The COVID-19 pandemic has caused stress and fear the likes many have never experienced. The current lockdown we are enduring has produced a less serious, though more familiar, foe: boredom. At Franciscan Media, we’re here to make sure your spirits are lifted and your hearts lightened during this confusing time. Here are five books we recommend to help fill the hours.
Let Go: Seven Stumbling Blocks to Christian Discipleship by Casey Cole, OFM
While we could all be less dependent on money and possessions, many of us carry far heavier burdens. This book places you at the feet of Jesus to ask this question: “Lord, what must I do to inherit eternal life? What is getting in my way of following you unreservedly, of handing myself completely over to your will and being your disciple?”
Sample: It doesn’t matter where we live, what we do for a living, or who we associate with, we cannot run from ourselves. If we have anger in our hearts, we can run from our past enemies, but we will most certainly find new people with whom to fight. If we struggle with authority, we can change jobs, but we will undoubtedly have new problems at our next one.
As the great modern contemplative Thomas Merton once wrote, “If you go out into the desert merely to get away from people you dislike, you will find neither peace nor solitude; you will only isolate yourself with a tribe of devils” (New Seeds of Contemplation, 52). When the problem is with our very self, we will bring it wherever we go.
If we want to be disciples of Jesus Christ, following him in complete freedom and without any reservation, the first and most important thing that we must let go of is ourselves. We must identify all that lives within us that does not bear life, that does not reflect the joy of the kingdom, that does not live up to the person Christ created us to be, and we must die to ourselves. Let go of your delusions of grandeur, self-loathing, and false selves, and follow Christ as the person he created you to be.
Too often we're so focused on past or the future that we miss the power of the present moment. Popular motivational speaker Terry Hershey encourages us to see the grace, beauty, and magic to be found in the magnificent ordinary encounters of our daily life.
Sample: Life tilts and turns left when we least expect it. And we want someone to give us the answers. Or to try to balance it all. We want someone to give us the “how.” And, on a day when we pray for motivation, reassurance, and illumination, we are told that it is enough to take delight in the play and laughter—the noise—of children, and the savoring of a Cinnamon Twist. Yes. It is enough.
Living intentionally and fully alive—from a place of groundedness, being at home in our own skin—is not a technique. Nor is it a kind of mental Rubik’s cube, to be solved. There is no list. But if we demand one, chances are, we pass this life by—the exquisite, the messy, the enchanting, the wondrous, the delightful, the untidy—on our way to someplace we think we ought to be.
On our journey together in this book, we will be learning new paradigms. There is meaning—consequence, value, import—only when what we believe or practice touches this moment. Belief is all well and good. But there must be skin on it—something we touch, see, hear, taste, and smell. In other words, it’s the small daily stuff that does really matter.
Today, let us practice the sacrament of the blessed present. Today, let us dance with manatees. This is a book I’ve always wanted to write. I’m so glad the manatees made it possible.
Wandering and Welcome: Meditations for Finding Peace by Joseph Grant
Times are difficult; Joseph Grant's meditative delivery wraps his reader in hope, tenderness, and gratitude. Wandering and Welcome is a beacon of poetic kindness rooted in honesty, Scripture, and truth.
Sample: In stillness my soul awaits you alone, O Holy One.—Psalm 62:1
Amid the tumult of these electrically charged, frenzied times, contemplative living does not propose an escape from our very real, practical, and sometimes intractable problems. On the contrary, it suggests a way of being still, while still being in the storms that rage all around and within us. Like sturdy trees that bend with the breeze, wisdom-inspired living offers a deeper mooring for our being and our doing, which allows for movement even as we are deeply rooted.
But we must look outward as well. How do we heal our severed human family, so sorely divided, and make a home for the ones who have been cast out and cruelly isolated? Holy people make us feel at home. Pilgrims we all are, and hospitality, that prime virtue of every faith tradition, is the welcome that makes us well and opens the door to healing.
Seasoned by tears of joy and lament, prayer-centered presence invites us to welcome the whole world by drawing it into our heart-center. Here theology mixes with theater and prophetic action with poetry, as walls come tumbling down, making way for wonder, woe, and well-being.
Can we be still and still be in the storms that surround us?
Disasters never fail
to move us,
or draw out the best in us.
For who can watch another
person, city, nation
without feeling disturbed,
touched, moved to connect,
and make some effort to alleviate the suffering?
These uniquely human aspirations;
compassion, mercy, forgiveness, justice;
are essential expressions of our God-likeness.
Armchair Mystic: How Contemplative Prayer Can Lead You Closer to God by Mark E. Thibodeaux, SJ
Sample: All Christians are called to pray, but in order to have a contemplative prayer life, I must be called to it by God. I must have a vocation to contemplative prayer in the same way that one has a vocation to marry a particular person, or to become a nun, a priest, an athlete or a parent. This is an important point to consider because it may well be that I, the reader of this book, am not called to contemplative prayer.
Contemplative prayer is not about leaving this world. It is not an otherworldly experience. Those who pray contemplative prayer accept and embrace this world and the Creator who dwells therein. Contemplative prayer is not exclusively for monks and nuns. The college kid, the father, the lawyer and all everyday people can pray contemplatively.
This book does not assume, however, that contemplative prayer “is so easy that anyone can do it.” Contemplative prayer is not necessarily easy. In fact, there are parts of the experience that are very difficult. But the point is that if I have the strong will and desire to pray contemplatively, I do not have to shave my head and join a monastery to do it. The armchair in my house is just as capable of being the holy ground of contemplative prayer as the monastery stall of a cloistered church.
If you are an everyday person who feels called to a deeper experience of prayer, then I encourage you to read on. Perhaps you are called to begin to pray contemplatively. This book can give you a few pointers to help you get started.
Don't Panic! How to Keep Going When the Going Gets Tough by Maureen Pratt
Maureen Pratt—award-winning playwright, journalist and patient advocate—uses science, personal experience and inspiration from the lives of others to provide antidotes to panic and despair. If you or someone you love is dealing with out-of-control events, Don’t Panic! will be a welcome guide to nurturing the internal resources given us directly by the creator, and a witness to how the Spirit works—no matter what might be falling apart around us.
Sample: Through the many crises I’ve endured, whether accidents, acts of nature, or deeply personal life experiences, I’ve learned that we need not panic in the face of today’s world or today’s crises, and we need not be victims to the forces that prey upon our spiritual well-being. We have many internal resources, some we already know about and some that are largely undeveloped and untapped that include creativity, adaptability, foresight, and compassion. These are not necessarily skills we could point to on our resumes for a job interview, but they are personal qualities given to us directly from our Creator. If they are well-nurtured and properly employed, they enable us to be stable when we are shaken and be safe when we are singed.
Of course, developing strong spiritual coping skills takes time, much like exercise builds stamina and flexibility. But as I’ve consciously worked on my inner spiritual life, external problems both large and small have become more manageable and, blessedly, never hopeless.
Moreover, God is not a concept or a bearded man sitting in eternal judgment, but rather a powerful support in and through every aspect of life. And my openness to accepting the harshest circumstances, the murkiest of crises, has enabled me to reap blessings beyond anything I’d ever imagined possible. Despite what others offer—people, advertisements, news stories, or rumor—we do not have to take on the cloak of victim. We do not have to crumble under the weight of adversity.