There’s been a meme on Facebook lately about books that have changed your life, or that you loved, or that are the most unusual. I think the meme is shifting and morphing, as we speak.
I thought it might be helpful, in our ongoing quest to get to know one another better, to talk about some books that have shaped who I am and how I see the world. These are also books that have at one time or another appeared in my spiritual practice. Some of them are not bools, but collections of books, or lists of authors. That’s just the way it is. 🙂
Poetry upon poetry upon poetry. My father was a teacher of poetry, and my upbringing was steeped in the stuff. Yeats, Auden, Shelley, Donne, Herbert, Rich, Doty, Hopkins, Keats…and then later “as I older grew,” Lorde, Piercy, Nye, Hafiz, Rumi, Oliver, Whyte, Olds, Adcock, Heaney, Neruda, Bly, Collins…the list just keeps growing.
Why poetry? Why? Maya Angelou said that we need to take poetry in, press it up against our very teeth, like meat, she said, like meat. In my house, learning poetry is like learning the curves and planes of a lover. It’s a way to communicate the goes past the words, into sounds and shapes, and images touching all the senses.
Poetry is absolutely essential to worship planning, centering, grieving, delighting, and to my spiritual practice
Radical Acceptance, by Tara Brach. I have read this book three times, and each time her messages sink more deeply into me. Loving what is and accepting one’s responses and being gentle with them…these are lessons that come up again and again in my work and life. I strong recommend this book to you.
The Artist’s Way, by Julia Cameron. One of the first books of my adult life to foreground creativity as opening to Divine Source. Also the first place I found some of my now-favorite quotations. (Don’t worry, you’ll see them here.) So many good practices here. The Morning Pages and Artist’s Dates alone are worth the price of admission.
The Lord of the Rings, by J.R.R. Tolkein. Racist and sexist, yes. Yes, and problematic in other ways too. And my first reading of it began when I was eight years old, and my father and I sat together on the bed, he reading with voices, my trying to emulate them. The most violent parts of that story, especially “Pelennor Fields,” were always my favorites. Ah, growing up. What do you learn?
The Murry Chronicles, by Madeleine L’Engle. What I mean by “The Murry Chronicles” is the series beginning with A Wrinkle in Time and proceeding at least through Dragons in the Waters. (The one featuring with Sandy and Dennys, Meg Murry’s twin brothers.) So many people have A Wrinkle in Time on their lists. What is it? I think it, like Narnia, is an interesting text, as it’s written by a committed Christian in a magical context. Not at all something of which the writers and readers of the Left Behind series would approve.
The Kushiel Chronicles, by Jacqueline Carey. Allow me to show you my ankles a bit. A guilty pleasure. Beautifully written, theologically fun, sexy as all get-out, and magical both in content and style. I read these when I’m sick, bored, or don’t know what to do with myself, and they heal me.
Inspired by Source
Now, I do not mean to say that other books are not inspired. Those that follow here are spiritual and religious texts that I have found inspired and inspiring. Your mileage, of course, may vary.
The Gospel of Mark. If for nothing else than the first chapter, in which the Spirit “drives” the now-in-spiritual-crisis Jesus into the wilderness. It’s pretty darn clear that the one who is to be called Messiah has no blooming idea what he’s doing, I love this book.
The Torah/Pentateuch. So many great stories here. So many images that have turned into engines of war and love and covenant.
The Bhagavad Gita. I am only beginning to touch the goodness that is here. The Great Work of Your Life is an interesting introduction to the story of Arjuna and Krishna.
The Book of Common Prayer. My father, grandmother, and great-grandmother were Episcopalian. At least, my father sort of was for some of his life. Anglican and Episcopalian rhythms of worship are some of the most beautiful written, spoken, and sung in English. They remind me that English is a sacred language.
Pagan lore. The books, many of which I haven’t even read, that have affected my religious and spiritual practice. The Quartered Circle out of Greco-Roman and Renaissance understandings of the world. The Charges of the Goddess, originally by Doreen Valiente and reworked by countless others. The work of Aleister Crowley in shaping what became Wicca. Gerald Gardner. Janet and Stuart Farrar (and later, Gavin Bone). Thorn Coyle. Deborah Lipp. Judy Harrow. Vivianne Crowley. All the Books of Shadows and brilliant writing by those in the Stone Circle Wicca Tradition and its cousins.
My Quartered altar. The tools I have on that sacred table. The songs I sing as part of my spiritual practice each day. They come, by and large, from the people above.
The Qur’an. My God, what a beautiful text. So few of the people in my circles have ever read any part of it. I commend it to you. The images and names and shapes of the Qur’an have fascinated me since I took a class on Islam and Muslim history in seminary. And as I move into a business practice that includes learning and contemplating the 99 Sacred Qualities of God, the texts of the Qur’an become even more important to me.
Song of Songs. “Comfort me with apples, for I am sick with love.” “His left hand embraces me, his right hand holds my head.” “Kiss me with the kisses of your mouth.” “He brought me into his banqueting house, and his banner over me was love.” I mean!
What are “your books?” I’m fascinated to hear. Do tell.