By The Reverend Katie Snipes Lancaster
I’d be lying if I made it seem as if I’ve had lavish reading time this year. With a new baby in the house, it was all I could do to attend to the front page of the newspaper and the latest issue of the Christian Century (not a terrible summer reading suggestion, though; subscriptions are reasonably priced and each magazine attends to the heart, mind, and soul of the Christian journey: it could joyfully go to the beach with you). My one-year-old reading partner likes books he can chew on and that preferably have less than three words per page with a quality rhyme scheme if possible (Sandra Boynton and the Usborne “That’s not my…” series, for example). He used to let me to read poetry to him, but now we’re in the page-tearing stage of book-curiosity.
- Birds: Vacation Bible School this year is all about birds and how wild, squawking, ever-present birds can inspire and foster within us a lifelong relationship with God. This gave me an excuse to read Consider the Birds: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible by Debbie Blue. A highlight was this vexing idea that vultures—ugly, odd, and death-eating—might help us to understand God in a new way. It is accessible, funny, moving—all the things you’d hope in a spiritual summer read. Purchased but not yet read, and also about birds is Noah Strycker’s Birding without Borders. I read his The Thing With Feathers this winter and he combines personal bird-encounters with biology, ecology, and history in a way that makes you remember that while sometimes birds just blend into the background of our lives, our lives are tied up with theirs—birds matter.
- Parents and Children: I went to a Children’s Ministry conference this year where I got to attend a conversation with children’s book author Sandy Sasso. She was the first female Rabbi at a synagogue near my home church in Indianapolis—a wise, courageous, welcoming presence. She has published a stack of books for and about children and the sacred. My favorite is What is God’s Name—an easy-to-chew-on board book that helps children see that we all have different experiences of and encounters with God, an important message in this complex interfaith world. In the parent’s introduction, she helpfully reminds us that by the age of five, children have already begun to develop their own theological vocabulary, whether or not parents are guiding them with stories about God.
At the same conference, I attended a lecture on the new children’s Bible called Growing in God’s Love. It’s meant for ages four to eight: at 300 words or less, each story is just barely long enough to hold a four-year-old’s attention and by the time they’re eight they can read God’s stories independently. I love that it includes some less-often-told stories about women in the Bible, and has beautiful, diverse artwork—taking special care to invite a number of artists to depict Jesus, so children grow up with a variety of images of Christ.
Months ago, I was handed a copy of Motherhood: A Spiritual Journey by Ellyn Sanna. It could be devoured all at once, or over a number of weeks, and it could be read again and again. It’s not a new book, it was published in 1997, but because it is full of ancient and spiritual wisdom—T. S. Elliott, Mother Teresa of Calcutta, John Wesley, Julian of Norwich, Dietrich Bonhoeffer—it can be carried through the decades.
- Poetry: I’ve always loved Jan Richardson’s spiritual writings, but when her husband died suddenly, her writing stalled and then reemerged in a minor key. Her newly published The Cure for Sorrow is a stylistic pair to her previous work, but full of the heart-rending vulnerability, anger, tears, honesty, life affirmation, and soul searching that death brings to one’s doorstep. Anya Krugovoy Silver’s from nothing and Yrsa Daley-Ward’s bone offer a similar pairing of beauty and melancholy but if you are looking to dig into something more uplifting and meditative, I loved Phyllis Cole-Dai’s collection Poetry of Presence: An Anthology of Mindfulness Poems.