Friday, July 27, 2012
Summer is a great time for some light reading outside. While some use that time to catch up on a mystery series or those classics they have been meaning to get to, I seem to be drawn to spiritual memoirs, particularly ones written by women. Here are a few that I have enjoyed recently.
Jesus Loves Women: A Memoir of Body and Spirit, by Tricia Gates Brown. This book was recommended to me by Cherice B, who wrote a review on her blog. If it hadn't been for Cherice's recommendation, I know I would not have read it, the title would have been too off-putting, but I'm glad she did. In the introduction, Brown wrote that she is drawn to "the complex interplay of body and spirit, of the sensual and the spiritual, and the sexual and the spiritual." As I read that, a voice inside me said, Yes! This is what we need! I am grateful for Brown's honesty in telling her own story, and the connections she makes between spirituality and the body. I do not know Brown personally, but she is a Quaker who lives in the Pacific Northwest, and it was fun to read a memoir with such a familiar setting.
Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life, by Kate Braestrup. I first got to know some of Kate Braestrup's story in her book Here If You Need Me, about her work as a chaplain to game wardens in Maine (if you have not read that book yet, go get it from your library immediately). I grew up in a family and school where prayer was a given, so it surprises me how often I hear people say that they do not know how to pray. For anyone looking for ways to pray, I recommend this book. It is approachable and funny, filled with stories from Braestrup's life as well as a lot of great prayers. Braestrup does a good job of showing the vast variety of kinds of prayers―she does not even get to prayers where you ask for things until p. 131! There is also an appendix in the back with all of the prayers that are included throughout the book, many of which are by Braestrup.
Flunking Sainthood: A Year of Breaking the Sabbath, Forgetting to Pray, and Still Loving My Neighbor, by Jana Riess. This is the lightest of the three books, and at times reads like blog posts instead of a book. For one year, Riess set out to become more saintly by assigning herself a different spiritual practice each month, beginning with fasting. Reading this book felt a little like School of the Spirit-lite. There were a lot of familiar readings (The Desert Mothers and Fathers! The Rule of Saint Benedict!), but she didn't go deep into any of them. Riess states at various points that she feels like her spiritual practice is superficial, and I have to agree. She also recognizes by the end that these practices are meant to be done in community and it is less meaningful to try to do them alone. I think Riess is a little hard on herself when she says that she failed all of the spiritual practices―I think she had relative success with many of them, but she set herself up to fail with unreasonable expectations. Still, it is a very funny book and an easy way to learn about a lot of different spiritual practices.