Yesterday my friend Sarah asked me a beautiful question – what are my top five books on the divine?
I thought I would struggle for ages, like choosing between favourite children, but when I reached inside for an answer, it came as easily as telling you what colour trousers I’m wearing (red of course). These are also the five books I’d take with me onto a desert island. What are yours?
1. Zen Encounters with Loneliness by Terrance Keenan
You might think I’m cheating with this one as Terry is a dear friend, but we only became friends after I sent him a fan letter, so I’m allowed!
Whenever I dip into this book I find a friend – one who has lived through difficult times, and who is able to show me the way towards beauty. His daily mantra is one I have adopted – ‘No blame, be kind, love everything’.
I’m glad I know Terry. Here’s what he said when I asked him what the best advice anyone gave him was:
“Show up. Then sit down and shut up. There is nothing wrong with joy.”
2. Love Poems From God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and West ed. by Daniel Ladinsky
Ladinsky must know God pretty well himself to have rendered translations of writings from these great spiritual sages with such playfulness, passion and beauty.
Rabia, St. Francis of Assisi, Rumi, Meister Eckhart, St. Thomas Aquinas, Hafiz, St. Catherine of Siena, Kabir, Mira, St. Teresa of Avila, St. John of the Cross and Tukaram are all here. How lucky are we?
These poems help connect me to my own relationship with the divine, and point the finger towards what is possible…
3. The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous
Written in 1939, this book has helped and continues to help millions of alcoholics around the world to get and stay sober. The principles of the programme have since been adapted by many fellowships who use it to release themselves from compulsions around food, drugs, overwork, sex, gambling, relationships and more.
Reviews on Amazon are a mixture of five and one stars. Like all human groups, 12 Step groups can be healthy or unhealthy. A lot of people are suspicious of how evangelical AA ‘converts’ can be or find the spiritual focus of the programme difficult to stomach.
I love it, and I will keep returning to it as every reading brings deeper insight, comfort and freedom.
4. Call of the Infinite by John Paraskevopoulos
More a book of poetry than a book about Buddhism, Paraskevopoulos puts into words the difficult-to-get-your-head-round wonderfulness of Pureland.
Like all the books I’ve shared here, his take on Buddhism or on life doesn’t completely align with mine. That doesn’t matter – I can take what I like and leave the rest.
What the writing in this book does for me is shed light on dimly understood concepts, and warm the part of me that calls to the infinite and hears a response.
Namo Amida Bu.
5. A Testament of Devotion by Thomas R. Kelly
Kelly was a Quaker, and in this little book he speaks of his relationship with The Light with such exquisite tenderness.
He helps me remember that it’s not my job to fix everything, just to do my allotted portion, which is completely manageable and which God will show me.
He helps me to make sense of how we can stay in touch with the divine without losing our footing on the earth.
He inspires me to devotion.
I’ve left out all sorts of writers who are hugely important to me. My Buddhist teacher Dharmavidya David Brazier, who’s writing is so much the ‘bread and butter’ of my life that I would carry it with me to a desert island in the liturgy I’ve memorised and the ‘book’ I’ve been gifted on how to live a noble and joyous life. Jean Vanier on community, May Sarton on a writing life, Annie Dillard for sheer brilliance, Anne Lamott for her encouragement in being human, Richard Rohr, Raymond Carver… now I DO feel like I’m leaving out my favourite children. So much gratitude.
But enough about my books. If you were going to a desert island, what five books would you take?
One thought on “My top five books on the divine”
New Seeds of Contemplation by Thomas Merton
The Power of Now by Eckhart Tolle
The Open Secret by Tony Parsons
Being, The Bottom Line by Nathan Gill
Die Wise by Stephen Jenkinson
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