Last January I challenged the members of a book club I’m in to read fifteen “spiritual” books in 2015 and I would do likewise. The ladies of this book club are about twenty years older than me and aren’t constantly trolling book and spirituality websites for possible reading matter, so it seemed fair to me to stack their total “spiritual” reading against mine. They love me dearly, so cheerfully agreed to the challenge.

We agreed “spirituality” was in the reader’s opinion. However, it could include fiction, poetry or nonfiction that made the reader feel yearning, wonder, gratitude, dealt with life’s big questions or inspired us to be our best selves.

I love Tom Clancy, Frederick Forsythe and other thriller writers. And I love a good gritty spiritual book that puts me in touch with the thrill of being fully human and fully alive. My “spiritual” thrillers for 2015 include biographies and memoirs, a few self help titles and a couple novels.

Memoirs:

  • Encore by M. Sarton a journal of her eightieth year. The wonderful things about getting old she states are “the freedom to be absurd, to forget things and to be eccentric”.
  • The Priority List by Menasche is a memoir by a teacher dying of cancer including a road trip to connect with many former students.
  • Accidental Saints and Pastrix by N. Bolz-Weber are wonderful memoirs by an irreverent Lutheran pastor—an outsider ministering to outsiders.
  • Until I Say Goodbye by S. Spencer-Wendel is the account of the last year of life of a woman with ALS. She lives the Dr. Seuss quote: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened”.
  • I Am Malala by M. Yousafza powerfully describes the growing up of the Nobel prize-winning young Afghan woman champion of education for women.
  • Church of 80% Sincerity by D. Roche deals forthrightly with his disability and people’s reactions to it Many cogent reflections including “sometimes your gifts and flaws are the same thing.”
  • A Smile as Big as the Moon by J. Layden chronicles the work of a special education teacher and his students who make it to NASA’s Space Camp.
  • Boys in the Boat by D. Brown is the inspiring story of the U.S. Olympic rowing team that showed what poor American kids can do at the 1936 Olympics in Germany.

Several books challenged me to think more deeply about how I give:

  • Treasure Principle by R. Alcorn points out we’re just the money managers!
  • A Path Appears by N. Kristof and C. Wudunn, Doing Good Better by W. Macaskill and Charity Detox by R. Lupton give good questions to check on and think about before handing out your money. They made me realize I want a range of charities on my list, some of which try to solve problems and some of which meet immediate needs.

I also did some serious reading and soul-searching on the flip side of giving; e.g. asking for help. These three books were especially helpful:

  • Help Thanks Wow by A. Lamott
  • The Art Of Asking: How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Let People Help by Amanda Palmer and Brene Brown
  • Mayday: Asking for Help in Times of Need by M. Klaver
  • The Heart of Things: a Midwestern Almanac by J. Hildebrand was a good change of pace for me, with its focus on noticing the good things in creation like turtles.
  • Being Mortal by A. Gawand talks about how end of life care should maximize meaningful events and doings for people rather than just extending life by treating things if the person is going to feel horrible. One of the novels I read, Bettyville by G. Hodgman was about a young gay man from New York City who went home down South to care for his aging mother giving her the kind of life talked about in Being Mortal. The interactions between mother and son as they came to terms with each other’s lives made it a thought-provoking read.

As President Obama said: “When I think about how I understand my role as citizen, setting aside being president, and the most important set of understandings that I bring to that position of citizen, the most important stuff I’ve learned I think I’ve learned from novels.  It has to do with empathy.  It has to do with being comfortable with the notion that the world is complicated and full of grays, but there’s still truth there to be found, and that you have to strive for that and work for that.”

Three other novels worth mentioning because of their insightful depiction of characters were: The Museum of Extraordinary Things by A. Hoffman, Jesus Cow by M. Perry and Somewhere Safe with Somebody Good by J. Karon. Christmas in Harmony by P. Gulley rounded out the year of novels with well drawn characters. I have to mention All the Light We Cannot See by Anthony Doerr. Although it won a Pulitzer, I thought the blind female character was poorly drawn and riddled with stereotypes.

As Mary Oliver says in her poem “On Thy Wondrous Works I Will Meditate”, “O Lord of melons, of mercy,…though I am not ready or worthy, I am climbing toward you.” Books like these help me climb. Happy climbing in 2016! I welcome your recommendations for thrilling spiritual reading; one can never have too many books on a must read list.

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