Essential Reading for the Spiritual Seeker

Mark Mossa, S.J.

Most of us can identify certain teachers or mentors who have had a profound impact on our lives. The same can be said for particular books that have shaped our view of the world. With that in mind, BustedHalo asks the question:

“What books have helped you on your spiritual journey?”

Mark Mossa, S.J. is studying theology at Weston Jesuit School of Theology in preparation for the priesthood. He taught philosophy at Loyola University in New Orleans and is currently at work on an introduction to the spiritual life for young adults, to be published in 2007.

Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller
This collection of essays, subtitled “Nonreligious Thoughts on Christian Spirituality” is a real, down to earth and, at times, funny exploration of one young man’s struggles to negotiate his Christian life. Miller comes from an evangelical Christian background, but doesn’t back off from being honest about both its advantages and pitfalls. He talks about being in love, being in doubt, and sincerely wanting to follow Jesus. The writing is good and honest and you’ll keep catching glimpses of yourself and your own struggles.

Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen
If you struggle with family relationships—and who doesn’t?—you’ll find this one of the most consoling books you’ll ever read. Nouwen’s extended reflection on Rembrandt’s painting of The Prodigal Son opens a whole new window into Jesus’ parable. Nouwen invites us to recognize how we at times fill all the roles of the story—the profligate son, the scorned but compassionate father and the jealous older brother. Almost any book by Nouwen is worth reading, but this one’s his best.

Traveling Mercies by Anne Lamott
No Christian writer I know is as brutally honest–or as good–as Anne Lamott. This single mother who struggled with addiction and anorexia tells of how she was saved by her faith and her friends. The book will make you laugh out loud, but it will also make you cry. Lamott offers penetrating spiritual insights and has the gift of not taking her self too seriously in the process. If you’re looking for blushing piety, that’s not Lamott’s style. But if you appreciate the raw and honest emotion of ordinary encounters with God, with even the occasional curse word thrown in, you’ll find a soul mate here.

The Complete Stories by Flannery O’Connor
Ours is a world of violence that is also touched by grace. O’Connor’s stories are often outrageous and shocking, but always witness to the persistence of God’s grace. Perhaps the greatest Catholic writer of the twentieth-century, O’Connor’s stories are rarely explicitly Catholic. Yet the themes she pursues and the questions she raises come undeniably from the religious sensibility of this devout Catholic woman. Her stories remind us that we live in a crazy and even grotesque world and still, in the midst of it all, we can still find God.

Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Metz
How are we to be human? What does the incarnation of Christ tell us about who we are? How should we live? These and other questions are explored masterfully in this small, fifty-page volume. I first read this book eight years ago, and I’ve reread it at least five times since. It’s not exactly light reading, but it’s worth the effort. Its challenge to accept and understand our innate poverties gave words to things I had long felt, but could not quite express. These are insights which I constantly find myself coming back to not only in understanding my own life, but also in helping others to understand theirs.