wishing to live a life of true courage and authenticity with a willingness to walk away from the trappings that so often ensnare us. I finished this book in a few hours, which should tell you not only how accessible it is but also how stimulating and deeply felt the material can be if you open your heart to its message.
I'm only about twenty pages into Echoing Silence, but already it has been helpful for the writer in me. It pulls together everything Thomas Merton ever wrote -- either in books, articles, published journals, or letters -- about his vocation as a writer and how he struggled to marry it to his life as a Trappist monk. The book gives a revealing look at Merton's very human side in the ways he struggled with pride and arrogance and even anger at times. By seeing Merton's humanity, him being such a great teacher and modern saint, I am being brought to believe even more in Christ's power to transform hearts, inhabit our being, and even triumph over our inadequacies by ministering His power to others despite our own limitations and failures. Again, this is another great primer on finding the true self, and an encouragement to embrace authenticity.
The Selfless Way of Christ: Downward Mobility and the Spiritual Lifeby Henri Nouwen
I read these two at a monastery in Santa Barbara that we stayed in for a few days last week. Life of the Beloved was a surprise-find in one of their libraries and held me in its grip from the very first page. It reads as a letter Nouwen wrote to his young friend who was seeking the relevance of faith to a secular life (or one lived outside a monastic or religious calling). As you read this book, you are both rooting for his friend to be enlightened and transformed by the words while being enlightened and transformed at a deep and visceral level yourself. I felt fully engulfed in the love of Christ and my place in God's great heart while I read every single page of this short, remarkable book.
The Selfless Love of Christ has been a challenging read for me. As you know, I've been wrestling to "let go of my lists" and stop striving for acknowledgement and worldly gain. Just as its subtitle suggests, this book helps us understand how a life of downward mobility -- a stripping away of our fleshly desires (but not desire itself) -- is the heart and example of Christ, who is the very foundation and model for our faith. I haven't finished this one yet because, as I said, it's been hard! But I do believe it speaks true and tells a message that's worth our embrace. I plan to continue reading it in the coming weeks.
The Crime of Living Cautiously by Luci Shaw
Kirk handed this one to me tonight, and I look forward to reading in it about the importance of risk-taking in order to live the lives we were created to live. Should be a good read!
Postnote: I just re-read this post and realized how very much of a book nerd I am. Kirk is, too. We're actually self-proclaimed book addicts. (Remember my post from a few months ago on this subject?) Just to give you a heads-up on our habits of book behavior, when we were on vacation last week, we had to have spent at least $350 on new books. This is more than we spent on food the whole week, I think. And to give you an idea of what this looks like in real life, we had to pack many of the "old" books we had brought with us on the front end of the journey in our checked luggage on the way back just so that we could enjoy some of our new finds on the homebound flight! So, yeah, we're dorks about this. We love bookstores and the feel of new books in hand, the anticipation of how they might help form our souls into what God's making them to be. And Kirk is especially good at finding unique and well-suited-to-the-moment books for both of us. We love this about each other, and we love this about ourselves, period. Can you relate to this at all??