The last time I met with my spiritual director, we talked about how you often hold onto a book until you are ready for it. At the beginning of this pandemic, my emotions were really raw, and (probably like many of us) I was seeking God’s safety, comfort and encouragement. As time moved on, I started looking for areas of growth — trying to be creative in the weirdness around us in order to love God and others. And now as I am expanding my circle more (lots of outdoor time and with masks), I revisited my reading list and tried to push myself outside my comfort zone. Here’s what I’ve been reading.
Blessings for Women: Words of Grace and Peace for Your Heart by Susie Larson. Full disclosure: I hate the title! As someone who has two sisters and is technically a millennial (although I identify more with the Oregon-trail generation), I hate gender stereotypes. But I’m glad I pushed past that to read this book. And, it is not just for women, but for anyone who desires a gentle, loving, grace-filled devotional that will continually remind you of how much God loves you even on your worst days. It has a Scripture focus for each day, and I’ve been using many of the Scriptures to write daily prayers of comfort and hope for my congregation during this difficult (that’s an understatement!) time.
A Garden of Hope: Devotional Journal by Sandy Lynam Clough. This book is literally a work of art. It’s hard to find it in print, but you cannot buy this digitally (well, you can – but I advise against it on principle!); it would be a crime. It is illustrated and each entry has a blank page for journaling to go along with it. You would think that I would like to journal since I like to write, but you would be wrong. Yet, the entries are deep, and the journal page always has a question or prompt on the top. So, in protest to journaling, I use this question or prompt to begin my prayers. It does have a lot of garden metaphors, but also many nature metaphors. So, even if you are a non-gardener like me, I think you will appreciate the illustrations, references to nature and challenging questions and prompts to grow and change in your life as you follow God.
God Space: Where Spiritual Conversations Happen Naturally by Doug Pollock. So … one of these things is not like the others. This one does not fit with the first two books. I have a huge list of spiritual books that I am slowly (no, very slowly) making my way through. Every time someone tells me about a book they recommend, I look it up and add it to the list. This one just happened to be near the top in July (after being on my list for four years). A funny thing about the list is that I quite often remember who recommended it to me by the tone and subject matter, and this one is no exception. I am not very far into this, and it is admittedly a bit sad to read about airplane conversations during a global pandemic, but it is refreshing to focus on the very specific task of sharing the gospel during this time where nothing seems focused or normal. I also decided to read this book because conversation with friends and family has been a gift to me during this time of isolation, and I always want to be a better listener and someone who is aware and open to the presence of the Holy Spirit in conversation.
Reading has been a joy and a gift to me during this pandemic. Through technology, my ladies book club continued. Using technology, our newish pastors group continued to share stories and read Susan Beaumont’s book “How to Lead When You Don’t Know Where You’re Going” (another great pandemic read). And, I have felt connected to my church as we read Scripture together; during the weeks after Easter, we read through 1 Peter together (using the Living Stones liturgy – special thanks to Milwaukee Presbytery).
Especially in a time of reduced in-person interaction, words have power. And I am grateful for these books that have helped me find God’s peace, tap into God’s creativity and explore the role of the Holy Spirit in conversations (and more!) during this time of global pandemic.
JULIE RAFFETY serves as the pastor at First Presbyterian Church in Franklin, New Jersey. Julie is a violinist, aspiring writer, snowboarder, runner, identical twin and crazy about popcorn.