It was really fun to do this last year, so I thought I’d do it again–give a quick review of my top 11 books I read this year.
Well, because it’s one better than ten.
Hopefully it may motivate you to pick one of these gems up and check it out. I know not everybody has the time to read that my (f)unemployed butt has available, so I like to pass on what has moved me most.
These are simply in chronological order of when I read them. It’s too difficult to arrange them in order of lovitude. Here we go.
- The Unseen Realm: Recovering the Supernatural Worldview of the Bible (2015)-Michael Heiser
Oh my goodness. This is a mind-blower and paradigm-shifter! My soul brother Miguel sent this to me Christmas 2015, and God bless him for it! It says on the inside cover that “You may never read the Bible in the same way again.” And that has so been the case for me. It is an unfiltered look at what the Bible really says about the unseen world. It makes so much sense out of a lot that has been confusing for many Bible readers for a long time. It sheds an incredibly unique light upon the Old Testament in ways I never heard of. Here’s just a few of the difficult questions this masterpiece handles: Who is the assembly of divine beings (Psalm 82:1) God presides over? Why wasn’t Eve surprised when the serpent spoke to her? How did descendants of the Nephilim “giants” (Genesis 6:4) survive the flood? What are we to make of Peter and Jude’s belief in imprisoned spirits (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)? See how these oddities are actually crucial for understanding God’s redemptive plan for humanity. Oh get ready for the ride, baby!
2. Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Contemplation (2006)-Martin Laird
I bought this strictly because of the title and the quite lovely cover. Thankfully I was rewarded with one of my favorite and formative reads of the year. It poignantly explores the depth and efficacy of intentional silence before our Lord–one of my favorite practices. This book is extremely practical for the renewing of your mind through the heightening of awareness, as well as a prayer word, to force out the replaying of toxic the “videos” that by default try to run constantly in our minds. Videos of our past hurts, current failings, etc. One of my favorite thoughts comes from page 106: Fear “is nothing more than a mass of thoughts and feelings and an unpleasant tension in the body.”
3. Breath of Life: God As Spirit In Judaism (2011)-Rabbi Rachel Timoner
This I would have to say was the surprise hit of the year for me. Also gifted to me by my blood brother Miguel Angel Mesa, it is the first book I’ve read by a female rabbi. She explores the Holy Spirit in Judaism, and I can’t tell you how beautiful and moving it was for me! It is so very helpful to break out of your own tradition and small world to gain a wider perspective of truth. I am really thankful I read (and reread) this thoughtful and wonderful book.
4. Creation Untamed: The Bible, God, and Natural Disasters (2010)-Terence E. Fretheim
This is easily the best treatment of natural disasters with relation to God I have ever read. Incredibly thoughtful, researched, respectful, and prayerful. It has helped my view of natural disasters immensely while retaining faith in God, and without the quick, heartless, and trite “Well they had that coming” explanation. This has given me a new paradigm for God in relation to suffering, and that makes for a great book!
5. The Cloud of Unknowing (14th century)-Anonymous Monk
Finally, I read this classic. Finally. I wish it hadn’t taken me so long. Wow. 75 short chapters of wow. I’m not even sure what to say. It’s along the lines of Brother Lawrence’s classic The Practice of the Presence of God. I spent three glorious days with this text at a family member’s condo on the river in Wisconsin this past July, and I was indelibly deepened from the experience. “A little prayer of one syllable pierces heaven because we concentrate our entire spiritual energy into it.” And, “Spiritual virtues simply do not matter to contemplatives. All virtues discovered and experienced are in God. Contemplatives know that if they have God they will have everything that is good. Rather than focusing on anything in particular, they concentrate on God alone.”
6. On the Incarnation (around AD 319)-Athanasius of Alexandria
Personally I believe every Christian should be required to read this ancient work. It is foundational, written during quite a turning point of history in the Christian faith. This is deeply helpful for understanding the significance of the incarnation of Christ as well as why it had to be so. “For the solidarity of mankind is such that, by virtue of the Word’s indwelling in a single human body, the corruption which goes with death has lost its power over all.” Bonus, the introduction by C.S. Lewis has become somewhat of a classic itself, explaining why we must read the ancients.
7. Word Into Silence: A Manual For Christian Meditation (1980)-John Main
John Main is very largely responsible for bringing Christian meditation significantly to the West. He became a Benedictine monk after diplomatic service to the Far East and teaching law at Trinity College, Dublin. He established a worldwide spiritual family linked through the practice of daily meditative prayer which today operates in over 100 countries. Check out the World Community for Christian Meditation sometime. This is one of those books with words so beautiful and so meaningful, that I quickly saw that I needed to just put the highlighter down because I would be highlighting the entire book. You can see from the title what it is about. “The all important aim in Christian Meditation is to allow God’s mysterious and silent presence within us to become more and more not only a reality, but the reality which gives meaning, shape and purpose to everything we do, to everything we are….”
8. Jesus the Teacher Within (2000)-Laurence Freeman
Freeman carried on John Main’s work after his passing into Christ’s arms in 1982. He is the current director of the World Community for Christian Meditation. This work of pure awesomeness has as its theme Jesus’ all-important question “Who do you say that I am?” Tremendously insightful, it will inspire you to think and rethink who Jesus is at the deepest heart level. “The most complete and confident expression of knowing who Jesus is derives from the personal relationship with Jesus–which is rooted in silence.”
9. Reading Scripture With the Church Fathers (1998)-Christopher A. Hall
This book greatly helped me navigate through the early Church Fathers and their contributions. I loved Hall’s explanations of why these early works and pillars of the faith are still relevant for us today. We always need to remember where we came from, and this is a very clear and helpful map for exploring our rich roots and how Scripture was interpreted by those living much closer to the time of Jesus, aka the first century, than us. Somehow, miraculously, Hall covered this great deal of historic landscape in just 200 pages!
10. The New Testament and the People of God (1992)-N.T. Wright
This is the first volume of Wright’s monster Christian Origins and the Question of God series. This guy is so smart I can’t even stand it. And yet is somehow accessible. The sweep of this project is quite breathtaking. If you want history, context, psychology, background, culture, language–you got it! And more. I understand so much better now first century Judaism, Palestine, Pharisees, Christians, and Jesus! Make sure you’re ready to dig in, but you will NOT be disappointed! I’m starting on volume 2 next week!!
11. The Way of a Pilgrim (1881)-Anonymous
This is an Eastern Orthodox classic. A very intriguing work of a man’s account of his own journey, both spiritual and physical, to learn how to pray without ceasing. He found “The Jesus Prayer” to be the key, being instructed from a wise spiritual guru to start by reciting it 3,000 times a day, then work up from there. This story is awesome and inspiring. I am deeply interested in the Eastern orthodox faith right now, and have been exploring it, loving it. Especially after reading this great work. It’s refreshing to encounter a tradition without all the hang-ups we have in the West. Much beautiful mysticism comes from this very old tradition. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
There you have it! I hope you enjoyed this little journey. It’s been a wonderful year, and I’d like to wish you all a blessed New Year. I hope to meet in person those of you I have yet to encounter beyond these writings!