I have been a voracious reader all of my life and the older I get, the more I love to open a book and let it take me where it wants me to go. I like the way Henry Ward Beecher, a fellow preacher, put it: "A book is a garden, an orchard, a storehouse, a party, a company by the way, a counselor, a multitude of counselors."
Reading a spiritual book brings to bloom the good seeds within me; it expands my vision like an orchard that is full of life; it fills up my storehouse with ideas, ideals, and new spiritual practices; it often is the best party around with large reserves of joy and celebration; it offers an infinite variety of companions on the spiritual path; and, last but not least, it introduces me to new spiritual teachers (living and dead) who lift my spirit up and send me on my way rejoicing.
Reading and reviewing keeps my soul alive.
I have always seen reading as a spiritual activity that fires my imagination, stirs my soul, and opens my heart and mind to the great adventure of life. When I review a book I conduct a private conversation with the author with check marks by the passages that impress or challenge me. R. D. Cumming once observed: "A good book has no ending" He is right. Good spiritual books live on through us. The Living Spiritual Teachers Project of S&P includes links to hundreds of resources which have kept my soul alive and to which I return to again and again for wisdom and inspiration.
I feel so privileged to be a midwife for spiritual writers As we say whenever we talk or write about Spirituality & Practice, I do not see myself as a critic but as a spiritual book recommender. There are plenty of reviewers out there who relish demolishing a book or the person who wrote it. I prefer to give the author credit for spending so much precious time and energy on writing a book. I see myself as a midwife who helps to bring another person's creativity into the light of day in our rough and tumble world. Sometimes it is a messy business but it is always fulfilling to alert our visitors to a book or author. I feel very privileged to have been called by God to this journalism ministry which started in 1969.
It is rewarding to see the recent emphasis in spiritual books on practice.
When Mary Ann and I wrote Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life in 1996, very few authors were writing about the importance of spiritual practices. Nowadays almost every book I come across in the field is filled with them. It pleases me to be able to affirm so many practices from old and new authors. We say our website provides "Resources for Spiritual Journeys," and these books are definitely that.
It pleases me to read so many authors on panentheism and deification.
In panentheism we see that everything is in God and God is in everything. This enables us to expand our understanding of spiritual literature to a much wider embrace than ever before. And once we accept the ongoing process of deification — our sharing in the divine life and oneness with God — we begin to see afresh the lilt and the tang of everyday spirituality. Common in other religions, these two themes open up new pathways for a revised Progressive Christian Spirituality which I wrote about last year.
It's a lark to see the new emphasis in spiritual books on the brain.
During the past two years I have reviewed a host of books about the brain, human nature, memory, taking in the good, kindness, empathy and more. The common emphasis in all these books is that it is possible to rewire our brains. "The brain is our most glorious organ. To survey the majesty of all human accomplishments is to survey the brain's majesty. Beethoven's symphonies, Shakespeare's plays, Plato's philosophy, Einstein's scientific insights — the brain dazzles us with its capacity and power," writes Kevin Nelson, a world-renowned neurologist with more than three decades of experience examining the processes of spiritual sensation. Stay tuned for more on this fascinating development!
I am grateful for all the books exploring mysticism.
I am convinced that learning to embrace mystery may become our most graceful and grace-filled practice in the 21st century. To be spiritual is to have an abiding respect for the great mysteries of life — the profound distinctiveness of other souls, the strange beauty of nature and the animal world, the ineffable complexity of our inner selves, and the unfathomable depths of the Inexplicable One. I am gratified to see more resources each year on this bellwether subject.
Books on elder spirituality keep on coming.
E. P. Whipple once wrote: "Books are light-houses erected in the great sea of time." I am excited about the deluge of volumes I have reviewed and recommended on aging. Many of these resources focus on the last stage of life as a chance to refine your character, to experiment with practices, to expand your appreciation of other religious paths, to enrich relationships, and to become spiritually mature. I'm now planning a blog about resources that serve as light-houses for Baby Boomers who are the new elders in America. We will focus on books which help long-lived individuals cultivate a rich inner life through journaling, harvesting memories, life review, and other practices.
Mindfulness books are here, there, and everywhere.
I have been astonished at the wide range of books on the Buddhist practice of mindfulness which challenge us to pay attention, to stay in the present moment without fleeing to the past or the future, and to be playful enough to open to whatever shows up in our lives. This flexible and well-traveled spiritual practice has been used in homes, schools, corporations, spas, retreat centers, homes for the aged, prisons and elsewhere. Here are links to some of the books on mindfulness we've reviewed.
I've enjoyed being a rebel for a long time, and so it continues.
When I was in seminary, I didn't want to do the assigned final paper as the topic did not particularly interest me. So I asked my professor if I could read and write about the Christian themes in 50 contemporary novels. After reading my paper, my professor wrote me this: "Fred, I feel that if you continue along this line, you will forever live in a twilight zone. The church will be dismayed by cultural excursions and the secular world will be bored by your ecclesiastical ecstasies." (How's that for encouragement!) But as a rebel with a cause, I started a book group to discuss novels in the first parish I served and I've continued reviewing books for four decades. As I've gotten older, I've thought of cutting back on the 250 - 300 books I review each year, but now that so many newspapers and magazines have cut back on their book coverage (and most never reviewed spiritual books anyway), I feel my calling even stronger. So I'm still in the twilight zone, albeit a different one than my seminary professor predicted. But that's okay with me.
I stand in agreement with Elizabeth Barrett Browning who wrote long ago: "No man can be called friendless who has God and the companionship of good books."