Top 10 books from 2014

by Mark Votava

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1. Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart by Kathy Escobar

Faith Shift helps those who have been disillusioned with the church.  Kathy Escobar goes through stages of a Faith Shift: Fusing, Shifting, Returning, Unraveling, Severing and Rebuilding.  She shares about her own Faith Shift journey giving helpful insight on how to rebuild something more authentic for those who can never return to old paradigms.

“As you find what works, be gentle with yourself (and maybe with God too).  Be careful of feeling shame when you don’t feel connected in the way you want to.  And don’t let yourself be shamed by others who say, ‘You are doing what?!’  Try not to conclude that there’s something wrong with you, and instead trust that healing some of your faith allergies may take a long time.  Many avenues of communing with God exist and are worth searching for as you find what works in Rebuilding.”

2. Presence and Encounter: The Sacramental Possibilities of Everyday Life by David G. Benner

Presence and Encounter reveals to us the importance of presence in everyday life.  Presence is reimagined as a sacramental possibility where we can learn to see the sacredness of all of life.  This is the encounter where we stop objectifying others and learn to live with an embodiment of love and compassion.

“Presence starts with being present.  If I am not present myself, other people and things may be present to me, but I will not notice them.  So presence must start with me.  I must be present if I am to know presence of any sort…”

3. How To Be A Christian Without Going To Church: The Unofficial Guide To Alternative Forms of Christian Community by Kelly Bean

How to be a Christian Without Going to Church opens up the reality of a big shift that is happening where others are no longer content going to church and want to be the church in some kind of way in community.  We explore the options of alternative forms of Christian community and are encouraged to experiment with what can connect us to one another in more authentic ways.  The book talks about new expressions and new structures that can make this happen.

“When we move out into the world willing to learn and meet others where they are, we change, and others may too.  Offering… hospitality opens the door to view a way of life that is defined by sharing our true selves, opening our homes freely, beholding others, seeding goodness, and being willing to give our time to notice, listen, and learn…  Relational expressions of community can be healing and life-giving to us and to others…”

4. Eager to Love: The Alternative Way of Francis of Assisi by Richard Rohr

Eager to Love is a fascinating book about the alterative possibilities of living in the way of Francis of Assisi today in our context.  Contemplation, mysticism, inner authority through suffering, addressing dualistic thinking, the integration of the feminine and masculine, justice and simplicity are a few of the themes that come out.  We are taught a way of love through the life of Francis of Assisi who left everything to follow in the simple way of Christ.

“Separateness is unfortunately the chosen stance of the small self, which then has a hard time thinking paradoxically or living in unity – but always takes one side or the other in order to feel secure.  It frames everything in a binary way: for me or against me, totally right or totally wrong, my group’s opinion or another’s group – all dualistic formulations.  That is the best the small egotistical self can do, and it is not anywhere close to adequate for God’s full purposes…”

5. A Beautiful Disaster: Finding Hope in the Midst of Brokenness by Marlena Graves

A Beautiful Disaster draws on the wilderness life of difficulty, darkness and gift.  We are drawn into the dark night of the soul where our lives face suffering, waiting, pain, loneliness, loss and grief.  Marlena Graves helps us to find hope in the midst of it all.

“In this womb, this wilderness experience, we are being, and also becoming who we are…”

6. The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton: A New Look at the Spiritual Inspiration of His Life, Thought, and Writing by Daniel P. Horan

The Franciscan Heart of Thomas Merton highlights how Francis of Assisi influenced Merton, who was the most widely read writer on spiritualty in the twentieth century.  We learn about the life of Thomas Merton in all its many facets from the true self, to his Christology, to interreligious dialogue, to peace activism, to creation spirituality, to his prophetic vocation.  This is a comprehensive look at the life of a man who gained a lot of wisdom throughout his lifetime.

“So much of life, particularly in our modern, hyper-busy, and technologically saturated world, tends to pull us away from the path toward discovering our true self, from the journey into God.  We are told in big and little ways every day that we must construct our identities, supplement ourselves with products and services, look a certain way, speak a certain way, and be a certain way.  What results from following that path is what Merton will call the ‘false self,’ what he sometimes refers to as our ‘masks’”

7. The Rebirthing of God: Christianity’s Struggle for New Beginnings by John Phillip Newell

The Rebirthing of God presents us with a new movement of Christianity in the twenty-first century.  It is about reconnecting with the earth, with compassion, with the light within us, with other traditions, with spiritual practice, with nonviolence, with the unconscious and with love.  This is a more authentic imagination to live by in our world today.

“A primary feature of the rebirthing of God in our lives, individually and collectively, is to come back into relationship with the true heart of one another and all things.  Rebirthing involves a reconnecting with compassion.”

8. Reflections on the Unknowable by Thomas Keating

Reflections on the Unknowable is a book based on the wisdom of over seventy years of contemplative practice.  Thomas Keating shares his thoughts on the divine life within us as we learn to practice a contemplative spirituality.  This book is packed with authentic mysteries, depth, insight, wonder and enlightenment.

“God proposes to effect our complete transformation into interior freedom by sharing the divine life with us.”

9. The Sacred Gaze: Contemplation and the Healing of the Self by Susan R. Pitchford

The Scared Gaze brings awareness to the discovery of our true self.  We heal the self from our false illusions when we learn who we are as beloved, created in the image of God.  This is the redemption we long for as we live into who God created us to be.

“…true freedom and joy come from learning to trust that God has called you ‘Beloved,’…”

10. Life Together in Christ: Experiencing Transformation in Community by Ruth Haley Barton

Life Together in Christ helps us to understand what it takes to cultivate community among us that is transformational for all.  We are drawn into the tension between the now and not yet, listening, welcoming the stranger, discernment, equality among genders, our ongoing call to conversion, suffering and shared desire.  Community is the most underdeveloped practice of the church and its lack of it has disillusioned many in our culture.

“Have you ever thought about the fact that your desire – for deeper union with God, for love, for belonging, for transformation – is the truest thing about you?”


Which books did you read this year that you liked?