By Marcia Hotchkiss

After COVID-19 changed our world last spring, I initially thought not much would change in my life, either. As a contemplative, I believed that I practiced the disciplines of slowing, stillness, and solitude, and I didn’t do that much running around. Boy was I wrong!

Yet, one blessing of the pandemic is that I have been able to develop those disciplines in a more complete way than I ever allowed myself before. Along with silence and prayer, I found time to read through several books that are well worth another look. I wanted to share these in case you have seen enough Netflix and are looking for good, thoughtful, inspiring books.

The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer carefully describes Comer’s own stressful and exhausting tendency to get through as many things each day as possible (and how to justify it all as ministry). Comer suggests that true apprentices of Jesus would live more like him by spending plenty of time in prayer and with other people. Comer points out how the gospels never show Jesus rushing through his time with the people or in prayer.

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How to Pray: A Simple Guide for Normal People by Pete Greig was one recommended to me by a friend. I wasn’t that enthusiastic about it, I admit. Over the years, I have read various books on prayer and I haven’t found much new in a lot of them. But this book was different. Greig had some simple yet poignant suggestions that he encouraged me as the reader to try, without bringing condemnation upon myself. He has real life examples to bring his ideas to life that are spooned out with plenty of grace. This is crucial because I believe it’s our lack of understanding of who God really is (one of judgment and condemnation, we falsely assume) that keeps so many of us from praying.

Accidental Saints: Finding God in All the Wrong People by Nadia Bolz-Weber. I wasn’t particularly familiar with this Lutheran pastor, author, and speaker. However, the title grabbed me because I spent many years trying to decide who really knew God and who didn’t. Hopefully, in the past 20 years, my mind has opened some. I realize now that God can use all kinds of people, even those who I am unsure about. Indeed, Accidental Saints reminded me that God loves and values everyone, including me — the biggest miracle of all. This book was another arrow pointing at God’s grace in all kinds of places and all kinds of people.

Jesus and the Disinherited is the book by Howard Thurman that Dr. Martin L. King, Jr. carried in his pocket. Thurman was the one who went to meet Gandhi and he was the first to adopt non-violence as a means of protest. Thurman is known by some to be the “spiritual director” of the civil rights movement. However, many do not realize that he was a contemplative. The legacy of Howard Thurman is rich, but I think the most important part is that he thought activism should be fueled by spirituality. His book Meditations of the Heart is excellent as well, and can be used as a daily devotional.

The Book of Longings by Sue Monk Kidd is historical fiction about a girl named Ana in ancient Judea who became Jesus’s wife. The book is really about Ana, and Jesus is simply part of the story. I understand some have problems with the premise of this book. However, I enjoyed reading the story and thinking about how a young Jewish woman of the time longed for a way to express herself in a culture controlled by men. The Book of Longings also helped me see the humanity in Jesus, and Mary, and even Judas. It is definitely worth the effort.

All these books have blessed me during a pandemic when my interaction with other people was limited. They have reminded me of the importance of reading, particularly books that encourage me in my faith journey. Books will never replace the people in my life, but they are part of the Spirit’s work giving me direction.

Marcia Hotchkiss is a spiritual director, retreat leader, and author. Marcia recently co-authored Hope-Peace-Love-Joy: An Advent Devotional. She is a member of Good Shepherd Episcopal Church in Dallas, Texas.

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