Summer soul food
Have you noticed how many lists you are seeing of “good beach reads,” these days? These lists offer recommendations for fiction and non-fiction to take along with you on a vacation. On Sunday as I looked at such a list in the leisure section of the newspaper, a light bulb went off. Why not describe a few books that could provide good summer soul food? So here are four you might want to consider packing in your duffle bag this year.
First, tuck in “Uncommon Gratitude: Alleluia for All that is,” by Joan Chittister, OSB, and Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (Liturgical Press, Collegeville, 2010). The key word in the title is Alleluia!
Each essay challenged me to wake up in a contemplative way to the graces God offers each of us daily in both the challenges and blessings that fill life. Using story and contemporary realities as jumping off spots, the authors engage our imaginations and our souls in discovering the presence of God. This is soul food that stimulates the spirit.
Then, consider adding “Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy , Humor and Laughter are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life,” by James Martin, SJ, (HarperOne, imprint of Jossey-Bass, 2012). In this delightful book, Martin teaches us that humor and joy are integral dimensions to the spiritual life, contrary to popular belief emphasized by many spiritual writers that seriousness, worries about sin and doctrine, and concern about salvation are the core components.
Often I found myself laughing out loud as I read examples provided by Martin from the lives of the saints and the scriptures that in my previous days I had overlooked. Amid the complexity and seriousness of the world around us, this book offers food for the soul that is enlivening and rejuvenating.
Finally, Franciscan Father Richard Rohr gives us two volumes on the spirituality of aging to tuck in – “Falling Upward: A Spirituality of the Two Halves of Life” (Jossey-Bass, 2011) and “Immortal Diamond: The Search for our True Self” (Jossey-Bass, 2013).
Aimed at those in midlife and beyond, these volumes encourage us to spend more time with God contemplating the essence of who we are and are becoming. In “Falling Upward,” Rohr challenges us to look at our lives as an ongoing journey in which we struggle with issues of False Self, that part of us that focuses on externals, and the quest to connect with our True Self, the deep essence that enables us to know God more deeply.
Rohr guides us to ways of grasping how our experiences, both failures and successes, shape our human and spiritual identity and prepare us to mature and to embrace the soul work that is ours to do in the second half of life. In “Immortal Diamond,” which can be read independently of “Falling Upwards,” but is a good complement to it, Rohr uses reflections on the meaning of grace, death and resurrection to engage the reader in seeking the True Self and pondering the call to transformation in one’s own life.
These two books provide the meat and potatoes of nourishment for those seeking solid food for deepening their spiritual lives. Devouring one or both of them, however, will require a good bit of chewing.