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Book List: Daily Spiritual Contemplation Books

December 17, 2008

This is my last book list as part of my ‘give a book’ holiday effort (and as much as I love to read, I am ready to take a break!) Check the Books Page for more book lists and book reviews.

Before I dive into this last list, a few other recommendations I’d like to mention. The first is The Faith Club: Three Women Search for Understanding. I finally got around to reading this book (as part of a Religious Debate forum on Cafemom, check it out if you are into such things), and think it is a fascinating read for almost anyone, regardless of whether you are religious. In it, three women, one Muslim, one Jewish and one Christian engage in a two-year debate and discussion on their respective religions, and write about their experience. It is about a lot more than religion, touching on politics, social stereotyping, parenting and many other themes.

The other thing I’d like to mention is a ‘Mothering and Spirituality’ booklist that I recently found on a blog called RiversGrace. Scroll down the right sidebar on her blog for the list. A booklist such as this is another thing I have been working on, but I have not yet read enough books to do a full list (I do read EVERY book I put on my lists.) Several of the books on RiversGrace‘s list I have read and loved, and the titles of the others sound promising, so check out this list if you have been hankering for a book on spirituality and motherhood.

OK, now for Daily Spiritual Contemplation books. These are books that are designed to be read just a few pages at a time, and in some cases are even dated that way. I was recently sent a few great ones for review by a publisher, and that reminded me how many I have that I love, and how dear they are to me. Having a book like this at your bedside, in your purse, or, yes, on the back of your toilet (I do all three) is a great way to assure you touch base with your spiritual side daily, however briefly.

If one of your New Year’s resolutions is to try and be more mindful, more present, more spiritual (whatever that means) or something along those lines, consider getting one of these books to help you out. Just DON’T turn it into a source of guilt, as I just won’t be part of that:-) If you miss a day, or a few, just slide back into it – no anxiety please. As usual, I have tried to offer a mix of non-denominational spiritual books, along with those tied to particular religions or traditions.

Wide Open: On Living with Passion and Purpose, Dawna Markova – This luscious book is a mixture of musings, quotes, questions and photographs designed to help you contemplate how you can do exactly what the subtitle says – live with more passion and purpose. This book is not coming from the perspective of a particular spiritual tradition or set of practices, but in my mind the themes around which the book is organized are intrinsically spiritual. Some samples: ‘Losing Yourself to Find Yourself’, ‘Embracing the Mystery’, ‘Sheltering Fear’, and ‘What Have You Been Given With Which to Give?’ The nature photography is especially stunning, so if you enjoy a mixture of text and images, this book is for you.

Quiet Mind: One-Minute Retreats from a Busy World, David Kundtz – This book offers over 150 two-page musings on aspects of our busy, hyper-stimulated modern life, and ideas for ‘stopping’ in the midst of it. In ‘Telephones, Beepers and Clocks’, the author suggests designating a particular sound you hear daily – such as the microwave beep when something is done – as a trigger for a mindful moment through a single deep breath. In ‘A Hard Question’, the author muses on the materialism of our world, the pressure to accumulate more and more, and suggests looking for ways throughout that day to say to yourself  “that’s enough”. This is a great way to focus on just one simple mindful theme each day, in a way that is bound to transform your perceptions over time.

The Book of Awakening: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have, Mark Nepo – Written by a poet and teacher, this book is organized by date, with 1-2 page offerings for each day of the year. Beautifully written, each entry begins with a quote from another poet, saint (practically every spiritual tradition is represented), or other literary work, followed by the author’s musings and a set of questions to contemplate that day. Some random samples: “August 1: The Pain of Becoming – We do ourselves a great disservice by judging where we are in comparison to some final destination.” “April 10: At Home in Our Skin – The spiritual life is about becoming more at home in your own skin.”

Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life, Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat – This is a collection of hundreds (650 according to the back cover) excerpts from contemporary books and movies, organized according to spiritual themes such as ‘Things’, ‘Nature’, ‘Creativity’, ‘Service’, ‘Relationships’ and ‘A Day in the Spiritual Life’. Each section is designed to help us find the sacred in every moment and experience we have. Just opening the book randomly (which I often do), I find a poem from Mary Oliver, a quote from Thich Nhat Han, and an excerpt from a book on quilting. All of the book titles are listed right with the excerpt, so this is a great way to find new books that you might not otherwise have found, in addition to providing daily food for thought.

365 Tao: Daily Meditations, Ming-dao Deng – This book offers 365 gems of wisdom from Taoism. Each page is themed, and begins with a short quote or poem, followed by the author’s contemplation, often in the form of a parable. Day 1 – ‘Beginnings’ starts with “This is the moment of embarking, All auspicious signs are in place.” Day 59 – ‘Source’ begins “Wellspring of energy, Rises in the Body’s Core. Tap it and be Sustained, Channel it and it will Speak.” Both the content and form stay true to the essence of Taoism, without New Age clutter. If you are looking for authentic Taoism, give this a try.

Dhammapada: The Sayings of the Buddha (Pocket Classic), Thomas Byrom – This pocket-sized version of the Buddha’s core teachings and sayings was in my purse for almost ten years when I lived in Manhattan. I read it on the subway, in line at the post office, waiting for the bus, or even stuck in traffic (one spends a lot of time on transportation in NYC.) It isn’t just that this book is small, it’s that this particular translation is excellent – accessible but true to the original meaning – and without cluttering notes or author thoughts. A random sample – “Believe, meditate, see. Be harmless, be blameless. Awake to the law, and from all sorrow free yourself.”

Zen Flesh, Zen Bones, Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki – Another Buddhist offering, this classic is not strictly speaking a daily contemplation book, but a set of Zen parables and aphorisms that cut to the heart of Zen. Since most are less than a page, they are perfectly absorbed on a one-per-day basis. If you are interested in absorbing Zen, give this a try. The trick is not to force understanding – just let each story or saying sink in over time.

The MacArthur Daily Bible: Read the Bible in One Year, John MacArthur- I went back and forth on including this, because I have reservations, but I decided to do so because I think there is alot of educational (and spiritual) value in getting through the Bible at least once in your life, regardless of your religious beliefs (or lack thereof.) I have not yet found  a truly ecumenical or interfaith daily bible, but this one worked fairly well for me. Mostly I like the organization, with each day offering a reading from the Old Testament, New Testament and Psalms. The author throws in his own commentary, which you may or may not like, but in any case can easily skip.

The Little Book of Hindu Deities, Sanjay Patel – This book also isn’t really a daily contemplation book, but it isn’t a children’s book either, and I included it on my Children’s World Religions book list. I just like it a lot, and so does everyone I have shown it too, and I wanted to include something from Hinduism. The author is an animator from Pixar Studios, and has drawn anime-style pictures of all the major Hindu deities, along with cheeky descriptions of their legends and attributes.

A Year with Rumi: Daily Readings, Coleman Barks – Rumi, a Sufi mystic, is one of my favorite poets, and this collection offers up a poem a day, accessibly and beautifully translated. A sample from June 26th, ‘The Self We Share’ begins “Look fish, you are already in the ocean. Just swimming there makes you friends with glory.” Or, from February 5th, ‘Throat-Song’, “Let your throat-song be clear and strong enough to make an emporer fall full-length, suppliant, at the door.”

For more book lists and reviews, head to the Book Page.

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