It was hard to pick which books to share because February is an interesting month. It’s the Love Month. It’s when all the lovey-dovey cards, heart-shaped chocolates, tacky and sexy lingerie, sidewalk-chalk-flavored candy, and cheesy-cute stuffed animals have an entire grocery store aisle all to themselves. But it’s also the beginning of Lent, which is a more serious, introspective, faith-focused season for the faith-communities and individuals who observe it.
I was torn between whether or not to share a few favorite romance novels or more Lent-appropriate works. And I decided that, instead, I’d recommend two books that are a part of my own self-care time (which relates to love and spirituality, or at least it does for me).
For years the quiet of the mornings was my “quiet time with God” or “daily devotions.” My mornings were severely regimented and there was often a lot of guilt hanging in the morning air, but there was beauty and introspection, too. However, thanks to my serious case of Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome I have a complex relationship with the Bible these days, so we don’t spend our mornings together. And for a while it felt like there was a hole in my day. Something was missing, that time to reflect. These books have helped fill that hole; they inspire me, remind me what’s truly important, make me feel less alone, and leave me feeling more grounded for spending a morning with them. They’re also beautiful. And that’s a good reason just right there.
1. Small Victories: Spotting Improbable Moments of Grace by Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott is my personal patron saint, and I feel like her books were the first spiritual life rafts that my fingers, out of sheer luck, managed to grab. She was the very first person to give me a glimpse of the reality that Christianity could taste differently than the particular flavor that I’d been raised with.
She introduce me to freedom. She introduce me to hope. She showed me that it was okay to be honest, even about hard things and the feelings you weren’t “supposed to” have. She showed me that I could be snarky and spiritual at the same time. She made me laugh out loud and she told me it was okay to grieve and that it was okay to take care of myself. She made me feel less broken, and more just messy. And that messiness was okay.
When I saw Lamott speak last year she described Small Victories as her “best of album” (but there are still some new essay additions). And I think that’s the perfect way of describing it.
It was hard to decide which quotes to share with you since there are so many sticky notes in my copy, but this is one that resonated the most deeply with me.
I told them about my most vile behavior, and they said, “Me, too!” I told them about my crimes against the innocent, especially me. And they said, “Ditto. Yay. Welcome.” I couldn’t seem to get them to reject me. It was a nightmare, and then my salvation. [p. 22]
Crimes against the innocent — me. Within the pages of her book I feel welcomed, safe. And on the next page she continues:
This welcome towards myself took adjustment, a rebalancing of my soul. There had been so much energy thrown into performance, achievement, and disguise. [p. 23]
A rebalancing of my soul. That is exactly where I’m at.
I read through this slowly, one essay a morning, the way I used to read through daily devotionals. And I’m planning on rereading it during Lent (a time in the Christian year that I have reimagined, reclaimed for myself as a time of more focused, more intentional self-care).
2. Dream Work by Mary Oliver.
Poetry, like music or ice cream flavors, really comes down to personal taste. But I’m madly, deeply in love with Mary Oliver’s words. (I’m also dead jealous.) This is what I’m currently reading through in the mornings, just a poem or two at a time. I feel like it helps my mornings to be reflective, peaceful, and spiritual. And perhaps most importantly of all, it’s a time of self-care.
Although, Oliver’s poems certainly touch on a wide variety of topics and emotions I feel like this would be the perfect book to give to anyone who said they didn’t like poetry because it’s always sad.
It’s hard to choose a favorite, but I think The Journey might be my favorite of her poems that I’ve read so far. Sometimes, when I read poems like this one, I feel as if she’s writing directly to all of us who have made or are making the long, hard journey out of religious fundamentalism; those of us who grew up believing for so long that we were responsible for the entire world — every person, every soul. Here’s a small excerpt:
as you strode deeper and deeper
into the world,
determined to do
the only thing you could do—
determined to save the only life you could save.
Oliver’s poems aren’t religious-y, I’m not honestly sure that she’s even religious herself, but I found this section of Morning Poem beautiful.
each pond with its blazing lilies
is a prayer heard and answered
whether or not
you have ever dared to be happy,
whether or not
you have ever dared to pray.
If you want something reflective and beautiful to read that will help care for your soul, these are the books. (Or at least they are for me.)
What books feed your soul? And my fellow Religious Trauma survivors who also can’t read their Holy Book of Origin, what do you read now that’s adding light and life to your life?