Do you read books in order to live a better life?
I read books for lots of reasons, ranging from escapism and enjoyment to information and obligation. In some sense, every book we read lodges somewhere inside us, affecting who we are and how we react to life. I am the product of many books (far too many, some would say!)
|Not my library! (Image: Pixabay)
Last year, though, I read four books with the specific intention of growing spiritually. These four books were chosen by the Renovaré Book Club.
Renovaré Book Club
Renovaré wasn't a name I'd come across before. Turns out that it's a Christian group founded by Richard Foster (who wrote Celebration of Discipline) and involving Dallas Willard (who wrote The Spirit of the Disciplines), which probably gives you a good idea of their emphasis! I was impressed with the quality of resources offered with the book club - podcasts, articles, discussion boards, online Q&A - and I also thought they'd done a good job getting a reasonably diverse selection of four books.
We started with How to Pray by Pete Greig, a British pastor and leader of 24-7 Prayer. When I'd started using the Lectio 365 app, the daily reflections were based around this book, so I'd already got a head start on this one! It's a very practical and realistic guide to prayer.
The next one was the controversial one: Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman. Thurman was influential in the American civil rights movement, and had a very different view of Jesus to the one most of us are used to. He spoke beautifully and powerfully about those who are oppressed and how Jesus, a member of an oppressed minority, modelled a new way of life to those "with their backs against the wall".
The next book was brand new - in fact I think it just barely got published in time for us all to buy it! Prayer in the Night by Tish Harrison Warren is a reflection on a prayer from the night time liturgy of Compline. She writes out of her experience of grief, and tells how the prayers of the church gave her something to hold onto during that time.
And finally, we read a book with the glorious title of A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life by William Law, an 18th century Church of England priest. His firm conviction that the best possible life is a life devoted to God shines through the centuries. He advocated generosity, humility and regular daily prayer - and by all accounts, practised what he preached.
This year, I was waiting eagerly for the next session to be announced. Finally, the website was updated and I had a look - only for my excitement to be squashed. All of the books were by, or about, white American men. I'd been looking forward to at least one female author, and perhaps a voice from another continent or a minority perspective. What a disappointment.
Books for this year
I could do better myself, I thought. So I did. It didn't take long to put together a list of four books which cover a much wider range of cultures, centuries, and Christian traditions.
First up is The Normal Christian Life by Watchman Nee. Watchman Nee was a Chinese Christian in the 20th century who was imprisoned for his faith after the Communist revolution. A friend recommended this book several years ago, so I'll finally get around to reading it.
Secondly I chose The Imitation of Christ by Thomas à Kempis. This is one of those books which gets referenced by anyone writing about the Christian life. I have no idea how readable it is, and I'm certainly not attempting the original Medieval Latin! But it certainly fills the "Ancient Christian Classic" slot.
Next is The Universal Christ by Richard Rohr. Rohr is a Franciscan priest who has a following amongst the kind of Christians who have moved from evangelicalism to a more contemplative, modern monastic type of faith. I've heard enough about him to be interested to see what he has actually written.
And finally I was searching for a female Latin American or African author, and discovered The God Who Sees: Immigrants, the Bible and the Journey to Belong by Karen Gonzalez. Gonzalez immigrated from Guatemala to the United States, and her book talks about her own journey as well as the Biblical stories of immigration.
Those of you who have seen me read know that my problem won't be getting
through them; the problem will be slowing down and reading them
carefully and thoughtfully! I'll try and stick to the book club
timetable of one book every couple of months, and use this blog as well as my own notebook to reflect on each book as I read it.