Summer reads for the soul

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Whenever I recommend books to people, I feel like the proverbial Jewish mother — ‘read, read!’ I say, with the sincere intention of feeding people’s hunger. So pull up a chair and see if you can find something tempting here.

Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown In Daring Greatly, Brene Brown explores the nature of vulnerability and its role in helping us to stay emotionally healthy. In the interests of honesty, I hate being vulnerable, and it’s been a pretty vulnerable year for me. So this book has been an invaluable guide in helping me to process some of that. Throughout the book, Brown offers research-based strategies for how to show up and stay emotionally engaged even when we’d rather run a million miles and how to handle it when things go wrong. I badly need to learn these lessons and suspect this book might turn out to be a life-changer.

The Listening Day, Vol. 1, by Paul J. Pastor This is a series of short reflections, written as conversations between God and the author, that are wise, profound, poetic and deeply rooted in the words of the bible. Reading them puts me in mind of C.S. Lewis’s words about Aslan: ‘…he isn’t safe, but he is good.’

As an aside, Paul sent a free, signed copy of this book to a friend of mine as part of a giveaway. He is a kind man, which just makes me want to read his books even more.

Never Unfriended, by Lisa-Jo Baker Women have the enormous capacity to either heal or hurt each other and so our friendships can be tricky to negotiate sometimes. In this book, Lisa-Jo Baker explores different aspects of friendship, helping us to persevere through the bumpy moments and giving practical advice on how to avoid some of the pitfalls that can cause female friendships to flounder. I found the parts of the book that talked about how to support friends who are grieving particularly moving. It’s worth reading for that section alone.

Wearing God, by Lauren Winner I’ve loved everything I’ve read by Lauren Winner and this book is no exception. In it, she examines some of the more overlooked biblical metaphors for God, such as clothing, smell, flame and laughter. She skilfully draws on a range of resources to broaden our understanding about the rich nature of God and how we relate to him. I particularly enjoyed her discussion around how we almost exclusively use masculine pronouns and male constructs for God. This leads us to imagine that God is male, when in fact God is neither male nor female. Winner examines her own practice of trying to avoid using third-person singular person pronouns for God, but also using ‘he’ or ‘she’ on occasions when it feels appropriate. She explains: ‘calling God “She” sometimes feels very uncomfortable to me, but I persist with it because I believe it is the Holy Spirit doing the uncomforting, and that the uncomforting is holy and blessed.’

Flee, Be Silent, Pray, by Ed Cyzewski I wrote about Butterfly Soup recently, that stage of development when the caterpillar disintegrates into mush and is held together by its cocoon. Reading this book about the contemplative disciplines of the early church mothers and fathers reminded me again of that image. The repeated spiritual practices of centring prayer, silence and solitude can help to spin a chrysalis around us, creating a place where we are held safe as we undergo our own metamorphosis.

Brown Girl Dreaming, by Jacqueline Woodson This beautiful novel details Woodson’s childhood as an African America in the 1960s and 1970s. It is written as a series of poems, forcing you to linger over the text and savour every captivating word and phrase. If you need to find a more unhurried pace of life this summer, Brown Girl Dreaming is the perfect slow read.

Gilead, by Marilynne Robinson Set in small-town Iowa, in the 1950s, Gilead takes the form of a letter written by the preacher, John Ames, to his young son. It is part a memoir of his life and part an account of how he explores the interplay of his faith with the various circumstances of his family and friends. The book is written with the insight of an old man who has spent decades in philosophical and spiritual contemplation; a man who resists the futility of easy answers and who has the self-understanding to acknowledge his own struggles with an honesty and vulnerability that is deeply moving. There is much profound wisdom to be found in these pages, and there are many quotes I have underlined and written in my journal. But this one is my favourite: ‘Hope deferred is still hope.’

How about you? What’s feeding your soul this summer?