This season’s most thoughtful reads on spirituality come from David Gregory, Krista Tippett, Henri J. M. Nouwen, and others.
Fall is here, winter is on the way, and who doesn’t dream of whiling the day away under a blanket with the latest best-seller? But sometimes, we want to dig a little deeper and warm our hearts with topics more directly connected to our faith and spirituality. Sometimes that means turning to holy words, and sometimes to words on religious practice. Other times, as in this list, it can mean reading books that give a new perspective on why and how faith operates here on earth.
The books below (listed alphabetically by author) include letters, essays, memoirs, history, science, inspiration, self-help, journalism, and cultural criticism. There are as many ways to write about spirituality as there are to build it. You may want something intellectually challenging—or you may want an easy read. Both work when it comes to shoring up our individual beliefs.
Star Struck: Seeing the Creator in the Wonder of Our Cosmos
by David Hart Bradstreet
Anyone who has ever thrilled to “The heavens are telling the glory of God” will be fascinated by Bradstreet’s deeply scientific and deeply faith-based look at what our knowledge of space shows us about its origins. A professor of astronomy at Eastern University in Pennsylvania, Dr. Bradstreet has been “star struck” and a believing Christian since childhood. He does not believe the two things are at odds—or at all unrelated. He’s particularly joyful as he explains how some of mankind’s cultural achievements were created in response to cosmic phenomenon, but his considerations of modern discoveries might be the most inspiring for readers.
Apostle: Travels Among the Tombs of the Twelve
by Tom Bissell
Who were the men who committed their lives to Jesus of Nazareth? Bissell (The Disaster Artist) is an author whose deep dive into the origins the apostles reads less like history and more like contemporary reportage. He travels through Europe, the Near East, South Asia, and more as he searches for the places where followers laid Matthew through John, Peter through Thomas, to rest. It’s really the story of how early Christianity spread to disparate continents—and how Christianity today explains and honors (or doesn’t) their legacy.
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
by the Dalai Lama, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Carlton Abrams
Talk about a dynamic duo: His Holiness the Dalai Lama and the late Archbishop Desmond Tutu, writing together. Just the idea of their talking and shaping this book gives me lasting happiness; if they’d been able to include Pope Francis it would be better than a Beatles reunion. (I kid, I kid!) Just the table of contents is a lesson in uplift: one section is titled “The Meeting of Two Mischievous Creatures Is Wonderful.” The Dalai Lama’s and Archbishop Tutu’s infectious smiles on the cover show readers that mischievous spirit, but the book also addresses “Obstacles to Joy” before turning to a list of “The Eight Pillars of Joy.”
On Living: Lessons on Living from the Dying
by Kerry Egan
The dying rarely want to talk about God. That’s what hospice chaplain Kerry Egan found, and she explains that’s not because they don’t believe (some do, some don’t), but because they want their final thoughts and conversations to be about those that are still living: family, memories, small pleasures. Egan listened, and listened deeply, patiently, and with loving kindness to stories on just about everything that mostly centered on love of all kinds. She says she learns something from every patient she ministers to, but everyone, whether or not they’ve faced death of a loved one, can learn from Egan and her true charism, a spiritual gift for life and its aftermath.
How’s Your Faith? An Unlikely Spiritual Journey
by David Gregory
David Gregory is a seasoned journalist, raised by a Catholic mother and Jewish father and married to a Protestant woman who is serious about her own religious bent. All of these things came into the mix when one day during a press conference President George W. Bush said to him: “How’s your faith?” Gregory had to confess that he wasn’t really sure—and that led the reporter on an investigative journey into who believes what these days, so that he might discover what he believes, too. His six “key figures” are men of the Protestant, Jewish, and Islamic clergy (it’s too bad he didn’t include a Catholic, Buddhist, and some women in there, but this is his book and his journey, not an overview). A lovely personal history.
Dropping the Struggle: Seven Ways to Love the Life You Have
by Roger Housden
One of the ways I love this book is that it isn’t simply about dropping the struggle with material goods—a common self-help book theme. Author Housden discusses “be more” and “do more” along with “have more,” and he is clear that continuing to struggle for “more” of anything can affect a person. What would happen if you allowed yourself to be content with what you have now? As the chapters coalesce, it becomes clear that no one is being asked to drop everything and forego new achievements and experiences. The struggle to drop is actually trying to live outside the present moment, in which what you have and do and are is truly all there is.
A Truck Full of Money: One Man’s Quest to Recover from Great Success
by Tracy Kidder
You read that subtitle correctly: Paul English, who founded the travel site Kayak.com and sold it for $2 billion dollars, wanted to recover from his great success. As Kidder (The Soul of a New Machine, Mountains Beyond Mountains) relates in his trademark detail-rich and curiosity-filled style, English is a restless soul whose early adult struggles with bipolar syndrome have given him an alternate view of highs and lows. To Paul English, “a truck full of money” isn’t the key to happiness. For him, giving that money away mindfully and with integrity has the most meaning. A book that will make you rethink what defines goals of all sorts.
Love, Henri: Letters on the Spiritual Life
by Henri J.M. Nouwen (foreword by Brene Brown)
If you don’t already know Nouwen’s work (The Wounded Healer, In the Name of Jesus, among many others), you have a rich banquet before you. The Dutch Catholic priest was an important writer of theology and an important figure in the clinical pastoral care movement of the 1960s and 1970s. This collection of his letters already has 7 million copies in print; this new edition features an introduction by writer Brene Brown about why people from all backgrounds and of all theological stripes find wisdom and comfort in Nouwen’s work. Love, Henri covers his entire adult and professional life, and is great contemplative reading.
Becoming Wise: An Inquiry into the Mystery and Art of Living
by Krista Tippett
Krista Tippett hosts NPR’s On Being, a show that highlights faith, spirituality, mindfulness, science, activism, and more. Her new book is at once a summing-up of the show, an inquiry into contemporary existence, and a call to common humanity. While Tippett says “I listen for a living,” hers is not a passive, “sitting-back” kind of listening. She is actively engaged with the people she talks to and endlessly interested in everything from the advantages of technology to the limits of morality. “My work has shown me that spiritual geniuses of the everyday are everywhere,” she writes. It’s a hearkening back to village priests, a push forward to the future.
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