Editor’s note: In coming weeks, Pray Tell contributors and readers will share what they’ve been reading these days.
by Todd Flowerday
My reading tastes fluctuate between church and non-church things. Sometimes I’m looking for links between them. One of the best books I’ve read this year is Empire Antarctica by Gavin Francis. The subtitle struck me: ice, silence, and emperor penguins. Dr Francis was assigned to a remote British base in Antarctica for fourteen months. How much like a monastery!
The author reminded me a great deal of Thomas Merton. Like Merton, he sometimes chafed at the community he loved. Dr Francis wrote with a spiritual longing for solitude, and he seemed to cherish the insights that came.
In addition to an interesting topic, I appreciate good writing. For a man of science, Gavin Francis is a fine and lyrical writer. His book has won a selection of awards in his native Britain.
Sometimes I savor a book for a period of time. For weeks this older volume by Philip Sheldrake: Befriending Our Desires has been on my desk or bedside. Getting to the heart of Ignatian discernment is about surfacing and paying attention to our inner desires. This Jesuit author’s exploration aligns closely with mid-life discernment I’m experiencing. He draws on a number of spiritual guides from outside of the Society of Jesus. An insightful comment that meant a lot to me during my recent visit home to visit my ailing mother was from Teresa of Avila:
“… the important thing is not to think much, but to love much; and so do that which best stirs you to love.”
Other summer reading included Atchison Blue by Judith Valente (This is a Benedictine-hosted site so I have to say this was excellent, right?) Radical Hospitality (another Benedictine book devoted to that classic Benedictine virtue) by Lonni Collins Pratt and Father Daniel Homan.
Possibly the best work of fiction I read this summer was Patricia Storace’s The Book of Heaven. It consists of four novellas about as connected as four independent books of the Old Testament might be. Speaking of which, two of these tales are retellings of honored figures from the Hebrew Scriptures. But the viewpoint is from the woman: how Sarah might tell the Abraham cycle, and how one of Job’s daughter’s might view her father’s misfortune.
This last work is not for the faint of heart. Like the Bible, it contains great brutality–some of the passages would be excised from a Lectionary. But if the Bible were told from the perspective of feminists: this would be a mythology insightful, troubling, and piercing to any sensitive soul.
Todd Flowerday is a regular Pray Tell reader and blogs at Catholic Sensibility.