In the circles I rolled in back in my “on fire” days, there was a method to a good “quiet time” or “devotional time” or—wait for it—“date with Jesus” (I wish I were making that last one up. I’m not).
If you were going to spend time with God, it involved “getting into the Word” or, if you were extra serious, “digging into the Word.” It involved reading through the Bible in a year or at least reading a little bit every day. And it involved coming away from that reading with some new flash of insight that you could apply in your daily life and wax ad nauseum about during student-led Bible study.
My husband, Andrew, loves reading the Bible. Loves it. His favorite studies are the kind where they go through some book of the Bible verse by verse and talk through the history, the cultural context and the theology of it. He likes to figure out the wiring of the thing—the ways this miracle that Jesus did over here connects to that prophecy there and that verse there. He opens the whole thing up like a surgeon, and he looks at the guts of it all working together, and he gets a rush. A high. He comes away from those times feeling full to the brim with God.
It’s taken me about a decade to admit it, but here it is: I’m not wired like that. I love the Bible, but the truth is that most of the time, I feel overwhelmed and unmoored when I’m dropped smack-dab in the middle of that big book.
Of course, nothing can replace the Scriptures—nothing else contains the words of life—but I’m realizing that, more often than not, I need a gentle voice to guide my meditation. I need someone to speak the liturgy out loud so that I can repeat it. The metaphors and insights into the Bible that other writers offer in their books make me feel less alone. And by ushering me down the roads of their own faith journeys, they give me the courage to keep moving toward God.
Here are a few books I’ve been keeping on my end table for when I struggle to read my Bible—a couple of other voices that have ushered me over the hump of my own baggage. I hope you find a few friends here too:
By Dave Harrity
This 28-day study does a better job of anything I’ve ever seen at combining spiritual depth with creative practices. Each day has a short (but poetic and poignant) meditation that invites you to respond, not by filling in blanks, but rather by free writing responses. I’m on my second read-through of this book, and I find something new in it every time I open it.
By Phyllis Tickle
I love liturgy, but as a lifelong evangelical, the regular Book of Common Prayer still feels difficult for me. But Phyllis Tickle offers a contemporary version in three parts (Springtime, Summertime, and Autumn and Wintertime) I love it. It’s mostly really big swaths of text from the Bible, but it’s easier for me to read the verses when I know where and what to read and am guided through it day by day.
By Denise Levertov
I discovered Denise Levertov’s poetry a few years ago and absolutely love it. This little book is a compilation of her “pomes on religious theme.” It’s gorgeous.
By Kathleen Norris
This book is an intense, wise, beautiful redefining of religious language. Because it’s organized by terms instead of by chapters, it’s easy to dip in and read on just one.
This book played a defining role in my own faith changes, and hers continues to be a voice that helps me to disentangle the culture behind faith language with the true beauty of it.
By Kelly O’Dell Stanley
This is a new book, just out this year, but I love the creative way that Kelly approaches prayer. This isn’t a “dip-in” kind of book, but you can definitely read one chapter at a time, and each one has unique, beautiful exercises to get you approaching prayer in different ways. As someone who has always struggled mightily with prayer, the playful, creative, faith-filled way that Kelly writes about it is inspiring.
By Frederick Buechner
Frederick Buechner is one of my all-time favorite spiritual writers. This is a compilation of his work, broken into bite-sized bits—one for each day of the year. I’ll be honest, the excerpts of his novels that appear along the way don’t resonate with me like the essays and memoirs, but that could be because I’ve never read them. Still, he has been a faithful guide to me through the years, and his voice is one that I trust to lead me toward God.
By Heather Caliri
This is a quirky little book is almost like a little homemade art journal. The questions Heather asks are insightful and get beyond the typical churchy questions, and the format of the book invites doodling, free writing and figuring out.
I love everything that Henri Nouwen writes, but this little reader features little bite-sized bits of his letters and writings that are perfect for reading over a cup of coffee. His stuff on community, silence and vocation have been game-changers for me.
What about you? What voices bring you closer to God?
This article originally appeared at addiezierman.com. Used by permission.
Addie Zierman is a writer, blogger and fledgling speaker. She has an MFA from Hamline University and is the author of When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love and Starting Over. She blogs at addiezierman.com.