December 2014

Summer books for the mind and spirit

In this our last edition for 2014, The Good Oil invited some of our readers to nominate a book they particularly enjoyed and would recommend to others for the summer holidays. Check out their list of books for the mind and spirit.

BY The Good Oil’s readers and writers

Each person was invited to choose a book of fiction or non-fiction, religious or mainstream, a recent release or a classic. However, the main criterion was that the book stimulated the mind or nourished the spirit.

We’d love you to add your recommendation to the list in the comments section below.

The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt (recommended by Margaret Malone SGS)

The Goldfinch, by American writer Donna Tartt, is a dramatic fictional work but the centre of the story is a genuine art piece, “The Goldfinch”, painted by a Dutch painter in 1654.The novel is a powerful story of loss and survival. It is a vivid depiction of beautiful characters and enduring relationships, but above all, is about what enables one piece of art to have such a lasting hold on a person. The last pages of the book are a beautiful reflection on this. The length of the book is daunting, but commitment to it so rewarding.

Words of Spirituality: Exploring the Inner Life by Enzo Bianchi (recommended by Paul O’Shea)

This was the staff spiritual reading book for Rosebank College in 2014. Enzo Bianchi has become better known in recent years and this is a wonderful thing. Founder of the ecumenical monastery at Bose in northern Italy, Bianchi’s appeal for me lies in the fact that he is a lay man who has remained alive and enthusiastic about the Catholic adventure since the heydays of Vatican II. He is grounded in scripture and the tradition of the Church; is alive to the challenges facing contemporary Christians; has a wonderful gift of translating the richness of monastic wisdom for the non-monastic; and writes in an accessible and understandable way. Bianchi’s joy leaps from every page.

The Night Train to Lisbon by Pascal Mercier (recommended by Meg Kahler SGS)

Raimund Gregorius is a gifted, staid 57-year-old high school classical languages teacher in Switzerland. Gregorius has a chance meeting with a Portuguese woman which leads to the discovery of the writings of Amadeu de Prado, a Portuguese doctor. Amadeu’s writing is filled with wisdom and the honest, self-conscious reflections on his own soul. Gregorius becomes fixated, and throwing away his job and his life, he boards a train for Lisbon, driven to discover Prado’s fate. Gregorius returns to the sites of Prado’s life and meets the major players—Prado’s sisters, lovers, fellow resistors and estranged best friend – and Gregorius begins to make discoveries about himself.

It took me a while to read this book. I found myself having to stop to think about wisdom and reflections that are offered throughout. Not a book to read quickly! Best savoured.

Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads by Chris Lowney (recommended by Garry Everett)

The old Catholic saying: “Mine not to question why; mine but to do and die”, does NOT apply to this book. Lowney keeps asking “Why?”, and identifies six principles that guide Pope Francis as a leader. I found the book insightful, the principles stunningly simple, and their application to the life and work of Francis authentic and comprehensive. For readers seeking to understand why Church leaders could and should change, read this book!

Pope Francis: Why He Leads the Way He Leads by Chris Lowney (recommended by Leonie Duenas SGS)

I found this book very uplifting! It indeed stimulated my mind and nourished my being. Pope Francis displays so much courage, wisdom and conviction in his leadership in bringing about compassion and change. He is an inspiration to all. I find in him the gift to live fully and the joy of living in the midst of suffering. “Bear the suffering that accompanies the calling!” This book presents not only what the Pope believes but what you believe in yourself, your calling and purpose, and the conviction that will guide you on the journey. Consult your heart!

The Little Way of Ruthie Leming: A Southern Girl, a Small Town, and the Secret of a Good Life by Rod Dreher (recommended by Evan Ellis)

Rod Dreher is a successful journalist of the digital age. His claustrophobic upbringing in America’s deep south has faded with the accolades and years. Home, now, is where the wifi is. His sister Ruthie, a deer-hunting former prom queen who never left, took his departure as a personal insult. When she is stricken with terminal cancer, Rod returns to the small town of his upbringing hoping for reconciliation. There he is forced to re-examine the nature of home, community, suffering and faith. This is a heartbreaking but ultimately life-affirming true story.

Christ in Evolution by Ilia Delio (recommended by Monica McKenzie SGS)

Ilia Delio’s Christ in Evolution is an insight into the interconnection between religion, philosophy and science. Delio states elsewhere: “My aim is to elucidate Christian life in an evolutionary world”. It is a key to the theology and spirituality necessary for living with some understanding in today’s scientific world. Delio’s scholarship draws upon her eclectic reading and presents a revised vision of Christology. The language is simple and clear, revealing a faithful and humble search for truth, a response to the spirit, and the wonder of consciousness, drawing us into the eternal search for the meaning of our very being.

All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (recommended by Pat O’Gorman)

In search of a new author I picked up All the Birds, Singing and was rewarded by a stunningly insightful, emotionally powerful and utterly compelling read. The story tells the haunting human drama of Jake Whyte, a physically and emotionally scarred outsider with a dark and troubled past. It is told in two parallel and deftly woven narratives set on an isolated and remote British Island, and in Australia. In parts the story moves forward in time but is told in past tense, whereas the chapters in Australia are narrated in present tense but move backwards in time. The innovative structure builds the tension, leaving the reader wanting to know more. The book deals with the brutal truth of our human condition as we struggle with the light and darkness of our lives. With a precision of language lyrical in style, this book certainly stimulates the neurons.

Six poetry books (recommended by Carmel Dunne)

The first three – Staying Alive, Being Alive, Being Human – edited by Neil Astley and published by Bloodaxe – are themed and eclectic. They are a wonderful resource for any spirited or dispirited moment; for any celebration or consolation; for an injection of hope and a provocation for loving kindness. Another two are Count Me the Stars and A Once Courageous Heart by Kylie Johnson and published by Pier 9. These are Kylie’s own poetry and reflections and decorated with her own art work. They are evocative and gentle. They are books you could also write in as they invite a creative response. The sixth, Melancholy and Bright, is a newly released book of Kylie’s favourite quotations with her art work. They are available at Paper Boat Press in Brisbane. With these books – to quote Mary Oliver – “the world offers itself to our imagination”.

The Undesirables by Mark Isaacs (recommended by Bishop Pat Power)

I am not sure The Undesirables should be recommended for Christmas or holiday reading. But sadly, maybe it should, during the season where consumerism and self-interest can overshadow the true meaning of Christmas. Mark Isaacs takes his readers to the harsh realities of the Nauru detention centre where he worked with the Salvation Army in their efforts to provide pastoral care for the hapless detainees. His story is a powerful one which shines a light on the inhumane Australian Government policy towards asylum seekers. It can only be described in terms of man’s inhumanity to man. This engaging book challenges every Australian to ask where we are as a decent and caring country.

The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho (recommended by Leeza Baric)

Christmas is a time of celebration and the new year a time when we reflect on the year gone and imagine what the future will bring. We question what do we really want in our lives, who are we and why are we here? Paulo Coelho in his classic fable, The Alchemist, inspires us to follow our dream. We are taken on a tantalising adventure by Santiago, who goes in search of worldly treasures and learns that “life really is generous to those who pursue their Personal Legend”. It’s a light read that is life-changing!

Seventy-Four Tools For Good Living by Michael Casey (recommended by Bernardina Sontrop SGS)

Yet another masterpiece by well-known Cistercian monk, Michael Casey, Seventy-Four Tools for Good Living offers the reader a wealth of food for reflection on chapter four of the Rule of Benedict, “The Tools of Good Works”. Realising that “There is so much more in St Benedict’s Rule than meets the eye”, Michael brings together the fruits of his insights in scripture, monastic tradition, contemporary living and his personal living and lectio on the Rule. Each chapter offers a reflection on one of the tools of the monastery and explores the deeper meaning of the words, inviting readers to reflect on our personal lives. A slow, prayerful read of each chapter opens up to a deeper awareness of one’s self, of those with whom we live and work, and of the love mercy of our God enfolding us as we continue life’s journey. It is a must read for religious and lay people who desire to deepen their living of the Rule of Benedict in their daily lives.

Wanting by Richard Flanagan (recommended by Joan Sexton SGS)

I have chosen as a great Christmas read Richard Flanagan’s novel, Wanting. The story alternates in setting between London and Tasmania, recording the longings in the hearts of the main characters. Sir John Franklin, Governor of the convict Isle, longs to be back in arctic exploration, his wife Lady Jane yearns for a child, while Charles Dickens becomes infatuated with his passion for the actress Ellen Turner. Into this picture comes Mathinna, an orphaned Indigenous girl whom Lady Jane adopts as a means of satisfying her longing.

Sir John learns to salve his longing with an absorption in Mathinna, leading to his undoing and recall. This novel nourished my long-time interest in, and respect for, our Australian Indigenous which I developed when teaching in Charters Towers and continued in my years at St Scholastica’s College, Sydney.

Landscapes of Prayer: Finding God in Your World and Your Life by Margaret Silf (recommended by Kevin Treston)

The book is a series of prayerful meditations on discovering God in our everyday lives. The meditations have their genesis in a series of reflections on nature experiences in the garden, the mountain, the seashore, the forest, the river, the jungle, the desert, the cave and the night sky. The book invites the reader to “wander through some of the landscapes of your soul” by a journey through reflections on nature’s landscapes. The nature illustrations are stunningly beautiful as is the relevance of the reflections on our lives. The nature images are drawn from every continent and link the wonders of nature with the mystery of God gracing our spiritual journeys.

Sacred Threshold: Crossing the Inner Barrier to a Deeper Love by Paula D’Arcy (recommended by Penny Carroll)

In the opening chapter of this book Paula D’Arcy writes: “There’s infinitely more than the experience of love we already know. Push against your borders. Dare to move through the next threshold to the freedom awaiting you”. As the book unfolds, Paula leads one into the intimacy of some profound experiences of relationships where listening, encountering truth and responding reveal a deeper love. Each chapter stands alone, but all are connected by a golden thread revealed in her reflections on relationships with a young boy, a dying man, a woman in prison, her elderly father and others. I hesitate to lend this book in case I lose it! I love the probing clarity of Paula’s writing: “Will I unsettle my life in order to grow?” If you can’t obtain it, D’Arcy’s A New Set of Eyes is equally satisfying.

The Good Oil

‘The Good Oil’, the free, monthly e-journal of the Good Samaritan Sisters, publishes news, feature and opinion articles and reflective content which aims to nourish the spirit, stimulate thinking and encourage reflection and dialogue about contemporary issues from a Good Samaritan perspective.

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