God has us on a journey. One of adventure. Of learning. Of battles. Of love. Growth is this journey realized. So here is our story.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

My life in books

My sister Dani has requested that I post an entry highlighting the books that have been most influential in my life thus far. At first I was a little daunted by the overwhelming idea of gathering my thoughts in this area, but I am so grateful for her nudging. As many of you may know, I have been (and perhaps still am) on a tumultuous journey of spiritual transformation. This has included the common stage of questioning my upbringing while in college, but has also led to some new perspectives and major paradigm shifts that have disrupted many relationships in my life. At this point I feel as though the waters have calmed--inside and outside myself--but I hope that the questioning and transforming of my heart and mind remains a lifelong process. Here's a look at my journey so far, told by the books that have deeply moved me...

I first became proactive about my spiritual growth when I was in the eighth grade. My mother gave me a copy of the Christian devotional classic My Utmost for His Highest by Oswald Chambers, and I read through it over and over again all the way through high school. Chambers gave me deep insight into biblical passages that had never meant anything to me before, and he introduced me to the idea of spiritual reflection.

Once in college my world was greatly broadened with a wide variety of incredible Christian and secular authors. In a theology class I was introduced to a poet and modern-day mystic, Kathleen Norris. I first read her book The Cloister Walk and became intrigued with her tales of life in a monastery. I credit her with my continuing intrigue and desire for a more liturgical and mystic practice of faith. I have devoured many more of her books (my favorite being Amazing Grace) and am currently reading Dakota.

I would have to say that my favorite spiritual author, whom I discovered in college, is Henri Nouwen. I first read his book Compassion, and was deeply affected by his radical notion that missionaries, more often than not, portray a sense of arrogance by traveling to another culture and immediately attempting to "help them" with their Americanized Christian culture. There is much more I could say about Nouwen's words, but I must highlight my favorite book of his--and one of my favorite books of all-time--Reaching Out. In essence, this book simply and beautifully describes the spiritual life as I want to live it and I have gone back to it time and time again for his wisdom, comfort, and grace. I'm thinking it's probably time to visit this book again...

Somewhere around my fourth year of college is where I was hit with a bang by Brian McLaren's A New Kind of Christian. Up to this point I had begun feeling uneasy about the inherited Christian spirituality of my youth but didn't know what to do with those feelings. This book pretty much put into words the questions I'd been wrestling with and gave me a whole new approach to Christianity. It was a huge breath of fresh air and gave me the confidence I needed to step out into a transforming process. I am forever grateful for Brian McLaren's courage in writing such a counter-cultural book within the Christian culture.

One of my last classes at Point Loma came at the perfect time as I was eager for new spiritual perspectives--Moral Development with Dr. Mike Leffel. He continued to spur on my questioning and introduced me to several incredible authors who I am still reading five years later! My favorites from this class include: The Great Divorce by C.S. Lewis, The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm, The Heart of Christianity by Marcus Borg, and Dark Night of the Soul by St. John of the Cross. If only I had the time to expound on the richness of these books and authors...

After college I went through a very dark time where I questioned even more of my background, religion, and identity. I found a light-hearted, humorous take on religion in Anne Lamott's Traveling Mercies, and a peaceful, open-minded look at spirituality in Hermann Hesse's Siddartha. I rediscovered a more traditional Christian author, John Eldredge, in Captivating, which he wrote with his wife on the beautiful identity of a woman. That book gave me so much in learning to love myself. And then there was The Road Less Traveled by Scott Peck. (Sigh...) This book, in my opinion, sums up everything meaningful, beautiful, and true about life. It's subtitle should be taken from Switchfoot's song: "Life, Love and Why". This book awakened in me a passion for psychology and gave me tools to battle out my inner darkness and embrace God's light inside of me. I have continued to read more of Scott Peck and have decided that he speaks my mind like no other author I know. It's just blissful.

And now I come to the more recent segment of my life. (Yes, I should be wrapping this up soon.) I stumbled upon an entirely different kind of book, Spilling Open by Sabrina Ward Harrison, that mixes unique art with journal entries. It's witty, raw, beautiful, and such a delightful treat with a warm cup of hot chocolate on a cold night. Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert is also a most delightful treat. This very popular book documents a woman's journey to find herself through pleasures, spirituality, and relationships. It was simply inspiring to me as I continue to find myself. And the book that has most recently moved me is Let Your Life Speak by Parker Palmer. This book was given to me in a time when I was overwhelmed by indecisiveness about who I am in relation to my career. The book's message can be summed up with my favorite quote (which does not come from this book): "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive." And that's what this process is really all about--coming alive.

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