Best of 2012 in Retrospect – Books

Best of 2012 in Retrospect – Books

When the calendar turned my life didn’t allow time for introspection.  And now on the cusp of February I find thoughts of a year in retrospect filling my head.

Which leads me to share, these, my top five picks of the books that I read in 2012.  Note: This list consists of books that I read (for the first time) in 2012, not books published during the 2012 calender year.

5. Life of the Beloved, Henri Nouwen

I wrestled with many things in my first reading of this book.  I almost wish I had skipped the preface and postscript altogether as they compounded my confusion over the thoughts provided. Yet, for all my wrestling with the context this book made it to my top five, because the content had a lasting impact on my life over the past year.

Nouwen presents the Life of the Beloved in light of the Eucharist. He asks:

  • What does it mean that we have been taken, or in other terms, chosen?  Just as we reach out our hand to take the bread, God extended His hand and took us to be His Beloved.
  • How should it impact our lives and our way of relating to know that we are Blessed, or in other words, that we are deeply loved?  Just as we pray and bless the elements, God has spoken the blessing of His love over our lives.

“The blessings that we give to each other are expressions of the blessing that rests on us from all eternity.  It is the deepest affirmation of our truest self.  It is not enough to be chosen.  We also need an ongoing blessing that allows us to hear in an ever-new way that we belong to a loving God who will never leave us alone, but will remind us always that we are guided by love on every step of our lives.”

  • What does it look like to be broken?  As His body was broken for us, so we live lives of brokenness and surrender that the life of God may shine through us in all that we do.  (The aspect of how our perspective is completely altered when we view our lives and circumstances from “under the blessing” rather than from “under the curse” is one of thoughts that has lingered longest with me over this year.)
  • How can we be given?  Just as the cup is given, just as His blood was poured out on our behalf, our lives as the Beloved are gifts to the world.  We carry Christ and are poured out to a thirsty world.

“I realize that there is a mysterious link between our brokenness and our ability to give to each other”

4. Tales of the Goldstone Wood, Anne Elisabeth Stengl

OK – Perhaps I am cheating a bit by putting a whole series in one slot, but it’s my list so I’ll make the rules.

My favorite book of the series was Starflower.  All of the Goldstone Wood novels illustrate an aspect of what it means to be Beloved. (Note a theme here.)  You can read my full review here.

3. Leaving Egypt – Finding God in the Wilderness Places, Chuck DeGroat

The entire book resonated deeply with me and I saw my own life in new and fresh ways as the author related my journey (our journeys) to the Exodus journey. With topics of fear, lament, brokenness, community, identity and freedom I found myself fully engaged as each new chapter unfolded.

The book is broken up into four sections:

Egypt: Facing Our Fear —

“We’ll explore the terrain of Egypt, seeing both its enslavement and its appeal. We’ll explore how we long for very good things and how these things often enslave us. Often we reach for quick fixes, Band-Aids for deep wounds only to be disappointed. God’s remedy is a relational one. At it’s heart is the struggle to trust others, and, most important, to trust in God.”

Sinai: Receiving Our New Identity —

Sinai is the first major stop in the wilderness and “it’s both a signpost to a better life and a potential roadblock for those who aren’t ready for the test. As travelers, we’re tempted to pitch our tents at Sinai, unwilling to venture into the deeper, darker wilderness territory. Sinai represents our tendency to find both intellectual and moral certainty in our confusion. Growth requires us to travel on, to see Sinai as an invitation to pursue a life of shalom, of flourishing.”

Wilderness: Entering the Furnace of Transformation — This is the core of the book.

“In the wilderness we’re faced with our worst nightmares and our greatest possibilities. Though American culture holds out the hope of a quick fix, a microwave spirituality, we’ll see how God uses the wilderness to deepen us, to mature us, and to draw us into honest, authentic relationship with him as he continues to travel alongside us. We’ll see that this is the journey that Jesus took too.”

Home: Experiencing New Identity and Mission —

Emerging from the wilderness, we experience an invitation to “surrender through the image of open hands to find rest in Jesus. Surrender leads us to life experienced in relationship with others.”Through an exploration of the Beatitudes, DeGroat paints a picture of the kingdom life and the continuing journey of trust as he lays before us the journey of Jesus.

Leaving Egypt overflows with powerful imagery, is grounded in the Scripture and shines with honest authenticity about our struggle as we walk in exodus from Egypt’s slavery into the promised kingdom.

2. Waking the Dead, John Eldredge

With a deep and penetrating look at the new heart that God has given us in Christ, this book takes a journey into Holy desires, self protection, brokenness, freedom, our true humanity, the battle for our souls, story and community.

I personalized the Daily Prayer for Freedom found in this book and my life has been deeply impacted as I have made this prayer an ongoing part of my life.

1. The Contemplative Pastor, Returning to the Art of Spiritual Direction, Eugene Peterson

For more than just pastors.

I’m not a pastor, but my ministry (which has a focus in Spiritual Direction) is pastoral in nature.  The teaching found within this book has become deeply embedded in my way of seeing the world.

Peterson makes an appeal for three tenants for approaching life that are essential for one whose desire is to minister to the soul of another.

1. Unbusy.

“How can I lead people into the quiet place beside the still waters if I am in perpetual motion? How can I persuade a person to live by faith and not by works if I have to juggle my schedule constantly to make everything fit into place?”

“I know I can’t be busy and pray at the same time.  I can be active and pray; I can work and pray; but I cannot be busy and pray.  I cannot be inwardly rushed, distracted, or dispersed.  In order to pray I have to be paying more attention to God than to what people are saying to me; to God than my clamoring ego.”

2. Subversive.

“Three things are implicit in subversion.  One, the status quo is wrong and must be overthrown if the world is going to be livable.  It is so deeply wrong that repair work is futile…

There is another another world aborning that is livable. … The subversive does not operate out of a utopian dream but out of a conviction of the nature of the real world.

Three, the usual means by which one kingdom is thrown out and another put in its place – military force or democratic elections – are not available.

3. Apocalyptic.

“Pastors are persons in the church communities who repeat and insist on these kingdom realities against the world appearances….  In its dictionary meaning, apocalypse is simply “revelation,” the uncovering of what was covered up so that we can see what is there.”

“…the real thing, the conceived-in-holy-wedlock apocalyptic, develops communities that are passionately patient, courageously committed to witness and work in the kingdom of God no matter how long it takes, or how much it costs.”

“Apocalypse ignites a sense of urgency, but it quenches shortcuts and hurry, for the times are in God’s hands.  Providence, not the newspaper, accounts for the times in which we live.  Impatience, the refusal to endure, is to pastoral character what strip mining is to land – a greedy rape of what can be gotten at the least cost, and then abandonment in search of another place to loot.  Something like fidelity comes out of apocalyptic: fidelity to God, to be sure, but also to people, to parish – to place.”

There is so much more to the book, but you’ll have to read it yourself to discover all the teaching that Peterson has gifted to us.

So there you have it.  My list.

What books impacted your life in 2012?