The Sign of Jonas, by Thomas Merton. I took a retreat this September to the Abbey of Gethsemani Monastery, where Merton lived, worked and wrote. Needless to say my reading in the area of spirituality was dominated by the works of Thomas Merton. This book is a journal of his monastic life five years after entering the monastery.New Seeds of Contemplation, by Thomas Merton. It has been nearly ten years since I read this great book, but it is a deep well worth returning to time and time again.Entering the Silence, by Thomas Merton. This book is the third of his seven journals. Merton stipulated in his will that his journals were to be published no earlier than twenty-five years after his death. He died tragically in 1968 from an accidental electrocution.Mystics and Zen Masters, by Thomas Merton. Merton provides a general history not only on the Asian context of contemplation, but other expressions outside the Catholic Church, including Protestant monasticism and Russian mysticism.Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, by Cynthia Bourgeault. A good and practical book regarding Centering Prayer … what it is and how it is practiced. I found that the last third of the book bogged down a bit, but it was overall informative and helpful.Merton and Buddhism: Wisdom, Emptiness & Everyday Mind, edited by Bonnie Bowman Thurston. One of the best books I have read comparing the spirituality of Christian contemplation (as practiced by Thomas Merton) and Buddhism. Merton sought harmony for the many paths of contemplation and meditation.
Quantum Physics and Theology: An Unexpected Kinship, by John Polkinghorne. The connection between theoretical physics and theology is endlessly fascinating for me and so I read this book with great expectation. I was a bit disappointed, however, at the author’s lack of integration of the two disciplines. His approach is more comparative and less dialogical. I should hasten to add my great admiration for his willingness to see his academic training in quantum physics and theology as complimentary and not competitive.The Heart of Christianity: Rediscovering a Life of Faith, by Marcus J. Borg. Borg represents a growing body of writers and thinkers who are contributing to the somewhat nebulas work of emergent Christianity. He provides a healthy contribution to the dialogue of faith and progressive theology.
The Language of God: A Scientist Presents Evidence for Belief, by Francis S. Collins. The author is head of the Human Genome Project and presents a wonderful testimony of belief because of (instead of in spite of) scientific evidence. Without sounding shrill or condescending, he shares his fascination with the beauty and elegance of the basic laws of the universe and their interplay with the cosmos and faith. My colleague Dr. Jake Malone loaned me this book and I am glad I read it.
The Way of the Wild Heart, by John Eldredge. Eldredge is also the author of the popular book Wild at Heart. This is a decent sequel, but I believe it lacks originality from his other writings. I commend his attempt, however, to tackle the complex issues of what it means to be a Christian male in today’s world.Searching for God Knows What, by Donald Miller. Miller is the author of Blue Like Jazz, and carries on with his humorous style and candid approach towards faith. At times I found myself a bit weary with his anecdotal ramblings (which of course I do every Sunday!), but appreciate his honesty regarding matters of faith. Very little pretentious piety in this book.Blue Like Jazz, by Donald Miller. As with Searching for God Knows What, I appreciate his candor and rather unorthodox treatment of living faithfully. Writers like Miller and Anne Lamont provide insight to emerging spiritual and theological expressions in a pluralistic culture.Encounters With Merton, by Henri Nouwen
Thirst, Mary Oliver. A beautiful poet reflecting on faith, relationships and death.White Apples and the Taste of Stone, Donald Hall. Hall is the current U.S. Poet Laureate. This is a fine collection of some of his best work. I was introduced to his work about a year ago and have come to love this great American poet.Delights and Shadows, by Ted Kooser. Kooser, a former Poet Laureate, writes simple, earthy lines. His writings remind me of Donald Hall (see above), Billy Collins (also a former Laureate) and the late James Wright.The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks. This book is a beautiful, spiritual and at times delicate collection of poetry by a thirteenth century Sufi mystic. Rumi’s simple words are transcendent and timeless.
Things Fall Apart, by Chinua Achebe. I bought this book for a doctoral seminar several years ago and never got a chance to read it until now. It was originally published in 1959 and has since sold over 2 million copies. It is considered a classic regarding African literature. It also is an interesting read for further discussion regarding “what does it mean to be a man.”Andy Catlett, by Wendell Berry. While this was not my favorite novel by my favorite writer, it is nonetheless a good read. Like the rest of Berry’s fictional work it is concerned with community and the breadth of generations. It is a good read, just not my favorite among his excellent books.The Portable Jack Kerouac, Jack Kerouac. I had never read Kerouac and felt like it was high time I did. I believe he coined the phrase “spontaneous prose” and after reading “On the Road” I see how the term fits. He is indeed a wild ride through the fifties – a full decade before I was born.The Unbearable Lightness of Being, by Milan Kundera. This is the second time I have read this good novel. As one reviewer puts it, “I cannot tell of this is a philosophy book masquerading as a novel or a novel…with pretensions to be a book about philosophy.” While not for everyone, I found the book stimulating, thought provoking and altogether lovely.Cry, The Beloved Country, by Alan Paton. This is one of the most beautiful novels I have read in some time. Several years ago I saw a movie based on this book and was so impressed I intended to read the book. I finally got around to it. I now regret the delay. It is set in South Africa in 1946 and touches on the numerous complexities of race, justice and spirituality. Everyone should read a book like this.What is the What, by Dave Eggars. While this book is technically fiction, it is part biographical based on the “Lost Boys of Sudan.” This is a powerful, upsetting, jarring and important read. The complexities and pathos of Sudan did not simply start in the last few years.Absurdistan: a Novel by Gary Shteyngart. The writing is an entertaining satire set just before September 11, 2001. I found myself, however, growing weary with the story and its characters. Although the book was written well and the story was unique, it is not a book I would reread.The Diary of a Country Priest, by George Bernanos. This novel was first published in 1937. It depicts the hardships of a young parish priest in a small village in France. I found it to be poignant yet evocative (since I am a minister myself, albeit as a protestant from a different culture and time).The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini. A moving and at times tragic account of two boys growing up in Afghanistan. Although it is fictional one cannot ponder the pathos of this country as it continues to suffer from its past while its future appears to be in the hands of others.Everyman, by Philip Roth. To be candid, I read this book because I wanted to read a book by Roth and this one had been critically recognized. It is the existential story of man raised in America struggling through failed marriages, a disappointing career, and failing health to find out who he really is. It reminded me of a version of Camus’ The Stranger.As I Lay Dying, by William Faulkner. I love Faulkner but had not read him for years. This was a rather short novel that I had not previously read. It is a typically dark and southern gothic of a mother (Addie) who is dying and it is told through the voices of the family, including Addie herself. It is a macabre pilgrimage.
Einstein: His Life and Universe, by Walter Isaacson. I read this book because I wanted everybody to think I was smart. Since that is pretty much a lost cause, let me commend it not because it is a difficult book … it is rather easy to read, although I struggled through the sections attempting to explain his many theories. Einstein’s contributions in physics helped shaped our world as we know it today.A Long Walk to Freedom, by Nelson Mandela. I can still remember when Mandela was set free, apartheid was overturned and he was later elected the first black President of South Africa. The strengths and weakness of the great man made for inspiring reading.The Glass Castle, by Jeannette Walls. If this memoir were listed as fictional I would find it unbelievable. Her childhood hardships are, at times, overwhelming. Yet in the telling of her story the reader cannot help but be equally overwhelmed that she has survived, indeed, has thrived.The Last Season, by Eric Blehm. This is the touching story of the disappearance of backcountry ranger Randy Morgenson. If you love reading about American wilderness mixed with the intrigue of a search and rescue, this book will do just fine.
Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, by Barbara Kingsolver. Kingsolver has established herself as a gifted writer and novelist. This is her first non-fiction work and it is a fine contribution. She writes about the ecology of food and the cultural detachment we have with mechanized agriculture. Along with her family, Kingsolver spends a year growing and consuming only what can be harvested or produced locally.The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. This seemed to be the natural sequeal after Kingsolver’s book. This was a best seller in 2006, so I am sorry that it did not make it to my reading chair earlier. It is a conscious raising work regarding what we eat, where it comes from and why we should care.