In an article published several years ago, University of California Psychology Professor Bob Emmons described five characteristics of “spiritual intelligence,” one of which includes the ability to “sanctify” aspects of everyday life as “sacred” or “holy.” Perhaps inspired by this idea, as I have gotten older, I have noticed that I increasingly “set apart” various parts of my life in this way. For example, I have observed that certain books function as “holy books” in my life. That is, there is a group of books that I find that I continually return to for guidance and inspiration. I share my top 10 below, with the hope that they may be helpful to others as well.
1. The Bible.
Actually, there are 66 different books in the Bible, many of which have different authors, so I guess I’m cheating here by including the Bible as only one. In fact, I believe that the Bible functions as a sort of Rorschach ink blot test, with people gravitating toward certain aspects that most resonate with them. For me, I most resonate with the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5-7) and the Psalms.
2. Why the Mystics Matter Now, by Frederick Bauerschmidt
Probably the single best book on Christianity I’ve ever read. It draws from the depth of Christianity’s greatest saints, insightfully applying their wisdom to contemporary everyday life.
3. Mere Christianity, by C. S. Lewis
C. S. Lewis speaks to me more about what it means to be Christian than any other single author. Many of his quotations have anchored my life. I could list almost any of his writings here, but his classic is this book in which he lays out the case for emphasizing a faith that focuses on essentials, rather than nit-picky bits of dogma.
4. The Reason for God, by Timothy Keller
Much of my adult life has been an intellectual search for what is true about spiritual matters. This has led me to read dozens and dozens of books on apologetics (the defense of the faith). Keller’s book is the best I have read.
5. The Celebration of Discipline, by Richard Foster
This is the most helpful book I have read for translating faith into practices that ground everyday life. It very much has influenced how I live and, in particular, how I pray.
6. The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, by Stephen Covey
Before I became interested in Psychology and religion, I read hundreds of self-help books in an attempt to figure out how to approach my life. I stopped when I read Covey’s book because nothing else seemed worth reading. This book has provided a wise roadmap for me as I have thought about my goals and time management for the past 20 years.
7. Sacred Marriage, by Gary Thomas
The best book on marriage I have ever read. The subtitle speaks volumes: “What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?” Thomas also has a similar book on parenting.
8. The Courage to Teach, by Parker Palmer
The only serious book I know of that discusses the relationship between spirituality and education. I read this book every summer to help prepare me for my next year of courses. In general, Parker Palmer is one of the wisest people I’ve read.
9. Night, by Elie Wiesel
My answer to the general question of “what is the best book you’ve ever read?” This chronicle of Nobel Peace Prize Winner Wiesel’s experiences in Auschwitz is haunting, and beautifully written. It grounds me in the experience of suffering.
There are so many other wonderful books I have read that I can’t choose what else to include. I haven’t even represented some of the amazing biographies I have read, including the biographies of Einstein and John Adams. I should give credit to Walden, which changed my life when I was in high school. I’m leaving out the entire genre of fiction, including All Quiet on the Western Front, Native Son, and Empire Falls. I really haven’t even mentioned much in the realm of Psychology, such as Flow, Last Child in the Woods, the Paradox of Choice, and the Geography of Bliss. I continue to read books about Christianity, and I’m very tempted to fill in #10 with The Next Christians. Finally, who knows what is to come next that will change the way I think and live? I just started reading In the Garden of Beasts, which looks amazing, and in a class of writing I didn’t even really know existed (historical non-fiction). I guess that’s why life continues to be a quest.