A few days ago, a friend messaged me on Facebook asking me if I had a book recommendation that would help her deal with a faith struggle she is working through. This got me thinking about about the books that have shaped and refined my faith and all of the authors who have helped me without ever knowing about it.
Then I realized that I wanted to know others’ lists, and that this might make a good post idea.
So, in random order, here are some books that I’ve read in the last decade that have shaped my faith. I’d highly recommend any of them! (All photos from Amazon.)
1. Windows of the Soul by Ken Gire
My unofficial mentor/very official friend Mary recommended this book to me in college. I was keen to do anything Mary did because I admired her so much, so I read it. I’m so glad I did.
Gire talks about all of the ways God speaks to our hearts in our everyday lives—through literature, through nature, through music, through others, through sadness, and more. The year before, I had seen “Tosca” at the Vienna Opera House and I remember leaving the opera house feeling like my soul and mind were on fire and more awake than ever before. Gire would say, that beauty you felt is no accident. It was the loving presence of God speaking to some part of your soul. Same thing with a beautiful sunset, a loving act of kindness from another person…all God’s presence, God speaking to your heart. This book changed the way I experience God and the way that I experience our world. You know, no big deal.
2. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
My parents live next door to Miss Cindy (pronounced “Miss Cin-dayyyyy” because she has a Southern drawl.) Miss Cindy is the kind of neighbor who brings you an Oreo pie when you get into a car accident, who invites and genuinely wants you to use their home gym whenever you want, and who makes sweeping declarations like “you have to try this wine,” “you have to try this recipe that I learned at cooking school in Sonoma,” and “you need to read this book right now.” When Miss Cindy tells me to jump, I say “yes ma’am—how high?” It’s the Southern way.
One day, Cindy walked into our house and told me to read this book. I was not in the best place in my life and doing anything felt like a chore, but I opened it up because Cindy told me to. Inside, I found out that the fact that I was trying to hang onto any thread of faith meant that I had faith. I found validation that my imperfections and struggles did not disqualify me from God’s love. I found gentleness and openness and expansiveness—a faith different from the narrow rigidness of my own. I found a sentence that shaped the way I dealt with struggles over the next two years. Yes, this book shaped my faith. A lot.
Word of warning: if you are rigidly Republican, YOU WILL NOT LIKE THIS LADY (and she would take that as a compliment.) If you’re anywhere else on the political spectrum, you will probably get along splendidly.
3. The Hole In Our Gospel: What Does God Expect of Us? The Answer that Changed My Life and Might Just Change the World by Richard Stearns
This book is responsible for some current events in my life. If I showed you my copy, you would never let me borrow a book again—it’s dog-eared on at least 20 pages, underlined, has a slightly broken cover, and has some water damage (reading in the bathtub is where it’s at.) I COULDN’T PUT IT DOWN.
I didn’t know what I was in for when I pulled this one off of my mom’s nightstand when I was babysitting my siblings in September. I had to sit with Olivia at dance class for an hour and I thought I’d bring a book along.
I wound up sitting in dance class quietly sobbing as my heart was pierced. For a long time, I’ve understood that my possessions and money aren’t my own, that my blessings aren’t just for me, that I need to have care and concern for the poor. I could point to specific verses that have influenced these thoughts (and actions) but this book gave me an entire theological framework for how to view my life, my possessions, my time, and my talents. I finally understood how those verses fit together.
I felt profoundly challenged to stop simply seeing needs and saying “good luck! Hope someone helps you with that. I do XYZ already, and don’t have any more money to offer!” and instead step back and say “well…what do I have that could help with this need? Could I give a bit of time? Could I make an introduction or connection that would help this cause? Could I pray for this? Can I give something up financially to help with this need? Can I offer a ride? Can I make room in my life for this person?”
His exposition of scriptures addressing poverty and injustice is among the clearest and most compelling that I have read. And his connection of those “big” issues to how we live our everyday life set off an openness in me that has led to some really rewarding, terrifying, yet ultimately, what I believe to be Godly decisions in how I am living my life now.
Like I said, it’s VERY underlined and dog-eared, so picking just one quote to share is difficult but I like this thought: “Think of your life as a house with many rooms. Your faith cannot just be one more room in the house, equal with your job, your marriage, your political affiliation, or your hobbies. No, your faith must be like the very air you breathe, in every room of the house. It must permeate not just your ‘Sunday worship’ or even your vocation and your behavior at home, but also your dealings with everyone around you—including the poor. That’s how deep the commitment must be. So what does God expect of you, then? Everything.”
I may follow up with a Part II of this post if you enjoyed it! In the meantime, what books have influenced YOUR faith?