Jeff Crosno Wants To Introduce You To Some Friends You Might Like To Know
From time to time, I'm asked to recommend books and authors that fall under the general category of "spiritual autobiography." There is always some risk in doing so, for the deeply personal stories that touch me with their honesty, insight and humility may leave others stone cold and unimpressed. The point is not that we agree with them on every point (I don't), but that in listening carefully to their stories we begin to discern the Holy Spirit at work within a human life. And of course, once we begin to do this with others it comes as no surprise that we start listening for the Spirit's presence in our own lives with much greater care. With all of this in mind, here is a short list of some of my favorites in the field:
Frederick Buechner. Where to start with this Presbyterian minister and Pulitzer Prize nominated novelist? Let me suggest several of Buechner's autobiographical offerings -- The Sacred Journey: A Memoir of Early Days; Now and Then: A Memoir of Vocation; Telling Secrets; The Longing for Home: Reflections at Midlife; Yellow Leaves: A Miscellany.
Kathleen Norris. Perhaps no living writer has helped me recognize the essential and formative significance of place in establishing our sense of identity and community than Norris in her bestseller, Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. Moving from New York back to her grandparent's home in Lemmon, South Dakota, Norris writes with a poet's clear eye regarding the contradictions of small town life in a declining agricultural community. She has now gone on to enjoy both critical acclaim and further publishing success with the story of her immersion in a Benedictine monastery as a Presbyterian laywoman in The Cloister Walk. If you get hooked on Norris, you will also want to read The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and "Women's Work," as well as Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith and Acedia & Me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer's Life.
Lauren Winner. Now a professor at Duke Divinity School, Winner burst onto the literary scene with a bestseller about her conversion, Girl Meets God: A Memoir. Her follow-up, Mudhouse Sabbath, describes how her newfound Christian faith continues to be shaped by her previous experience as an Orthodox Jew.
Anne Lamott. Newsweek once said that Lamott writes about subjects that begin with capital letters (Alcoholism, Motherhood, Jesus) with "self-effacing humor and ruthless honesty." I find her shocking at times, consistently incisive, and quite often laugh-out-loud funny. Try her books Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, or Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith to see what you think.
Reynolds Price. Before his death in 2011, this Rhodes scholar, prizewinning novelist, poet and essayist taught English literature for several decades at Duke University. He beautifully narrated his life-threatening bout with cancer and the deep reservoir of his own developing faith that informed all of his subsequent work as a writer in A Whole New Life: An Illness and a Healing. Both forever scarred and transformed as a result of his own physical suffering, Price also penned a very moving Christian response to the agonies of undeserved evil and pain entitled, Letter To A Man In The Fire: Does God Exist and Does He Care?
Dorothy Day. Writing about her Christian conversion and subsequent ministry as co-founder of the Catholic Worker movement in The Long Loneliness, Day stands as a reminder regarding the profound impact of any life given without reservation to Jesus Christ. After you read this spiritual autobiography, don't miss what amounts to a second volume in this compelling story, Loaves and Fishes.
Scott Cairns. I met Scott while working for the Forest Service, and now he is a celebrated Guggenheim Fellow whose poetry has been widely published. You might enjoy the most recent memoir, A Short Trip To The Edge: Where Earth Meets Heaven -- A Pilgrimage, written by this former Baptist from Tacoma whose adult journey includes a surprising conversion to the Orthodox Christian faith.
Fred Craddock. Named "one of the 12 best preachers in the English language" by Baylor University, Fred is one of the true "master storytellers" of the Church. Even if you never get ordained, I'm betting you will enjoy the profound wisdom of Reflections on My Call to Preach: Connecting the Dots.
Barbara Brown Taylor. Another one of those "12 best preachers," I consider Taylor to be one of the most gifted "wordsmiths" in my acquaintance. Let me start by recommending two recent books, Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith, and An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith.
Eugene Peterson. The son of a Montana butcher and an early Pentecostal "preacher-woman," Peterson went on to minister to a growing, suburban Presbyterian church in Maryland for 29 years before finishing his career as a professor and bestselling author. If you like his translation of the Bible, The Message, you will undoubtedly want to read his account of a lifetime of faithful ministry in The Pastor: A Memoir.
Heidi B. Neumark. This Lutheran pastor writes with fierce intelligence, passion and humor about her ministry in one of the poorest neighborhoods of New York City. Prepare to be deeply moved as you read Breathing Space: A Spiritual Journey in the South Bronx.
Richard Lischer. After receiving his Ph.D. from the University of London, Lischer took appointment to his first pastorate in a small, rural community in southern Illinois. Open Secrets: A Spiritual Journey Through A Country Church is the sparkling gem that resulted from those early years.
Greg Garrett. This past winner of the William Faulkner Prize for Fiction and highly regarded professor at Baylor University tells the story of his own torturous path toward recovery and redemption in Crossing Myself: A Story of Spiritual Rebirth.
Annie Dillard. Living for two years on an island in Puget Sound, Dillard crafted a truly beautiful meditation on the mystery of living in a Creation that is both full of grace and inexplicably marked by suffering. If you're looking for a writer who will take seriously the nagging questions about God that may be bothering you, please don't overlook Dillard and that stunning early book, Holy the Firm. Once you start there, you will probably want to continue on with Teaching a Stone to Talk: Expeditions and Encounters; the memoir An American Childhood; and her Pulitzer Prize winning collection of essays, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek.