Reading Lists

Autumn Reading List

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Autumn is here at last. We who live in Southern California sense the season change in different ways than the rest of the country. The days are often hot and dry, the evenings cooler. As the days shorten in length, the shadows linger, producing soft angles and a longing to to pause a while and gaze. I love autumn for many reasons but it seems like the desire to it still and read amidst the busy-ness of my life increases as these changes increase.  I hope you feel the same.

My continued reading list includes books on spirituality as well as novels because most of the time, we need stories to teach us the real-life lessons about God. A lesson taught to me long ago that I have never forgotten: “Read only the best.” That’s why there are always classics on my reading list.

The Reason for Crows: A Story of Kateri Tekakwitha by Diane Glancy.  Historical Fiction. I am “over the moon” about this book. It reads like poetry and feels like prayer. I have read about this Native American saint many times but this book embeds her in my circle of spiritual friends, as is Diane Glancy.

Lila by Marilynne Robinson.  Fiction.  This author is one of my favorite modern writers. She also wrote Gilead and Home. Her novels are full of spiritual insights.

History of God by Karen Armstrong (this is a carry-over from the summer reading list).  Non-fiction. This is one of the most helpful and objective books written about how people from three different cultures formed their images of God.

An Unnecessary Woman by Rabin Alameddine. Fiction. If you are longing for something different, the writing will intrigue and fascinate you as well as the stream-of-consciousness perspective of an aging woman who lives in Beirut. Sustained by her blind lust for the written word, she secretly translates books into Arabic. Full of quotations, poetry, I have begun another reading list just from her ruminations! This book is highly acclaimed and has received many awards.

The Heart That Gives – Seven Traits of Joyful Stewardship by Fr. Thomas J. Connery. Non-fiction. This is a sweet little pamphlet that will inspire you to re-think how you treat others and what you can do to improve.

Simple Church by Thom Rainer and Erick Geiger.  Non-fiction. Amidst the rise of mega-churches with mega-agendas, these evangelical pastors suggest a different way of doing and being church. They lay down the formula and are very persuasive.





Summer Reading List 2015

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Hello Friends,  Many have asked me for my summer reading list. Actually, I keep on on-going list throughout the year and will try my best to keep posting the titles that I recommend. I always look forward to summer and more free time to escape into books although I really do not need a seasonal excuse. Enjoy!




Titles and Authors in No Particular Order:

A History of God by Karen Armstrong (non-fiction) – A scholarly, in-depth look at the history of images of God from the perspective of the three religions of the Bible: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. This is a fascinating read, especially if you love knowing the  historical evolution of thought (like I do).

“The Nightengale” by Kristin Hannah (fiction) – Another WWII novel but set in France and is about those who risked their lives to save the innocent from the Nazis. Get out  your Kleenex.

“Hiding in the Light” by Rifqa Bary (non-fiction)  – The true story of a young woman whose life was in danger when she fell in love with Jesus and converted to Christianity. You won’t believe how many bad things happened to a very resilient, tiny but tenacious teenager.

“Love Does” by Bob Goff  (non-fiction) – A most unusual lawyer tells how his philosophy of life–putting love into action–has had a transformative impact on his soul and the souls of others.

“All the Light We Cannot See” by Anthony Doerr  (fiction) – WW II novel, that tells two stories from two point of view–a young German soldier and a blind French woman–in a most creative and touching way.

“The Soul of a Pilgrim: Eight Practices for the Journey Within” by Christine Valters Paintner (non-fiction)–This book is a map, a guidebook, on how to incorporate the spirituality of journey or pilgrimage, complete with Scripture readings and midrash.

“Pilgrim at Tinker Creek” by Annie Dillard (non-fiction)

“Bounce” by Robert Wicks   (non-fiction)

“The Lacuna’ by Barbara Kingsolver  (fiction)

“Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace” by Anne LaMott  (non-fiction)

“The Unbearable Wholeness of Being’ by Illio Delio  (non-fiction)

“Works of Willa Cather: O Pioneers!, Song of the Lark, My Antonia, etc”. (fiction)

“Daughter of Fortune” by Isabel Allende  (fiction)

“The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert (fiction)

“Molokai” by Alan Brennert  (fiction)

“Prayer: Our Deepest Longing” by Ronald Rolheiser  (non-fiction)

“The Monk Downstairs” by Tim Farrington  (fiction)

“The Monk Upstairs” by Tim Farrington  (fiction–the sequel to above)

“Abide With Me” by Elizabeth Stout (fiction)

“Americanah” by Chimarranda Ngozi Adichie (fiction)

“A Distant Mirror: The Calamitous 14th Century” by Barbara Tuchman  (non-fiction)

“Gilead” by Marilynne Robinson  (fiction)


Sixty Days of Summer Reading Conclusions

Sixty days ago, I challenged the parish to read three books with me during the summer. We actually gave away the first book free. I really do not know for sure how many actually read the books because only a few people wrote on the blog and only a few came to the gatherings we had after reading each book. What I do know, however, is that my life was enriched by reading every day and blogging my thoughts. Reading spiritual material every day is actually a big component of my prayer life.  Wonderful authors inspire me to go deeper, give me insights I would never have thought myself. Sometimes, just reading a paragraph or a few sentences spin me off into new levels of intimacy with God.  Feeding on Scripture and spiritual reading grounds my spirit and helps me stay connected to the Source, the divine energy, that is not me. So please keep reading. You will have no regrets about this activity!

I am putting together a spiritual reading list that anyone can add to by responding to these blog posts. Simply click on the title of the post and follow the message box prompts.

Thank you,  most deeply, for being on this journey together. There will be another reading challenge for Advent. Stay tuned!

Days 62-63: Sacred Fire: Last Pages

We only really grasp the essence of another after he or she has gone away. When someone leaves us physically, we are given the chance to receive his or her presence in a deeper way.” (310)

Perhaps no other mentor has taught me more about the Paschal Mystery than Fr. Ron.  Throughout the many years I have listened to him, read his books, really pondered and then taught his ideas, the application of the events at the end of Jesus’ life have truly transformed me. In the final pages of this book, Fr. Ron continues to bring home the true meaning of Ascension and Pentecost. Easier to understand are the concepts of trial, betrayal, suffering, death, and yes, even resurrection. All of us know these well. But Ascension and Pentecost are all about radical discipleship, a stage that many of us have not even begun to fathom.  Now that we are living longer makes this even more elusive. Messages from all directions tell us that if we stay fit and active, the inevitable can be delayed a few years. If we do not accept aging as a consequence of life, then how can we possibly prepare ourselves for giving our deaths away? We would rather just gamble and allow “palliative care” to take us by surprise.  Everything inside of me knows that this is wrong and still, I cling.

I feel like Mary Magdalene in the garden when Jesus appears to her after the resurrection. He tells her not to cling to him because if she does, Ascension and Pentecost will not happen. I feel like her when someone I love is dying or has been snatched from life by a careless accident. I fight letting go. My grief can become a deep river inside that I can easily sink into when I’m low. However, I take great solace in Fr. Ron’s words for I also know that he is right:

“We can easily lose one another. But there is a presence that cannot be taken away, that does not suffer from this fragility, that is, the spirit that comes back to us whenever, because of the inner dictates of love and life, our loved ones have to leave us or we have to leave our loved ones. A spirit returns and it is deep and permanent and leaves a warm, joyous, and real presence that nobody can ever take from us.” (311)

These words have so much beauty and wisdom! I see this truth all around me in the road to radical discipleship. I have let it take root inside. The river of grief runs right next to it but the banks do not overflow. I pray that Fr. Ron’s final words can come to fruition at the end of my life:

“If we die without bitterness and without regret, the spirit we leave behind will be one that is nurturing, warm, and cleansing–biblical blood and water.” (313)

To comment, click on the title of this post and follow the message box prompts. THURSDAY, AUGUST 14, WE GATHER IN KNIGHT HALL TO DISCUSS THIS BOOK. PLEASE COME!

Days 60-61–Sacred Fire: Chapter 9: Radical Discipleship

In this final chapter, Fr. Ron writes about what he calls “radical discipleship, the struggle to give our deaths away.”  This is not an easy concept to grasp. The first time I heard him speak about it, I could sense the interest and yet confusion in the audience. I personally felt both intrigued and repulsed by the ideas simultaneously and am still pondering what this means for my life. Yet,  I find a lot of truth in what he says.

For ten long years, my husband and I took care of his aging mother. A familiar story to many I am sure! She was wheelchair bound and slowly everything she owned and everything she once had been was taken away from her. Dementia, physical deterioration of her body, and our inability to give her the 24/7 care she needed necessitated the paring down of her belongings, residence, her entire being. Journeying with her as she struggled to separate from life was the most painful and arduous journey we had ever encountered. In the end, she had no friends who visited anymore. In lucid moments, she would cry in my arms and ask me to take her home. All I could do was cry too. I often told her that she could go home any time she wanted–just tell God. She would nod and say she had done that–repeatedly.

As Fr. Ron says, if we don’t give our death away, it will be taken from us. Better, he advises, to be the at the helm of that ship. But how do we do that?  Fr. R gives a lot of suggestions, some of which are more radical than real (the couple who decide to move to Pakistan with no money in order to live with the poor).  He does say that how we give our deaths away will vary with individuals. Everyone has to figure this out somehow but it is not so easy for many of us who are not walking in tandem with spouses who agree or who are walking alone, terrified at the thought of letting go of everything.

While my mother-in-law was languishing here in California with only my husband and I to care for her, my own mother was also going through the final stages of her life in Minnesota. I felt as though I was caught between two bookend women who were very different from one another. My own mother had hundreds of friends who visited her often and had a sound mind inside her failing body. She eagerly gave up her possessions because they didn’t mean that much to her–she was never materialistic or self-centered. She only cared about God and people. My mother had given her life away so generously that it was easy for her to give her death away. The last time I saw her alive and was tearfully saying good-bye, she whispered in my ear, “We pray, and so we will always be connected.”

What does it mean to give one’s death away? When I think of these two women and their experiences, I know. When I think of the years ahead, I  have more deliberate pondering to do and some important decisions to make.

What are your thoughts?  Leave a message by clicking on the title of this post and following the message box prompts. Sunday joy streaming to you. . . .

Days 58-59: Sacred Fire – Chapter 8: Simplifying Our Spiritual Vocabulary

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If someone told me that he/she did not have time to read this entire book, I would advise to carefully and slowly read this chapter alone. All of Fr. Ron’s previous points are summarized here in his “Ten commandments for the Long Haul.”  If taken seriously, these commandments can radically change life from superficial and surface to mellow and mature.  Each and every commandment has a challenge and a hope and Fr.Ron repeatedly warns that none of them are easy.  Worthwhile endeavors rarely are.

Some of the points are ones we have read about before–from many other authors and yet, Fr. R adds another twist to them and invites a practical and deeper application:

1–Live in gratitude and thank your Creator by enjoying your life.  “The real task of life is to recognize that everything is a gift and that we need to keep saying thanks over and over again. . .our gratitude is meant to carry something else: enjoyment of the gift that is given to us. .  .give us today our daily bread, and help us to enjoy it without guilt.” (249)

2–Be willing to carry more and more of life’s complexities with empathy.  “To accept that we cannot have the full symphony gives us permission to. . . accept that life will always be full of restlessness and complexities…”  Acceptance of this fact makes us more empathetic.

3–Transform jealousy, anger, bitterness, and hatred rather than give them back in kind.  I think of this everyday when I fill up my Britta water pitcher. I need to become the water purifier, like Mary and Jesus.

4–Let suffering soften your heart rather than harden it.   The choice is between ending up bitter or loving.  It’s not the suffering that makes us saints, it is how we handle it.

5–Forgive–those who hurt you, your own sins, the unfairness of your life, and God for not rescuing you–“There is only one moral imperative: not to die an angry, bitter person, but to die with a warm heart.” (259)  We simply MUST learn to forgive.

6–Bless more and curse less!–“When we act petty, we get to feel petty. When we act like God, we get to feel like God.” (260)  Blessing others, especially the young, changes the world.

7-Live in more radical sobriety–Sobriety is about honesty. “If we are walking in grace, we do not need any other commandment:  we can do anything as long as we do not have to lie about it.” (261)

8-Pray, affectively and liturgically–“True prayer is, at a point, synonymous with respect, graciousness, and love.” (267)

9-Be wide in your embrace–“God has a catholic heart, a nonfundamentalist heart. . .A true catholic heart has a room for everyone.” (271)

10-Stand where you are supposed to be standing and let God provide the rest–“We can be at our post, in commitment, love and duty. . .In the end, that is all we can do, and in the end, that is enough. . .” (274)

Fr. R ends the chapter by talking about how prodigious God is: “God is not a petty Creator. . .God is prodigal, abundant, generous, and wasteful beyond our small fears and  imaginations.” (274)And we are invited to be the same.

I wept over these pages. What is your reaction? Leave a message by clicking on the title of this post and following the message box prompts.

May your day be full of blessings. . . .


Days 56 and 57: Sacred Fire Chapter 7: Its Crowning Glory: Blessings Others

Ever since the first time that I met Fr. Ron Rolheiser, I knew he had wisdom for me. He was the kind of teacher that met me precisely where I was and then led me to a higher frequency, a place where I could feel exhilarated about my faith.  On a personal level, I sensed that he took delight in life, in meeting people, in the church, in being a priest and teacher. In short, I felt blessed when I was around him.

In the summer of 2001, I had the great privilege of attending an Inner Sabbath seminar at the University of Louvain in Belgium with Fr. Ron and several other important mentors. It was there that he and I became better acquainted and our long personal friendship began. He had just finished writing his book, The Holy Longing, one of the best books on Christian spirituality that I had ever read. He was like the rock star of theologians in my eyes and I wanted to just sit at his feet and learn from the master. When I would approach him outside of class to talk to him about some profound point that he had made, he would answer quickly and then tell a joke. Every conversation would always shift from focus on him to focus on me. He wanted to know about my life, what I liked, what I was reading, what movie I had just seen, etc. On the weekend in between our two weeks there, he invited me to come with a few other friends to visit the beaches in Ostend.  While we all rode the train for several hours, he told one joke after another, listened attentively to personal stories, constantly pointed out the beauty going by, and made the ride seem like 15 minutes. I remember that day as a rare time of unbridled joy, jocularity and laughter.

This chapter on blessing others comes from deep inside of Fr. Ron Rolheiser. This is who he is, how he lives. Whenever I see him, perhaps only once a year at conferences, his eyes always light up. It’s not just me either. I have watched him greet long lines of people with the same great delight.  How truly wonderful it is to know someone who practices what he preaches!

The idea of blessing others, especially the young, has taken root inside of me. Not having received a lot of blessings from my elders in the past (a generational thing, I think), numerous blessings have come back to me after I changed my stance and decided to give my life away in ministry to others.  The old adage is true–the more love I give away, the more I receive. Blessings are dynamic and evolutionary! The hunger for a blessing is palpable whenever I work on retreats with teens and young adults. As Fr.R says, they may not act like they want it but you can see the need in their eyes, feel it in their restlessness. I am old enough now to be able to bless even the most sullen. For that I am so grateful.

What is your reaction to this chapter? Leave me a message. . . click on the title of this post and follow the message prompts. I lift up and bless you today, right where you are. . . .

Day 55: Sacred Fire – More On Prayer

A well thought distinction is made regarding the Essential Methods of Prayer (198) as Fr. Ron concludes this enlightening chapter. Meditation and Contemplation are both about opening our minds, hearts and souls to a reality beyond our own self-preoccupation, however,  the former is praxis (the activity we do within our prayer) and the latter is theoria (a passive and receptive sitting quietly mode).  Meditation includes any type of verbal prayer including lectio divina, devotional prayers of all kinds that we do in private. Contemplation is also private prayer but it encompasses a type of listening, without the use of words. Fr. R notes that contemplative prayer practices are not for those on their honeymoon with God. It is better suited for those on the mature journey.

Sustaining a prayer life is not easy as there are many obstacles, some within ourselves and some within our culture, that keep us from praying every day. Fr. Ron says the biggest problem is that we are too busy and preoccupied to make time for it.  After a long day, we just want mindless distraction rather than a discipline of prayer. Restlessness is also an obstacle, as we are insatiable for experiences. We always think we are missing out on something. Finally, the ambiguity of prayer can become an obstacle as well. It is non-pragmatic, non-utilitarian, two conditions we often find intolerable. Yet, he says, prayer beckons us beyond, asking us to lift even our obstacles to God.

The Canopy under which we pray should be simple perseverance, not expecting anything great or big to happen. Much like any love relationship, there will be many hours of boredom, which, paradoxically, after many faithful years and discipline, bring a deep intimacy with God. Prayer does not need to be interesting, exciting, intense and full of energy all the time–that is impossible. Prayer just needs to be sustained by a regular routine.  It can be clear, simple and brief to be life-giving. All we need to do is one great act of fidelity–show up!

It is a relief to hear these words but a challenge too. There are simply no excuses for not having time to pray, not feeling like it, or harboring a feeling that we don’t know enough about it to actually put our desires into actions. The time is here, the time is now. Prayer is an art but it is also an act of the will sometimes. I have been working on my will for many years now, disciplining my stubborn knees to bend, carving out deliberate time to be non-utilitarian, listening at prayer, blessing others by simply being present. Every so slowly, my heart has been softened, my voice stilled, and my life transformed. After many years of praying for companions on the journey, for my restless soul to be calm, for light, for healing, for basically everything I want and need, I feel the hand of the Beloved clasped in mine. I know my presence is enough. I know I will never be alone.

Your thoughts? Click on the title of this post and follow the prompts. Holding you, as always, in the safety net of prayer. . . .