I wish you could know my friend Kendra. She is a remarkable young woman. Heart wide open. Generous, courageous, curious. I walk away from every encounter with her encouraged and challenged.
So when she made a request of me, a couple of weeks ago, I took it very seriously. She asked for suggestions for some creative, inspiring, heart-and-eyes-wide-open reading. As I began to compile my list, it occurred to me that I would have you know these books. And I would LOVE to know what would be on YOUR list.
Here are some of the authors and books that call to deep places in me. That rankle and provoke, that compel me to dream better dreams, that stoke the fire within.
Mary Oliver, especially Thirst Oliver sees the world with extraordinary eyes, and she paints it with lovely, evocative words that allow us to see it, too. Her writings on longing and prayer and the life within are some of the most excruciating and exquisite I have ever read.
Another morning and I wake with thirst
for the goodness I do not have. I walk
out to the pond and all the way God has
given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord,
I was never a quick scholar but sulked
and hunched over my books past the
hour and the bell; grant me, in your
mercy, a little more time. Love for the
earth and love for you are having such a
long conversation in my heart. Who
knows what will finally happen or
where I will be sent, yet already I have
given a great many things away expect-
ing to be told to pack nothing, except the
prayers which, with this thirst, I am
P.S. I love hearing her poetry in her own voice. Listen to three poems here. The first will surprise you, I think. The second, one of my favorites, will leave you undone. Marvelously undone. The third will nourish and delight.
Thomas Merton, especially The Seven Story Mountain and New Seeds of Contemplation. Also, the Book of Hours offers a lovely sampling of his work. Thomas Merton is an Anam Cara. A soul friend. One who sees the world in a way very like, only more so. I can pray his words and feel as though they are mine, just more elegant. More piercing and concise. More thorough. I crawl into them and travel through them to a place I want very much to know.
“You have made my soul for Your peace and Your silence, but it is lacerated by the noise of my activity and my desires. My mind is crucified all day by its own hunger for experience, for ideas, for satisfaction. And I do not possess my house in silence.
“But I was created for Your peace and You will not despise my longing for the holiness of Your deep silence. O my Lord, You will not leave me forever in this sorrow, because I have trusted in You and I will wait upon Your good pleasure in peace and without complaining any more. This, for Your glory.”
C.S Lewis, especially The Great Divorce and Till We Have Faces Well crafted stories carry profound truths to deep places in our hearts. I have read the first title 6 or 7 times, and the second twice. Once each with friends. I still see these characters regularly before my eyes. Lewis’ insight into the meandering of the human psyche and his ability to convey these are unmatched. *Note, The Great Divorce starts slowly in my opinion. Persevere! It is SO worth the effort. Soon you will be reading so fast you forget to breathe. And re-reading. I promise.
Chaim Potok, especially My Name is Asher Lev I have read three books (thus far) by this author, all excellent. But this is my favorite. Important questions about talents and gifts, about faith, and most especially about where (or whether) one can live at peace within the other. Excruciating. Riveting.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho An evocative tale about a young man seeking his “treasure”. He finds far more than he could have dreamed. Something richer, deeper, better. Something MORE…
“When I have been truly searching for my treasure, I’ve discovered things along the way that I never would have seen had I not had the courage to try things that seemed impossible…”
Madeleine L’Engle, especially Walking on Water: Reflections on Faith and Art I happen to know Kendra already loves this one, but it is most essential. This is a sweet washing of life and imagination and God and story and creativity and everything that makes us truly alive in the world.
Rilke’s Book of Hours: Love Poems to God When I am lost; when my soul is terribly troubled and I do not know how to say what is happening, I rush to Rilke. Almost always, I find the words I need here. His was a turbulent, hungry, desperate, ecstatic journey with God. And he wrote it all down. So I borrow his words. And say what is already in my heart.
In deep nights I dig for you like treasure.
For all I have seen
that clutters the surface of my world
is poor and paltry substitute
for the beauty of you
that has not happened yet….
My hands are bloody from digging.
I lift them, hold them open in the wind,
so they can branch like a tree.
Reaching, these hands would pull you out of the sky
as if you had shattered there,
dashed yourself to pieces in some wild impatience.
What is this I feel falling now,
falling on this parched earth,
like a spring rain?
John O’Donohue, especially Beauty the Invisible Embrace and Anam Cara O’Donohue’s lyrical prose reads like poetry. (It doesn’t hurt that I heard him read before I read him.) I can always hear him now. A rich, Irish brogue that sings the words. Words about the beautiful. About love and kindness and spirit and God.
“…beauty is so quietly woven through our ordinary days that we hardly notice it.”
Fyodor Dostoevsky, especially The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky’s world can be dark at times, but his characters are nuanced and layered. No villain is without hope of redemption, and no protagonist is thoroughly without vice. All are pilgrims. We see more of ourselves in them than we might care to.
Lilith by George MacDonald The path to resurrection will ALWAYS lead through death. But none of us wants to die. Really. This is one of the most difficult books I have ever read. Mostly because at the time of my first encounter I was digging in my heels and refusing to die to all the things I had used to define “me”. I felt like letting go of these would be death, NOT figurative but LITERAL death. This book, this fantasy of the highest order, helped me get inside that dark place. It gave me courage to do the hard work of becoming, by first being willing to walk into the terrifying darkness of being nothing.
The War of Art by Steven Pressfield This is one of the most important books I have ever read on pursuing your calling, whatever that calling may be. I re-read it frequently because I so need the kick in the pants it delivers. Here is an example of what you will find within:
If you were meant to cure cancer or write a symphony or crack cold fusion and you don’t do it, you not only hurt yourself, even destroy yourself. You hurt your children. You hurt me. You hurt the planet.
You shame the angels who watch over you and you spite the Almighty, who created you and only you with your unique gifts, for the sole purpose of nudging the human race one millimeter farther along its path back to God.
Creative work is not a selfish act or a bid for attention on the part of the actor. It’s a gift to the world and every being in it. Don’t cheat us of your contribution. Give us what you’ve got.
Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way: Creativity as a Spiritual Practice Cameron is a successful writer, but she remembers all too well what it is like to be silenced by fear. In this book she teaches us how to break through barriers to our creativity. Barriers we are not even aware of that are blocking our art. It is highly interactive and requires homework. But it is so worth it.
Thanks, Kendra, for giving me a reason to revisit old friends. Pick and choose whatever seems right to you. It is a worthy start, I believe.
To all of you, friends near and far, who is it that fans the flame of your passion, your creativity?