Reader Wisdom Requested

Dear Readers,

I need your depth and insight. I'm working on a project for both my teaching and writing, and for it I need a list of readings in the field of spiritual autobiography. Because of that, I'm asking for your recommendations. It could be a book, an essay, or an article; anything, really, that offers a personal account of a faith journey, a faith journey that has inspired you or moved you or reshaped your understanding of the spiritual life. The faith journey I'm talking about might entail a full scale conversion or it could be a transformation within the life of someone who already believes.  Either kind of story will do.  

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I'd like the final list to reflect a mix of people from different time periods and backgrounds, with a good balance of male and female. Although my focus is on Catholic Christianity, I am open to suggestions outside that tradition.  

Having said that, what do you recommend? In the comment section below, please offer your suggestion(s) and a few sentences explaining why. That way, all readers can benefit.  

To save you some time, the following are already on my list:

  • The Confessions, St. Augustine
  • Surprised by Joy, by C.S. Lewis
  • In Good Company, by Fr. James Martin, S.J.
  • The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton
  • The Autobiography of St. Ignatius of Loyola
  • The Long Loneliness, by Dorothy Day
  • The Language of God, by Francis Collins
  • Faith of our Fathers, by Eamon Duffy 

Thanks for reading and sharing your wisdom. I encourage you to send this post to others so we can build a long list. Thank you for your help; I am excited to see your recommendations!

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Val Starkgraf
4 years 1 month ago
If you are willing to think a bit outside your usual box? When God Calls A Woman: The Struggle of a Woman Pastor in France and Algeria by Elisabeth Schmidt is worth your time. The title intrigued me, I found it in the theology section of the Central Library in Downtown Los Angeles between Calvin and Luther when I was poking around. I expected it to be something else. Elisabeth Schmidt was raised an athiest, but eventuallybecame the first female pastor ordained into the French Reformed Church. The section that really gives me pause though, was when she (along with all the other female pastors they could find) volunteered to go undercover as a pastor (posing as a social worker) to live among the inmates of a NAZI work camp. She was just really an amazing person, and had a lot of intelligent (and witty) things to say about life, faith, discipleship, and trying to navigate a rather exclusive status quo. Born Again by Charles W. Colson -- Chuck Colson was involved in Watergate, and spent a life-changing, faith-changing seven months in prison for his Watergate-related crimes. He went on to found a major evangelical Christian prison ministry. And Henri J.M. Nouwen comes to mind, but he wrote so much, so widely, so topically, and so autobiographically? It would be hard to pin down a singular definitive "spiritual autobiography" for Nouwen. His journals are good, I really liked The Genesee Diary. He wrote a short book about his near-death experience (technically he did die) in Beyond the Mirror that wraps itself well around Philippians 1:21. I've been limited by what I can get at libraries and such, but if you know someone who knows the Nouwen canon well, Nouwen is a place where you will find many good things.
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

Val,

Thanks for these recommendations. All of them sound very compelling, and in the area of what I'm looking for.  I've read a fair amount of Nouwen but never The Genesee Diary.  Sounds like a must-read, as does the book by Elisabeth Schmidt. Your overview is compelling.  

 

 

Juan Fernández de la Gala
4 years 1 month ago
If you can read Spanish, there is a really good collection of books in that way where some Spanish people of faith explain their personal pathway and findings. There asre some of the titles: http://www.uniliber.com/titulo/El-Credo-que-ha-dado-sentido-mi-vida.html
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

Thank you, Juan. My Spanish skills are lacking, but I will take a look.  Thanks for passing along.  

Carlos Leon
4 years 1 month ago
JRR Tolkien was catholic, his biography by Humphrey Carpenter is a good read. He interacted with many strong personalities over his lifetime in which he challenged others as much as they challenged him.
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

Carlos: thanks very much. I haven't read much of Tolkien. Perhaps this book will be my gateway into the rest of his works.  

John Donaghy
4 years 1 month ago
I am not sure that these are what you want but here are some suggestions: Lanza del Vasto, Return to the Source. Founder of the French nonviolent Community of the Ark relates his trip to India to "find himself". I found this very moving. (Also good for inter-religious dialogue.) John P. McNamee's Diary of a City Priest - a priest working among the poor in Philadelphia Niall O’Brien, Island of Tears, Island of Hope or Revolution from the Heart - an Irish priest who worked in the Philippines and was incarcerated wrote two books that I know of, one of which was autobiographical. I read them more than 20 years ago and so can't remember which is more autobiographical Elias Shakour, Blood Brothers - a Palestinian Melkite(?) bishop Will Campbell, Forty Acres an a Goat - a radical Baptist from the South, involved in inter-racial work J. Guadalupe Carney, To Be A Revolutionary: An Autobiography A Jesuit who worked in Honduras, was expelled and returned as a chaplain to a small band of guerrillas and was killed. Carlo Carretto, Letters from the Desert
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

John: thanks so much.  What a diverse selection!

David Carey
4 years 1 month ago
Lit, by Mary Karr - One the great memoirists (and poets) of our day recounts her conversion from alcoholic skeptic to sober Catholic. Really interesting and beautifully written. Waiting for God, by Simone Weil - One of the great thinkers of the last century - philosopher, mystic, activist - recounts her spiritual autobiography in the first letter at the beginning of this collection of her writings. A challenging but important voice. A secular Jew who had no interest in God or religion has a mystical conversion. Fascinating.
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

David: I have heard of both of these books before but have yet to read them.  Mary Karr's book really intrigues me, given the buzz around it. Thanks for the selections.  Can't wait to get to them!

ron wall
4 years 1 month ago
Father Seraphim Rose - His Life and Works by Hieromonk Damascene was very influential in my conversion to Eastern Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism. Father Rose will probably be the first born-in-America Orthodox saint.
Francis Felser
4 years 1 month ago
Encounters with Silence, Karl Rahner, SJ, translated by James M. Demske, SJ (Former President of Canisius College, Buffalo, NY, 1966-1991);St, Augustine's Press, South Bend, Indiana, 1960. I am a revert to the Catholic faith. The journey has been long. I recently completed the Archdiocese of Dubuque, IA's 3 year lay formation program (2012). I used this book as a meditation each year during the Advent season (And still do) to refresh my spiritual growth. Rahner's modern insight is enlightening during the mystical season of Advent. A great read.
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks Francis. Fr. Rahner's name sure comes up a lot in these questions.  I have probably four or five of his books that I need to read. 

Judith Miller
4 years 1 month ago
Three little books: A Testament of Devotion by Thomas Kelly; Concerning the Inner Life by Evelyn Underhill; and Poverty of Spirit by Johannes Baptist Metz
Matt Emerson
4 years 1 month ago

Thanks, Judith. These all look compelling.  I appreciate you taking the time to offer your recs.  

WILLIAM BUKOWSKI
4 years 1 month ago
"Report to Greco" by Nikos Kazantzakis. I was introduced to it in a "Great Books in Religion" class in college some years ago, and have re-read it a couple of times since.
Kate Gallagher
3 years 11 months ago
Ruth Burrows, To Follow Jesus. I can't believe no one submitted this one. Best.Book.Ever.
Bruce Snowden
3 years 11 months ago
Matt, suggesting "Testimony Of Hope" a spiritual autobiography of Cardinal Francis Xavier Nguyen Van Thuan when as Archbishop of Siagon he was imprisoned by the Vietnamese Communist Government for 13 years. Also "Illustrissimi, Letters of Pope John Paul I" written as Albino Luciani. Also, "My Life With The Saints" by James Martin, S.J. a kind of a personal spiritual autobiography of the author, reflected in his choice of saints. Blessings on your work!
Beth Cioffoletti
3 years 11 months ago
I would have to add "An Interrupted Life" by Etty Hillesum. This is a powerful personal account (diary) of a young secular Jewish woman who, through her own intense self observation is able to break through to profound prayer (for lack of a better word) - an intimate connection with God that feeds her and those she serves all the way to the gas chambers. I often compare the prayer life of Dorothy Day with that of Etty Hillesum. They both found something that gripped them, a certainty that they could not turn away from.
Bruce Shult
3 years 11 months ago
You might want to add the Journal of a Soul, the autobiography of soon to be St. Pope John XXIII. Wonderful reading.
Stephen Benson
3 years 11 months ago
A testimony by Julian Carron titled "The Winning Attraction" has helped me a lot in my spiritual journey - here's the link: http://www.traces-cl.com/may05/thewinning.html
Stephen Benson
3 years 11 months ago
I’d also like to recommend a book - "Lapsed Agnostic" by John Waters. Here’s a link to it at Amazon: http://www.amazon.com/Lapsed-Agnostic-John-Waters/dp/0826491464/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1389934185&sr=8-1&keywords=Lapsed+Agnostic

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