As a public service to my readers, here is an annotated list, which I’ll update periodically, of books that have shaped my faith journey:
Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. By Kathleen Norris.
One of the most serious barriers I encountered to returning to the Christian fold after several years exploring interesting alternatives was what Kathleen Norris calls “scary language.” You know, words like “sinner,” Christ,” “blood,” “faith,” “salvation,” “hell,” and “judgment” are alarming enough, but when you hear them strung together for years in sentences like this – “If you do not believe that Christ shed his blood for your salvation, you are a sinner bound for eternal judgment in hell” – it can kind of put you off the whole church thing. Amazing Grace revisits those words one at a time, offering them up for softer, more reasoned consideration.
The Bible (selected sections)
I have read the Bible cover to cover at least six times in three different translations. Trust me when I say that there is no turn of phrase in this world that can make “the begats” riveting reading. And frankly, most of the Pentateuch (Torah) except for Genesis and the first third of Exodus is mind-numbingly dull (who cares how many cubits long the tabernacle is supposed to be?) Add to that a bunch of prophets and apostles whose material all starts to run together after a few dozen pages and it’s no wonder that most people, including most Christians, have never read much of the Bible.
The problem, as I see it, is that there isn’t a “good parts” version for grownups. Most children’s bibles hit the narrative high points of the Bible – Noah’s Ark, David and Goliath, Daniel in the lion’s den, Jesus feeding the many thousands, Saul being struck blind on the road to Damascus – but they miss all the lurid sex. Although, I can say the same of certain prudish evangelicals who I know for a fact have read the Bible faithfully since childhood, so there you go.
My advice? Get a children’s bible. Don’t read it for heaven’s sake or you’ll need an insulin shot. But check the scriptural references and then go read the stories in a grownup bible. I like the New Revised Standard Version – intellectuals and progressives seem to prefer it and I’m trying to infiltrate their meetings so I can lay some fart jokes on them. Carrying an NRSV helps me blend in.
The Book of Mystical Chapters: Meditations of the Soul’s Ascent from the Desert Fathers and Other Early Christian Contemplatives
People have been trying to figure out how to live for God for centuries. And we’ve been trying to figure out how to live with each other since the first proto-human threw a fistful of crap at another and said, “That’s IT! I am NOT sharing this tree with you anymore!” Whereupon that ancestor came down from the tree and was promptly eaten by a sabertooth tiger. The Book of Mystical Chapters demonstrates, in short quotes by the actual writers from the pre-medieval and early medieval era, that folks has been folks forever, and even given the little God has to work with in us, God never stops drawing the human heart close to the divine.
The Power of Pause: Becoming More by Doing Less. By Terry Hershey.
This book, arranged in fifty-two chapters so it can be used as a weekly devotional, probably saved my health. It definitely saved my mental health and set me firmly on the path that led me to quit my job, throw the family finances into complete disarray, gain 10 pounds, and start seminary. (I hope the author doesn’t read that endorsement.) Which is to say, this book helped me create quiet space in my life to reexamine my priorities and really pay attention to the still, small voice of God calling me to ministry.
© Marian the Seminarian, 2012