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Great Reads for Spiritual Awakening
Books For Your Spirit!
I am a true bibliophile. My idea of an amazing afternoon is to curl up in my home library, surrounded by my books, sitting in my favorite chair with a cup of tea. Browsing my shelves is like looking into the eyes of loving and understanding friends, as I know the content of each so well. Even when I add new books to my library, I find myself familiarizing myself with them in much the same way I familiarize myself with a new person who has been invited to stay in my home. When they are finally placed on my shelves, it is not necessarily done in alphabetical order, but rather where they "fit" as far as their content, their stories, and their information correlate.
In that vein, I am always willing to share books and titles with others, much like I share tidbits of conversations I have had with those in my social circles. The suggested and recommended readings in the following list are those that come to mind when I am asked why I am compelled to teach, compelled to minister, and compelled to provide chaplain services to those in need. These are stories and experiences that have touched my heart and opened my mind to the power of the human spirit. Some of them I read for research assignments in my doctoral and chaplaincy programs; others are titles I came across in bookstores, and in public libraries. Even more books are those to which I was introduced when I was a young student. My middle school Language Arts and Writing teachers opened my mind to the impact of storytelling, and the transformative nature literature can have on the human mind and spirit.
Each of the following books speaks to the limitless possibilities of human survival, and our boundless embrace of love, compassion, empathy, and understanding.
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho. I quote information from this novel frequently, as it is a quiet gem filled with so much treasure. In my profile, I use one of my favorite quotes from this book: "No matter what he does, every person plays a central role in the history of the world. And normally he doesn't know it." Our lives take us on journeys we would never usually expect. But if we continue to follow our passion, we will find the greatest treasures. We may also lose those great treasures as well. This novel reminds us that there is great beauty and great gain when there is also great loss. Continue to redefine yourself within your own authenticity and you will always be blessed with exactly what you need--and even quite a bit more!
Here if You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. A chaplain in Maine, Kate speaks of how her internal journeys have provided opportunities to connect with those she meets on a professional basis. She speaks candidly of grief, loss, and the need we have to continue to connect with those around us and break our hearts wide open in love. An incredible memoir, this book speaks to the core of what it means to endure the human experience with all of its wonder, beauty, and absolute tragedy as well.
Surviving Columbine: How Faith Helps Us Find Peace When Tragedy Strikes by Liz Carlston. This book is a compilation of children's experiences of surviving the April 20, 1999 shootings at Columbine High School in Colorado. All told with emphasis from the LDS faith base, this work transcends any specific religious belief and speaks to the core of how love and connection work to heal ourselves as well as a community after such an incredible tragedy.
Man's Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl. Telling of his life prior to and survival of the Nazi concentration camps in Germany, Frankl delves deep into his own experiences of maintaining a connection to his humanity and life's meaning through his writing. As a psychiatrist, Frankl utilized his experience with absolute bare survival and the horror of living in an environment designed to utterly destroy any spark of life to develop a new sense of therapy called logo therapy. This book offers a great deal of insight not only into the history of the Holocaust, but also into how we can each lose sight of our own life's meaning when circumstances and situations make us feel entirely without any kind of control.
One April Morning: Children Remember the Oklahoma City Bombing by Nancy Lamb. This is an incredible book for people of all ages. Children were interviewed with the assistance of therapists and teachers, and asked to recount their memories of what they experienced during the bombing, and also what helped them get through it. With incredible illustrations and simple honesty, this book is poignant and a wonderful tribute to the beauty and wonder of life in the wake of a tragedy. One amazing point of connection that led to healing was one child who was given two dogs in order to have something to play with and take care of. This child was speaking in a group of other children. Another child broke in and said, "If my friends can't get a dog, they can always come over to my house and play with my dog." It's such a simple phrase. But the amount of brilliance that goes into it was incredible. It speaks to the heart of human connection, of feeling a sense of belonging. If another is suffering from loneliness, I may not be able to get you a dog, but you can always come over and play with my dog and me. This book speaks so brilliantly to the fact that no matter what, you are never alone--and how wonderful that truly is!
Rachel's Tears By Beth Nimmo and Darrell Scott. This is a unique book in that it is heart-crushing story of a family's own tragedy turned to light in the aftermath of the Columbine shootings. Rachel Scott was murdered when she was asked by one of the shooters if she believed in God. Her response was, "You know I do." These were to be her last words. Her brother, Craig, had been in the library that day, and his two friends died right next to him. The parents of these two children found themselves in a situation no parent ever wants to be: grieving the loss of one child and comforting another traumatized by tragedy. Their incredible story is as full and love and inspiration as it is heartache and horror. Although I did not know if, as a parent, I could read this story (although I did so for research purposes when working on my Doctor of Divinity and chaplaincy certification). What I found was that in its heart-filled words, it had the ability to lift the reader beyond the tragedy and focus on connecting once again to those around us. It goes back to the concept that, when we are grieving, we are expressing love. When your heart breaks, let it break open!
Untold: The New Orleans 9th Ward You Never Knew by Lynette Norris Wilkinson. This is a compilation of accounts taken from Hurricane Katrina survivors of New Orleans' 9th Ward. It is a brilliant and rare gem that talks about how the community developed, what life was like before Katrina, and shares incredible stories of hope, survival, and faith. I have never been to New Orleans, but the way that the incidents were described, I felt as though I were living the stories, speaking to these individuals as though they were having coffee with me at my dining room table. It's a wonderful preservation of human voices and spirit within the written words on these bound pages. A remarkable read!
The Human Condition: Contemplation and Transformation by Thomas Keating. Coming from his perspective as a Catholic monk, Thomas Keating explores the human search for happiness and our need to gain inner perspective. Searching for God, Keating says, is really the search for ourselves. It's a very short yet very powerful piece that will have you wanting to go through its pages on more than one occasion.
The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying by Sogyal Rinpoche. As His Holiness the Dalai Lama says in the introduction to this book, "Sogyal Rinpoche focuses on how to understand the true meaning of life, how to accept death, and how to help the dying," This book looks at the entire human lifespan. We come into this world helpless and relying utterly on other human beings for survival and understanding. As we prepare to leave this world, we are also helpless. The dying require the same kind of dependence on others, and yet so many are afraid of the processes surrounding dying that often we feel entirely isolated and fearful at the time of death. When we can reach out to others in compassionate dignity, they will be able to also die with the same significance and humanity as they had when they first came into life as newborns. It's a wonderful book and discussed from the Tibetan Buddhist perspective. Like the other specifically faith-based books mentioned in this list, however, the messages transcend Buddhism and touch at the heart of what it is to be fully present within each stage of human life.
A Tree Grows in Brooklyn by Betty Smith. I was first introduced to this novel by my 6th grade Language Arts teacher, Mrs. Trujillo. She truly believed that it is not too early to begin understanding aspects of social justice, and so also introduced us to To Kill a Mockingbird, another one of my favorite books. A small snapshot of life in Brooklyn before World War I, this novel is able to speak beyond specific time frames, ethnicities, and experiences to touch at the heart of the human experience. Francie Nolan is one of the most amazing fictional characters for her insight and understanding. I have heard so many people review this novel saying that it was as though Betty Smith was either describing them or their circumstances. Because it can reach to the very soul of so many makes this read a tremendous voice to the human spirit.
I know there's more!
I could keep this list going, and I may very well come up with other recommended readings. But this is definitely enough of the "heavyweights" as far as messages and length to last you for a while! If you have read any of these books and care to comment on your own experiences, likes and dislikes, please feel free to share! I always appreciate a good discussion. As always, if you have something negative to say, try to say it as politely as possible. As I tell my high school students, it's not enough to say that something is terrible, wrong, or plain stupid; you also have to be able explain why. Words are power! Use them with care. Keep discussions on the focus of constructing conversation, as opposed to destroying psyche. And truly, thank you for reading!
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