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CONTEMPLATIVE PRAYER & MYSTICISM

 Impact-of-God

by Iain Matthew

My all-time favorite work on John of the Cross. Modern, accessible, deeply moving. The first time I picked it up it didn't speak to me; the second time I tried reading it, I prayed with the table of contents for a week! ​Lots of rich themes, including emptiness as receptivity and darkness as healing. Written by a present-day Carmelite monk.

Tags: Good for lectio; Heart-centered

by Thomas Merton

 A gem of Merton’s: a series of reflections on the contemplative life. If you’ve never read Merton, you’re in for a treat. He's a master at blending head and heart.

Tags: Good for lectio; Heart-centered

 New-Seeds-of-Contemplation
 The-Essential-Rumi

translated by Coleman Bark

Rumi is a master, and really is an essential for contemplative savoring. He’s got such a lovesick charisma that you cannot help being dazzled by his Beloved!

Tags: Good for lectio; Heart-centered

 Everything-Belongs

by Richard Rohr

Fr. Rohr’s exploration of what a contemplative life looks like. More than

just a practice: it becomes a transformative way of life, where

everything belongs.

Tags: Good for lectio

Practical-Mysticism: A-Little-Book-for-Normal-People

by Evelyn Underhill

A well-written explanation of the contemplative life, written for the everyman/woman. Think G.K. Chesterton for writing style and time period, with the sass of a modern Teresa of Avila. Available for free at Gutenberg Press.

Tags: Head-centered

 The-Inner-Voice-of-Love

by Henri Nouwen

This is the journal that Nouwen kept through his own personal crisis. As his life fell apart, he lost his sense of identity, his mission, even his hope in God. Here he is more tender and raw than you’ll read in any of his other books. This was recommended to me by my spiritual director when my life was falling apart.

Tags: Heart-centered; Good for lectio

 The-Awakened-Heart

by Gerald May

May is a master in two worlds: spiritual direction and psychology. He brings them together beautifully in his works, including The Awakened Heart. Modern, accessible language for the awakened, or contemplative, life.

Tags: Heart-centered

 The Collected Works of John of the Cross

Edited by Kieran Kavanaugh OCD

This is my preferred translation. The editor, a Carmelite himself, offers some helpful background on John’s life, providing context to the works that follow. John is marvelous - I devoured his writings when my life fell apart, and he understood me like no one else could. He frequently writes in theological language, so if you’re just getting started with John, I’d highly recommend beginning with Impact of God above. This book includes The Ascent of Mount Carmel, The Dark Night, The Spiritual Canticle, The Living Flame of Love, Letters, and The Minor Works.

Tags: Good for lectio; Churchy language

 Fire Within

by Thomas Dubay

The first work on Carmelite spirituality that I read. Uses traditional “churchy” language to describe Teresa of Avila and John of the Cross’s theology. It’s on the heady side, but is still very clarifying for people looking to understand their thought. For a more heart-centric approach, try Impact of God.

Tags: Churchy language; Head-centered

INNER WORK

 Self-Therapy

by Jay Earley

 IFS, or Internal Family Systems, is one of my favorite interior frameworks. It distinguishes our interior world into distinct “characters”, or “parts,” and looks at their desires, fears, and relationships as you would in a regular family. I’ve found it to be hugely helpful language in my own life, both in my relationships and in my inner work.

 The Highly Sensitive Person

by Elaine Aron

Are you intuitive, empathic, with a rich interior life? You might be an HSP. Research shows that 20% of the world has a finely tuned nervous system - which can wear us out if we don't know how to live with it. Many people have named this discovery as the most life-changing part of spiritual direction. I estimate that around 50% of contemplatives are highly sensitive. 

 Co-Dependent No More

by Melody Beattie

If you grew up Christian, read this book. If you grew up as a Christian woman, read this book twice. So many of us spiritualize our excuses for our emotional immaturity--myself included!! This book was a huge wake up call, along with Fr. Vogt’s Detaching with Love. You’ll learn how letting go of control is the beginning of all genuine spirituality--and inner peace. Along with so. Many. other things. Read this book.

 by Richard Rohr

The path to wholeness (“up the mountain”) involves falling, over and over again. In interior growth, up is down, wholeness usually means going to pieces, and perfection means being fully imperfect.

 Falling Upward
 The Gifts of Imperfection

 by Brene Brown

Stepping into the limelight with her TED talks on Shame andVulnerability, Brene has taken the world by storm. She has an absolutely engaging style, weaving together research, storytelling, and deep insight into the human person. The theme of this book: Be you. Let Go of Who You Think You're Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are.

Daring Greatly

 by Brene Brown

Big desires require big courage. And big courage requires big amounts of vulnerability. No one likes feeling vulnerable, exposed--it literally means being open to being wounded. Yet without vulnerability, we aren't able to find what we want most: connection. Intimacy. Relationship. Daring Greatly challenges and beckons us to let ourselves be seen. 

 Rising Strong

by Brene Brown

After we learn how to face our shame, stand with courage, and be vulnerable, there comes another important step. When we're willing to show up and be seen with no guarantee of outcome - we will inevitably fall. Rising Strong is about having the resilience to pick ourselves up, allow ourselves to be held, and begin again.

 Emotionally Healthy Spirituality

by Peter Scazzero

Why didn’t I read this ten years earlier? I swear it would have saved me so much heartache and stress in the convent and after. Scazzero is a Protestant pastor, and uses traditional Christian language to explain why emotional growth needs to parallel your spiritual growth--or your spiritual growth may not really be what you think it is. Such important topics! 

Tags: Churchy language

 Detaching with Love

by Fr. Emmerich Vogt

An audio series on emotionally healthy spirituality, based on the wisdom of the 12 Steps. This was my first introduction to the 12 steps and to what I came to recognize as my co-dependent behavior patterns. How do we stop worrying, let people be who they are, and live our lives in freedom?

by Margaret Lobenstein

Have so many desires and gifts you can’t just choose one path? You may be a renaissance soul. This book suggests some ways you can wield all those intense passions, and find ways to incorporate as many as possible into your life (sequential jobs? Day job + lots of fun hobbies?). Practical, life-coach approach.

Renaissance Soul
 

INTIMACY, SEXUALITY, EROS 

 Fill These Hearts: God, Sex, and the Universal Longing

by Christopher West

Christopher is a breath of fresh air. He has made Theology of the Body accessible to the world. Our longing for connection and communion is God’s image stamped in us--in our very bodies! Full of pop culture references and relatable stories, I recommend Christopher’s work to everyone. 

 Holy Sex!: A Catholic Guide to Toe-Curling, Mind-Blowing, Infallible Loving

by Gregory Popcak

If you’re looking for a practical guide to (hetero) spousal intimacy, look no further. While written from a Catholic point of view, Popcak likes to throw in a dash of irreverence that makes this guide feel real. Discusses ways to deeply connect with your partner - including a chapter on sexual positions. I like this as a primer for those who are just beginning to explore their sexuality, and how to listen to its calls to connection.

Prayer and Orgasm Have More in Common Than You Think

 by Kelly Deutsch

Spirituality and sexuality overlap in the gift of Eros. Mystics frequently talk about the “nuptial union” with the divine-- is it possible that’s what we’re all made for?

 The Intimate Connection: Male Sexuailty, Masculine Spirituality

 by James B. Nelson

 It’s been years since I’ve read this book, but it left a great impression on me (even as a woman!). Nelson explores the genitalization of sex (to the neglect of intimacy and sensuousness), why men have difficulty forming friendships (especially with other men), and how men become whole by integrating both the masculine and the feminine. 

 
 

FICTION 
to Accompany You on Your Interior Journey

The Island of the World

by Michael O'Brien

This work undid me. Read during the time of my illness, it was the single most powerful piece of fiction I read during that period. A deeply tender tale, following the life and odyssey of Josip, a Bosnian man. The author is also an iconographer, and writes with an artist’s (and a mystic’s) heart. So moving.

Til We Have Faces

 by C.S. Lewis

This is my favorite literary representation of divine intimacy and the mystical life. Lewis does a superb job of representing all of us non-initiated folks and the world of the mystics, through a retelling of the Greek myth of Psyche. Some of the lines in the book broke my heart open. If you’ve experienced divine ravishing--or have been baffled by the idea of it-- you will find yourself in this book.

 The Little Prince

 by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

The classic children’s tale containing profound life wisdom. I remember receiving this as a gift from my godmother when I was 12; I thought she might be insulting me by giving me a kid’s book! Little did I know I would return to it over the decades for its insight and comfort amidst life’s griefs.

REFLECTIONS & MEMOIRS
filled with Wonder

by Thomas Merton

If you haven’t read this yet, do. Merton’s hallmark work, exploring his story from France to New York to a monastery in Kentucky. Beautifully written.

Seven Story Mountain
Dakota

by Kathleen Norris

Another must-read. Kathleen Norris writes beautifully of the Midwest (my home!), richly laced with the Benedictine spirituality that has formed her own experience of the world. Allow the plains to teach you a more sane rhythm of life.

by Gretel Ehrlich

Oh, delicious prose. Another elegy to wide open spaces and the sparse characters that inhabit it. Delightful writing.

 The Solace of Open Spaces
The Path to Rome

by Hilaire Belloc

Belloc was an Inkling, that group of writers that included or influenced J.R.R. Tolkein, G.K. Chesterton, and C.S. Lewis (why all the initialed first names, one wonders??). Belloc has a marvelous sacramental imagination, and sees the world with wide-eyed wonder. This book is his travelogue of a walking pilgrimage he made from France to Rome in the late 1800s. The descriptions of the sites, people, and charming little towns were like eye candy. I read this book slowly so as not to finish it too quickly!

 Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome

by Reba Riley

Growing up the poster child of Evangelical Christianity, Reba found something didn’t fit anymore. She shares her religious and spiritual explorations with authenticity and a good bit of hilarity. This memoir was my introduction into the wide subculture of post-church seekers.

 Tremendous Trifles

by G.K. Chesterton

Chesterton is magic. He writes with a sparkle in his eye, and his turns of phrase are as satisfying as plucking that one perfect apple from the tree: when you bite into it, it is sweet and surprising and sumptuous all at once. This is a collection of some short writings; “What I Found in My Pocket” and the titular chapter, “Tremendous Trifles,” are my favorites. Delightful! Available for free from Gutenberg Press.