This one has been very difficult for me. Like Karla, I’ve read a lot of different types of spiritual books (although she’s got me beat on theology books!) and I find it hard to narrow it down to just one. I’m going to take it back to college days on this one. During my senior year at Trevecca, I had to take Christian Life and Ministry, and my prof, Steve Hoskins, had us read and learn about lots of different types of people who call themselves Christian. From snake handlers to the Amish-like Hutterites, we sought to answer the question, “What is a Christian?”
Dakota: A Spiritual Geography by Kathleen Norris was one of the books we read. In this book, Norris talks about finding spirituality in the dry plains of the Dakotas. She writes, “The word ‘geography’ derives from the Greek words for earth and writing, and writing about Dakota has been my means of understanding that inheritance and reclaiming what is holy in it.” In the margin, I wrote: I get this!! In college I still felt my connection to Thailand strongly; I was keenly aware of being a stuck-between-places person; I understood tying spiritual meaning to a place.
I think one of the reasons why we read this book in class is because Norris doesn’t really commit to one denomination, and because her husband was a bartender. So we sat in class at my Nazarene university and tried to answer the question, “Can you be a Christian and be a bartender?” (I remember being unsure then, but I think now I can say yes to that.)
But Dakota is not about bar tending. It is about a woman who embraces the sparseness of place as a spiritual garden. Norris writes, “The Great Plains themselves have become my monastery, my place set apart, where I thrive and grow.”
And later, “Maybe the desert wisdom of the Dakotas can teach us to love . . . here we discover the paradox of the contemplative life, that the desert of solitude can be the school where we learn to love others.”
During this time in my life, I was hanging out with a group of religion majors a lot. I loved talking theology with them – as much as I could talk theology – and they seemed unbothered by my pestering and questioning and arguing. I distinctly remember going to our favorite late night haunt – Fido’s coffeehouse – with some of these friends, me with this book in hand, trying to read for class, but unable to stop myself from asking the theology friends what they thought about a faith like Norris’s. It felt like a time of awakening.
So . . . there’s another little twist to this story. Kathleen Norris is the non-fiction editor of St. Katherine Review, a literary journal published by St. Katherine College, a new Orthodox liberal arts college. And I submitted a non-fiction piece. And she read it. And she said yes. She said yes!! Do you know HOW COOL that is! To have one of your favorite writers think your work is worth publishing is absolutely thrilling and humbling and incredible!
And no, that’s not why I picked her for this post . . . I’m sure she doesn’t read my blog . . . and in my submission I don’t think I mentioned anything about personally loving her work because I didn’t want to seem like I was brown-nosing. Dakota is truly one of my favorite books, and she has several other books that are really good, too. Check them out.
Okay, so what is YOUR favorite spiritual book?
And here’s Karla’s pick for today.