I used to read all the time. I was always reading a book, and while I still usually am, it’s not unusual for months to go by in between two pages. Despite my literary lethargy, there are still books I come back to again and again when I have a rare bit of reading time. Especially at this season of life, you know if I’m choosing to reread something, it’s gotta be good, because ain’t nobody got time to reread something that’s not awesome. So, in honor of a certain impending liturgical season (#lent), and with the hope I can kick the spiritual reading up a notch soon, here are the five (+1) spiritual books I come back to again and again, in all seasons.
- Spe Salvi by Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict kills it in his encyclical on hope. Hope is such an underrated virtue and I looooove BXVI’s treatment of it here. (I’ve written about it before.) Hope isn’t weak or fluffy; it’s hardcore. This is a pretty quick read for an encyclical but I find new gems in it every time. See: “It is….hope that gives us the courage to place ourselves on the side of good even in seemingly hopeless situations, aware that, as far as the external course of history is concerned, the power of sin will continue to be a terrible presence.” *mic drop*
- A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken
This book is so beautiful. I’ve never read anything that captures so well the glory of a human love relationship. This is the story of two “pagans” who fall in love and make each other their entire world. Their devotion is so inspiring, though ultimately flawed without God in it. The book tells of their conversion – thanks in part to their friendship with a guy named C.S. Lewis – and the effect it had on their love. If you are a person who loves other people, you should read this book. You will cry. It is worth it.
- The Reed of God by Caryll Houselander
Houselander is described by the Magnificat as a “British mystic.” I’d say that sums her up pretty well. I love this book, sometimes because of and sometimes in spite of its “mystical” style. It’s a really wonderful exploration of Mary and I usually read it during Advent. You’ll find in it passages like this:
“The one thing [God asked of Mary] … was to give Him her daily life. And outwardly it would not differ from the life she would have led if she had not been chosen to be the Bride of the Spirit and the Mother of God at all! She was not even asked to live it alone with this God who was her own Being and whose being was to be hers. No, he asked for her ordinary life shared with Joseph.”
Ideas like this are all over this book, yet the way Houselander extrapolates them helps me understand my own vocation better. The book definitely helps my relationship with Mary and is a lovely springboard for self-examination in a gentle way that doesn’t condemn or make you feel icky.
- One Thousand Gifts by Ann Voskamp
I’m in the process of reading this for the second time and I’m loving it as much as the first. Voskamp is a very poetic writer (she blogs at A Holy Experience) but I happen to really like her style. Even if you don’t, though, I think this book has a lot to offer on the subject of gratitude – the hard, real, nitty-gritty type – and joy in the midst of suffering. It centers on her understanding of the word Eucharist, and even though she doesn’t have a belief in the Real Presence, the book is still beautiful and powerful. Coming from a faith tradition centered on the Real Presence, I found her words to be even more powerful, and the understanding of eucharisteo that much more mind-blowing.
- The Screwtape Letters by C.S. Lewis
Lewis’ famous compilation of letters written by an expert demon to his novice apprentice is so brilliant. I love the way this book so masterfully convicts me on the stumbling blocks I face in the spiritual life. Screwtape, the senior demon, is instructing his nephew on the best way to tempt and ultimately damn a young man who has just converted to Christianity. Because the man in question is a rather ordinary type, the book is a fascinating examination of the ways your everyday ordinary Christian (most of us) succumbs to temptation on a daily basis. It helps me be more aware of how I fall to these temptations, reminds me they are most definitely the work of satan, and puts into perspective what is really important: dying in a state of grace.
**BONUS: The Discernment of Spirits by Fr. Timothy Gallagher
This book is an overview and explanation of St. Ignatius’ rules of discernment. I had never studied them before and I found reading about them to be incredibly enlightening. As the blurb on the back says, “This book is for all who desire greater awareness of God’s action in their daily lives.” The rules help you become aware of why you experience feelings and what they mean; it teaches you how to recognize periods of spiritual consolation, desolation and in between; and it gives you instructions on what to do in the midst of whatever the spiritual state of your soul. When I finished this book, I felt I could’ve flipped back to the beginning and begun it again
There you have it! I’m linking up with Kelly for Spiritual Books Too Good to Put Down. Many, many other good reads on there – check it out!