Keen for a hug? Maybe a good book will do… Finding it hard to read lately? Need something inspiring to get you off a screen? Keen for some recommended titles? Here’s five uplifting easy-reads to wrap yourself up in.
1. Phosphorescence – Julia Baird. I first came across Baird when she gave a gutsy and animated address at my theology graduation in 2018. Her choice of designer footwear and dedication to researching the role of women in the church made an impression upon me, even if we’d disagree on some points. Her Christian perspective is woven through this really accessible and broad-reaching book on hope and perseverance. Baird reflects on the inner light within the human person that powers resilience in times of pain and suffering. She explores how we fuel ourselves with experiences of beauty, nature, wonder and awe in all manner of ways: from early morning swims to late night conversation, from pot plants and mountain walks to great friends and acts of kindness. She marvels at the capacity for creatures, both sea-living and human, to glow from within. It’s a delightful and evocative read.
2. Any Ordinary Day – Leigh Sales In one of my top books from 2019, Sales sets out to describe “Blindsides, Resilience and What Happens After the Worst Day of Your Life” by drawing upon her experiences as a journalist required to enter the lives of people at its lowest, who then chose to return to capture the pearls of wisdom on survival and healing. She finds some golden threads weaving these tales together, delivering well-considered life lessons on the link between kindness and resilience and the role of faith can play in surviving personal tragedy, to name a few. The preciousness of this book for me lies in its capacity to look long at the toughness of life and lament the suffering some endure, but also to see the inbuilt resilience within the human person. Where Baird’s book excels in creating beautiful poetic imagery, Sales’ captures the reader with incredible story-telling that is both heart-breaking and compelling.
3. One Thousand Gifts – Ann Voskamp This book was a bit of a favourite amongst some of the Sisters about five years ago, and for good reason. Voskamp makes the link between healing from personal tragedy (a bit of a theme thus far I guess!) and deliberately noticing moments of gratitude. A committed Lutheran, she makes a beautiful connection between being grateful for the minutiae of everyday life and the thanksgiving (eucharisteo) of the Eucharist. Her story is simple and very applicable. She was dared to make a list of one thousand gifts - to record each day the moments of wonder, humour, beauty, grace and love she experienced. Her beautifully expressed observations will have you noticing and listing your own gifts, perhaps in language you never thought possible. Try it out!
4. Tattoos on the Heart – Gregory Boyle Another much loved book in the MGL houses, this time from a Jesuit priest who works with gangs in the US. Boyle outlines his experiences of arriving within the parish of Dolores Mission Church in Los Angeles, his gradual building of relationships with the local gang members and their families and the eventual creation of Homeboy Industries, now touted as the world's largest gang-intervention and rehabilitation program.
His book is sub-titled “The Power of Boundless Compassion” and this is the crux of Boyle’s ministry and message for others, as he describes journeying with his hombres through thick and thin, to funerals, fights, front lawns and into family life. He tells tales of heartbreak, disappointment and shared pain in equal portions to those of laughter, side-splitting homie turn of phrase, joys and triumphs. His stories are a great reminder of our shared humanity, the role that faith plays in being the tender heart of God to those who need it most and how God’s voice is readily found in the unlikeliest of people and places.
5. The Gifts of Imperfection – Brene Brown Most people have heard of Brene Brown from her popular 2011 TED talk: The Power of Vulnerability (https://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_the_power_of_vulnerability?language=en) where she whittled 10 years of research and her own experiences into the nutshell that our longing for connection and intimacy with others thrives or struggles in proportion to our capacity for vulnerability and openness. This book is her simplest and most accessible, setting out how to increase courage, connection and compassion in our lives. She weaves in witty anecdotes, funny family stories and moving examples to support her assertions from researching shame in the human person. Each chapter encourages the reader to cultivate more of the positive stuff of life like authenticity, self-compassion, resilience, joy, gratitude, calm, play, song and dance and let go of comparison, fear, inadequacy, anxiety, exhaustion, perfectionism and what others will think. It’s an easy, refreshing, transformative and positive read.
So, until hugs, parties and interstate travel are on the cards again - happy reading!