Book Report: Browsing A Bookshelf

Join me in my garret, where I keep my books on spirituality and theology. Pick a shelf, any shelf. How about the one that begins with books by Elizabeth A. Johnson and ends with a little book about contemplation by Martin Laird, Into the Silent Land?

And in-between are treasures of learning and wisdom and journeys into spiritual practice and reflection.

The Prettiest Cover: Ask the Beasts, Darwin and the God of Love by Elizabeth A. Johnson. (2014) Inside are several pages of notes I wrote when this book was the focus of a class I took at Wisdom Ways in 2014. Johnson asks the question “What is the theological meaning of the natural world of life?” and “Why hasn’t theology taken the natural world seriously?” This is a dense book and as a non theologian, I was grateful to be studying this book with a group of wise and educated women. Johnson, by the way, was being “investigated” by the Catholic Church as she was writing this book.

Right next to this book is another Elizabeth Johnson book, Friends of Gods and Prophets, A Feminist Theological Reading of the Communion of Saints (1998); a book I have yet to read. Some day.

Moving Along: A commentary on the Gospel of Mark by Donald Juel, who was a professor at Luther Seminary when I was associate director of public relations there, and I always enjoyed the brief conversations with him when he stopped in my office or during lunch. Next to Juel’s book is Julian of Norwich’s Showings. I wonder what Mark and Julian of Norwich would have to say to each other.

Other Saints–Among My Personal Saints: Thomas Keating and Sue Monk Kidd. Father Keating was the founder of the Centering Prayer Movement and two of his books have been important in my spiritual development–Open Mind, Open Heart, The Contemplative Dimension of the Gospel (1986) and The Better Part, Stages of Contemplative Living (2000). Centering prayer is a practice of turning within and resting in God’s presence. Not far away from the Fr. Keating books are two books by Sue Monk Kidd, When the Heart Waits, Spiritual Direction for LIfe’s Sacred Questions (1990) and The Dance of the Dissident Daughter (1996). You may recognize this author for her more recent fiction, including The Secret Life of Bees (2002) and The Book of Longings (2020), but it is “Dissident Daughter” that holds the most meaning for me. Kidd unfolds her awakening to feminine spirituality, and I went on that journey with her. I read this book more than once and underlined more each time and added my own questions and reflections and commentaries.

Next to Kidd on the shelf is Ursula King’s The Search for Spirituality, Our Global Quest for a Spiritual Life, (2008) and I see I have marked Chapter Five, ‘Spirituality Within Life’s Dance” as my favorite in the book and within that chapter, the section on “Spirituality and Aging.” I need to reread that section.

Buddhist Wisdom: Two books by Jack Kornfield. First, perhaps his most famous work A Path With Heart, A Guide Through the Perils and Promises of Spiritual Life (1993) and a collection of sayings, The Art of Forgiveness, Lovingkindness, and Peace (2002), which was given to me by a dear friend who died many years ago. She lives in my heart and on my bookshelf. In A Path With Heart Kornfield includes a number of meditations, such as “Who am I?” and “Transforming Sorrow into Compassion.” The techniques may be different. The definitions may be different, but I think these mindfulness meditations are compatible with the practice of centering prayer, and I think Jon Kabat Zinn, whose book Wherever You Go There You Are, Mindulness Meditation in Everyday Life (1994) is also on this shelf, would agree.

Jewish Wisdom–Books by Three Rabbis: Yearnings, Embracing the Sacred Messiness of Life (2006) by Rabbi Irwin Kula, The Lord Is My Shepherd, Healing Wisdom of the Twenty-Third Psalm (2003) by Rabbi Harold S Kushner of When Bad Things Happen to Good People fame, and Jewish Spirituality, A Brief Introduction for Christians (2001) by Rabbi Lawrence Kushner. A post-it note dangling from the edge of Yearnings directed me to this sentence, “The more we allow ourselves to unfold, the less likely we are to unravel.” p. 37

Interfaith Wisdom: The Jews, Christians and Buddhists all meet in Beside Still Waters, Jews, Christians and the Way of the Buddha (2003) edited by Harold Kasimow, John P. Keenan, and Linda Klepinger Keenan. Another book unread. So far.

Life’s Journey: 1. A Woman’s Guide to Spiritual Renewal (1994) by Nelly Kaufer and Carol Osmer Newhouse. 2. The Ten Things To Do When Your Life Falls Apart, An Emotional and Spiritual Handbook (2010) by Daphne Rose King. (#1 on the To Do list is to “cry your heart out.) 3. Grieving Mindfully, A Compassionate and Spiritual Guide to Coping with Loss (2005) by Sameet M. Kumar. At one time or another I have consulted all of these books, both for myself and for my spiritual directees.

And More: a book on the sacred art of pilgrimages, one on dreams, a classic of spiritual literature (The Imitation of Christ) and still more. I close with a book that is a feast for the eyes, as well as the mind and the heart, Journey of the Soul (2000) by Doris Klein, CSA. It has been a long time since I sat with the words and the images in this book–perhaps now is the time to return to this book.

The soul journey is the process of spiraling into the Heart of the Holy where in reality we always are. We simply learn to see more clearly. p.3

I know I’ve just flung a lot of titles your way, but what strikes me is how one single bookshelf can open the door to new reflection and at the same time rewind a path of memory. By the way, I removed four titles from this shelf and added them to the Little Free Library pile. May they be exactly what someone else needs.

Thanks for shopping my Johnson to Laird bookshelf with me.

3 thoughts on “Book Report: Browsing A Bookshelf

  1. How I love looking at people’s bookshelves! I think it tells a lot about the person. (And someone who doesn’t have any books in their home?! Is that even a home? ha ha) Thanks for this virtual tour of one of your shelves. Now I have a lot of books to look up that aren’t familiar to me! The two Sue Monk Kidd books you mentioned are two of my favorite spiritual books.


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