Friday, January 6, 2012

A list of books

So finally my long-promised list of books that have informed my life. In order to keep my post (and list) a manageable length, I've chosen two- three from each of several categories.
 Christian classics:

  • Augustine's Confessions

     I came lately to this marvel,; didn't read it until I was at Regent College, then was completely stunned by its power.  There are sections that are completely original thought, like his take on time. But the long section of his coming to Christ, and his recognition of his long painful life--and the torture to fling that life away. WOW. Surrender in a way I'd never dreamt. That was the first time. I go back to it again and again.

  • Julian of Norwich, Revelation

     This anchorite nun who closeted herself in a hut against a wall of a church in the middle ages has been one of the most important influences in my life.  She was so bold as to ask God for pain. To actually ask Him to allow her the privilege of bodily illness and actual wounds so that she could understand Christ's suffering better. As I've suffered in my own small way, her thoughts regarding pain have been transforming for me.  So to has been her equally keen desire to know the love of God as expressed through Christ on the cross, not merely in her head but as THE single most real thing in her life.  This hermit has done more for me than all the scholarly theologians throughout the centuries in aiding me to love Christ more, and to get--fully GET--that His great action on earth was the single most important thing that has ever happened in history.  And, dare I say it? Her words, "All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all shall be most well..." are perhaps my very favorite non-scriptural quote ever.

  • Brother Lawrence, Practice of the Presence of God

      This is probably the first Christian 'classic' I ever read. And it energized my prayer life. The uneducated kitchen monk who simply lived with Christ rather than compartmentalizing devotional time away from other daily tasks has repeatedly reminded me of how to "walk in a manner worthy of Christ, pleas[ing] Him in every respect." It is a slim volume, easy to return to again and again, in every season, should I (and I do!) need a refresher in the real  life of prayer.

Current Christian Authors

  • Eugene Peterson, Leap Over A Wall

I arbitrarily chose this book from among his many fine works because he gave it to me, signed, along with a copy of a review written about it.  Eugene Peterson just had to be first because he's a friend and whenever I read one of his books, I can hear his voice so clearly it's like he's the one leaping from over the wall between author and reader.  That aside, this volume, about the life of David and its correlation to the life of a believer and the Body of Christ, is finely written. The chapter on Ziplag, for instance, which is about church, is very convicting about how we approach those with whom we worship. One of the things I love most about Peterson is that he's immensely readable, loves story so even his most scholarly works are accessible to all of us.  Recently, I've finally gotten around to reading his memoir, which I've put off because I wanted to savor it, and it's life-giving. It's called Pastor, and really has pieces of most of his best books. Or, if you like the idea of short pieces, Subversive Spirituality is worth the time.

  • Richard Foster, Celebration of Discipline

 My copy of this book has been through the war. At least that's how it looks. Certainly it's been through about a dozen moves since I bought it back in college in Eugene, Oregon and read it straight through when I should have been studying Old Testament Survey or Chaucer or some such thing. It is another book, like Brother Lawrence's, that changed my life. The 'inward' practices of meditation, prayer and study that I practice today were, in no small part, learned from this book (though I must clearly give a shout out to the adults who definitely also had a hand in teaching me such practices! And I must also admit that fasting was less successful as it helped propel me into an eating disorder. Sigh.).  It's so worth the read. For individuals and church congregations all together.  Thirty-plus years later, I still fell what it meant to me then.

  • Frederick Buechner, Telling the Truth

Frederick Buechner has written so many treasures it was difficult to chose one, but this slim volume is about the gospel, juxtaposed with King Lear. The full title is Telling the Truth, The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy and Fairy Tale and speaks to both sides of myself. Of course you might infer that I'd be drawn to it. However, it was on the reading list for my entrance to Regent College, and because I am who I am, I was determined to read everything on that list before I actually began. That spring my parents were in Portland, Oregon and found this book at Powell's bookstore (a truly AMAZING place!!!!!).  On their way home from Portland (a sevenish-hour drive) they took turns reading this book aloud. They just couldn't put it down. MY PARENTS.  My dad reading a book aloud in a car. You didn't know him, but this was NOT normal behavior, and tells you everything about this book.  It's worth finding. Worth reading. If you want, you can borrow mine. Really. You won't regret it.

I've been staring at that word 'Novels' for five minutes. How on earth can I distill all the impact from all the novels I've read in the last forty years? And choose just three that have meant the most?  An impossible task for a person like me who reads novels 'religiously.'  Every person who reads novels chooses them for different reasons, of course. For escape is one of the main reasons--at least that's what we most often hear.  When I chose Regent College as the seminary to attend (or perhaps I should say, God revealed it to me), it was because there is a whole area of study devoted to the study of Literature as a means to see God working. My Masters' degree in Interdisciplinary Studies is at precisely the intersection of Literature and Christianity. One of my first (and perhaps very favorite and most important) classes I took a seminar called, "Christianity and Fiction." As background, I was only on the wait list the first day of that class, because my dad had died the week before, making me late for everything at Regent. The prof had told me I could come to the class that day, but he doubted I'd get in because so many were ahead of me.  With about 25 crowded into a seminar room meant for 12, we went around the room speaking of our relationship with books. I was, oddly, the last person to speak.  Many said, "I don't really read very much, except for school." Or, "I just needed a seminar to graduate." Or, "I had to read novels in high school but I don't like them much." And then there was me. After I spoke (though I don't quite remember what I said, having an undergraduate degree in English Literature, meant I'd read all but two of the novels in the course), there was a break. As the prof walked past my chair, he kind of leaned in and whispered roughly, "You're in."

But though I'd read those books, it hadn't been with a view of them as Christ-haunted.  I was surprised by how new and fresh and profound even those I knew were. So I'll simply mention one unexpected author who completely radicalized how I think of her, and of writing 'non-Christian' literature: Flannery O'Connor.  She's NOT for the faint of heart, I'll tell you that right upfront. Her novels are considered southern 'grotesque'. However, she has informed my way of thinking about writing more than any  'how to get published' book I've ever been given. If I hadn't already written this much I'd tell you why. But perhaps I'll leave it at that for today. O'Connor deserves her own day.  My favorite quote by her is:
 "When you assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal means of talking to it; when you have to assume it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock--to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures." (Flannery O-Conner, Mystery and Manners, 33-34)

The point in all this is to read. To let God use more than just the Bible teach you, even more than just current books to impact you. And yes, even more than just non-fiction to work in your life. There are treasures to be mined and He will use them all to work Himself into you.  If you let Him.    

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