Reflections by Jerry Webber

Friday, December 30, 2011

Spiritual Reading for the New Year

Some of my first childhood memories are of my mother reading books to me. I have other memories, a little later in childhood, of tagging along with my dad to a bookstore in Ponca City, Oklahoma, where he got his Western novels. He always had three or four books ready for reading on the table beside his favorite chair.

I got my books from the Ponca City Public Library and from the book fairs that came every year to Washington Elementary. My mother would give me an allowance and I would carefully do the math to find out how to get the most books for my money. Perusing the books was fun . . . picking them up at the book fair and taking them home was even better!

Later, I was shaped by a mentor who said to me, "Be careful what you read . . . every choice to read one book is a choice not to read every other book."

I still love to read. At any given time I have a handful of books that I’m somewhere in the process of reading. The day, the mood and the setting determine which one I pick up at any given moment.

And because every choice to read one book is a choice not to read every other book, I generally give a book two or three chapters to win me over. If I’m not engaged after three chapters, I put it down (The "Three-Chapter-Rule"). Another title awaits. I don't have time to spend with a book that doesn't engage me.

So here at the end of the year, I thought I'd share some of the books I've read in recent months. These are books I commend for those interested in spiritual reading as we enter into a New Year.

The Breath of the Soul: Reflections on Prayer
, by Joan Chittister. Chittister offers short, two-page reflections on various aspects of prayer. Without being heavy-handed, she gently helps us shape a significant life of prayer. She's a good writer, and as a Benedictine, she's practiced at prayer.

Falling Upward and A Lever and a Place to Stand, both by Richard Rohr. There are a few writers on the spiritual life I trust implicitly. I don’t always agree with everything they write, but they speak from a place of integrity and authenticity. Rohr is one of those writers. I find him to be a reliable guide in matters of the spiritual life. Falling Upward is Rohr's take on a spirituality for the two halves of life. A Lever and a Place to Stand is a sort of introduction to a contemplative stance toward life. If you are interested in spirituality and the Twelve Steps, try Rohr's Breathing under Water. I'm in that one now.

To Bless the Space between Us, by John O’Donohue. O’Donohue was an Irish Catholic priest, poet and philosopher who died (at a young age) as this book was published. It is a book of original blessings for the thresholds of life, written with an earthy hope and a deep conviction about the power of blessing – God’s blessing and our own. I've grieved his death. He was about my age when he died. I wish I would have known him.

Manifesting God, by Thomas Keating. Keating offers an introduction to contemplative prayer. I’ve read him for almost two decades now and am always helped by the way he communicates difficult truth in very plain and simple ways. I trust him as a spiritual guide in the same way I trust Chittister and Rohr, for in their own way, each speaks out of the inner well of their personal encounter with God.

Spiritual Direction: Wisdom for the Long Walk of Faith
, by Henri Nouwen. Compiled ten years after Nouwen’s death, the book collects some of Nouwen’s unpublished papers and talks about the spiritual journey. Nouwen has long been a trusted spiritual guide, but I didn't find this to be one of his better books (there is probably a reason some of these talks and articles largely went unpublished until now). Still, if you love Nouwen, you will find this book helpful.

Listening for the Heartbeat of God: A Celtic Spirituality
, by J. Philip Newell. Newell deals with the critical foundations of Celtic spirituality by linking theological ideas historically with Celtic writers. I thought the book started out strong (the first two chapters had me very excited!) and then tailed off by the last couple of chapters. Nonetheless, those interested in Celtic spirituality will enjoy the book.

Sacred Space 2012
. This is a daily devotional book I’ve used for several years. I still use it for my morning prayer. A scripture passage is provided for each day of the year, as well as suggestions for prayer. Many folks find it to be a helpful resource for daily prayer. Produced by Irish Jesuits, it is also available online at

Love That Dog, by Sharon Creech. I love the other books I’ve put on this list. This is the one I hope you pick up, though. You can read it in less than 15 minutes. You’ll laugh. You’ll cry. You’ll cheer. It’s written for children, but I’ve never found an adult who didn’t love it. I first read it several years ago at the recommendation of a friend who knew I loved poetry. She thought of me because some familiar, classical poems make an impact on the boy in the story. In the years since first reading it, I go back regularly for a quick read of the book, just to remind myself of the power of poetry in evoking the soul.

Those are my recommendations. I hope some new reading is on your list for 2012. Try the "Three-Chapter-Rule." Remember, every choice to read one book . . . well, you know the rest.

Sometime early in 2012 I'll post a list of books that are on my waiting list, that is, those I've either just started or are "on deck," waiting for the "Three-Chapter-Rule."

Happy reading in 2012!

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

One evening while wandering in Barnes & Noble, i ran across the LOVE THAT DOG book you recommended here. OMG what a delightful read!! thanks so much for referring it.