Essential Reading for the Spiritual Seeker

Dan Barry

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?”

Dan Barry is the “About New York” columnist for the New York Times. He has shared a Pulitzer Prize and a George Polk Award, and received the 2003 Distinguished Writing Award from the American Society of Newspaper Editors. His book, Pull Me Up: A Memoir, was published by W.W. Norton and Company in 2004 and released in paperback this past spring.

James Joyce, “The Dead” (the last story in The Dubliners)
I can’t help it. That story, and that ending, with the snow “general all over Ireland,” falling “into the dark mutinous Shannon waves,” laying “thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones,” falling “upon all the living and the dead.” Rather than interpret the ending as dark, as some justifiably might, I see it as uplifting, with the snows of God uniting us, comforting us, blanketing us, living and dead.

John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath
The entire novel, of course, is Biblical, from the plague of dust to the pain of exodus. And in Tom Joad, I see a version of Christ. His farewell to Ma, to me, sounds like the Beatitudes through a Steinbeckian prism. “Wherever there’s a fight so hungry people can eat, I’ll be there. Wherever there’s a cop beatin’ up a guy, I’ll be there…I’ll be in the way guys yell when they’re mad an’ – I’ll be in the way kids laugh when they’re hungry an’ they know supper’s ready…”

Thomas Merton, The Seven Storey Mountain and The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day
Merton and Day tell spiritual adventure stories that feel so real and true – and contemporary. Both were alive in my lifetime, and both were refreshingly candid about their flaws and stumbles. I’ve been to the Catholic Worker houses in the East Village, where Day worked, and to the now-demolished Spanish Camp on Staten Island, where she lived for a while. I also attended St. Bonaventure University, a Franciscan school in upstate New York, where Merton taught and sorted out his path. I return to St. Bonaventure often, and when I walk the back woods that he walked, I try to do that which does not come easily: meditate.