St. Dominic Reading (Fra Angelico)

Anne Stricherz

4 Must Reads for Your Summer Spiritual Reading

I love summer reading. As a child, I was encouraged by the public library in my neighborhood to take June, July and August as time to read and read often. They incentivized it with a reading challenge: read ten books before August 1st for two complimentary tickets to an Oakland A’s baseball game! I don’t think I needed a reward; I got one anytime I read a great book. I still feel that way.

Although I might not need the challenge or a prize today, it is worth considering meeting a “reading goal” this summer. And one worth respecting is reading for spiritual growth. A healthy and life giving spirituality requires many things. Information as formation from some wise theologians, spiritual gurus, or the saints is a worthy task. June might be well underway, but July and August await.

This blog posting will feature four recommendations for spiritual reading this summer. One is a warm-up, one to maintain, one for pilgrimage and another for retreat. Enjoy!

Thanks, Help, Wow by Anne Lamott

Some of us often need a kick-start into reading. With all of its 102 pages, let Thanks, Help, Wow by Anne Lamott be your spiritual warm-up.

Lamott opens her book with “I do not know much about God and prayer but I have come to believe, over the last twenty-five years, that there’s something to be said about keeping prayer simple. Help. Thanks. Wow.”

And she’s right. As the poet Rumi once wrote, “God is the breath inside the breath.” God knows our heart’s deepest desires and concerns, even before we do. In her analysis or her own prayer, Lamott has come to see that we need not overanalyze our prayer or formalize it. What’s important is that we pray. We can pray anytime, anywhere. And we can do so by starting with any one of those three words.

Lamott has written dozens of book on spirituality. This one, her latest, weaves in honest, direct and yet humorous anecdotes to accompany and illuminate those prayers. It should come as little surprise that “Help” might be the most detailed and the lengthiest chapter. But that plea leads to the next prayer—one of “Thanks” or gratitude.

Lamott speaks as a long time believer. She has been a witness to the power of those prayers for help and the moments of “Thanks.” It gives way to one simple word: “Wow.”

Those three words can also serve as a helpful way for a family to pray. Parents can ask their children which prayer they would like to say at the beginning or end of each day. And for those that pray in this way, I recommend adding those three other words we are familiar with: “I love you.”

7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness by Joe Paprocki

Now that your spiritual warm-up is complete, you might be looking for a spiritual regimen—on that can firm up the health of your soul. The book “7 Keys to Spiritual Wellness,” by Joseph Paprocki is a practical resource for building and maintaining spiritual health.

A long time catechist and the sibling of the Bishop of Springfield, IL, Joe Paprocki repackages traditional Catholic teachings into seven keys, which he regards as enduring and reliable strategies. Furthermore, each chapter has corresponding questions to “open the door to the world of a deeper spirituality.” His program for spiritual maintenance seeks to help people avoid sin (vice) and develop healthy moral habits (virtues).

Paprocki writes, “People are hungry for spirituality. They long to live in a way that recognizes and connects with God’s grace on a regular basis and in ordinary things.” I appreciate how accessible this book is for any reader. He never strays from the ordinary. Each chapter has current and interesting cultural references, relevant examples and Scripture is thoughtfully woven throughout the book. One can easily focus on one of the keys and move to another one in or out of sequence. I felt challenged and yet the invitation that Jesus offers each and every one of us can be found in Paprocki’s thoughts on spiritual wholeness. Or should I call it holiness?!

Jesus: A Pilgrimage by James Martin, SJ

For many people summer is a time for travel. My family vacationed in the same place one year after another. I cherish those memories we share at the lake. Others seek adventure in the way that only travel can provide. A new culture affords one with a fresh look at other norms, language, food, music and more. However, as Catholics, our faith is not bound to one party, state or culture. Catholic means “universal” and the beauty of the faith means that the celebration of the Eucharist in the mass can be found anywhere. Our faith community is worldwide.

In this spirit, perhaps your summer travels include a pilgrimage to a Catholic shrine or holy site. Perhaps it is to the Holy Land itself. Whether or not that’s the case, Father Jim Martin’s latest book, “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” can and will invite you in to that space.

As written in American Magazine:

Jesus: A Pilgrimage is both an introduction to and an account of one’s pursuit of the grace of knowing Jesus Christ more intimately in order to conform one’s life to the manifestation of divine love that is the human life of Christ. Fr. Martin’s book employs scripture, imagination, experience, history and place to enliven, enrich and deepen one’s encounter with Christ in prayer.”

One component I enjoyed most about this book is that although quite lengthy, it feels like a travelogue. That’s because Martin and his good friend—a fellow Jesuit visited the places where scripture tells us Jesus lived, healed, preached, was executed, and rose from the dead. Different sights and stories moved both men. Although they share a common faith, their spirituality is unique. Anyone who has been on a religious pilgrimage with a friend or family member will understand.

The Holy Land is often referred to as the “Fifth Gospel.” Visit Nazareth, Bethlehem, The Bay of Parables, Jerusalem and Judea as Martin does, and you will never listen to or pray with Scripture the same way again. Martin’s text chronicles the power of those places to help one know, understand and love the historical Jesus and the Christ of faith even more. Perhaps reading this book can serve as your own summer pilgrimage.

The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality by Ron Rolheiser, OMI

Summer is unpunctuated; its months flow from start to finish in Ordinary Time. And as much as I love a retreat during Lent or Advent, I think the longer, slower days of summer are an ideal time to retreat with the Lord.

In 2009, I was blessed with the opportunity to go on an eight-day silent retreat. I brought one book with me: “The Holy Longing: The Search for Christian Spirituality” by Ronald Rolheiser, OMI. It shaped those eight days I spent in silence, prayer and contemplation like nothing else could I remain truly grateful for the gift of his words.

Rolheiser, an Oblate Father, is a prolific writer on all things spirituality. And this text serves as an excellent introduction to the Christian spiritual life. It begins with the fundamental question: “What is spirituality?” He cuts through the misunderstanding and confusion that can often surround this subject in his usage of examples and relevant stories. And he does so with poignant descriptions and astute observations about humanity. He states “desire is always stronger than satisfaction.” And spirituality is what we do with that desire—that each and every one of us holds.

One look at the book’s Table of Contents and the reader will gain a glimpse of the spirituality of which Rolheiser speaks: A Spirituality of Ecclesiology, Pascal Mystery, Justice and Peace Making and Sexuality. As written on the book, The Holy Longing is “Essential reading for anyone seeking to understand what Christian spirituality means and how to apply it to their own lives. It translates the universal struggle for love and integration of spirit into a language accessible to all, explaining God and the Church for a world that more often than not doubts the credibility of both.” Amen.

Most people do not have the resource of time to go on an eight-day retreat, but reading The Holy Longing might serve as a summer retreat for any Christian in the blessed days of Ordinary Time.

For one too many summer vacations, I brought the wrong book to the beach. I remember reading “Native Son” on the shores of Puerto Rico. It is an “American Classic” about poverty, violence, and racism in the U.S. in the early ‘30s. And it’s extremely jarring. Of course it's valuable to read classics and contemporary works--to be informed and current. Jarring material has it's place and the truth isn't always comfortable. On the other hand, fluffy summer reading can be great too. It's not always necessary to read something that is going to challenge your point of view. But along side the shocking and uncomfortable, and alongside the pleasure reading, I strongly encourage you to incoroporate some works like the ones included here that will nourish the spirit, restoring hope and clarity even in the face of greatly disturbing realities--such as those discussed in Native Son--and challenging us to deepen our longings for truth beyond the fluff (as fun and healthy as it is sometimes). Enjoy!