I have finally finished reading Jean Pierre Cassaude’s book The Sacrament of Present Time, which is one of the classics of Christian mysticism. After reflecting on the book’s teachings, I thought it would be a good idea to share with the readers of this blog a list of the spirituality texts and Christian mysticism books I have read. For the last several years, I have intentionally read mystical treatises, hoping to learn from their wisdom and understand God-human relations better. Although I don’t have the audacity to call myself a mystic because I’m not, I have always been attracted to books that deal with the inner dimension of faith and mystical experiences. Even before I became a Christian, I read tasawwuf (Islamic mysticism) books whenever I could find them.
All three Abrahamic faiths tend to marginalize mysticism, so you may not hear a lot about the treasure trove of mystical literature left by faithful writers. But reading them will enrich your understanding of the Christian faith and deepen your inner life or, as Paul would say, your “inner man.” In fact, mysticism literature can work like a good medication to heal the wounds of religious legalism, of shallow and flashy ways of worship, and of lukewarm attitudes bereft of deep commitment. But none of the books I list and comment on below are written in an inductive, do-this-do-that-and-get-your-result fashion. They are not modern ego-boosting, self-help books veiled thinly by religious language. If you decide to read them, just be aware that you have to read slowly and be mindful of their worldview differences. Many of these books come to us from pre-modern ages, so the authors’ worldviews will differ from yours.
So here are the ten mysticism or spirituality books I’ve read and would advise you to read.
Presence of God by Brother Lawrence
This short book is composed of the letters of Brother Lawrence, a humble cook in a French monastery, renowned for his spiritual wisdom. If you are not into theologically thick, conceptually rich books, then this book is for you. Its language is simple, and the path it offers is relatively easy. The core idea that Brother Lawrence explores is to live humbly in God’s presence by imagining that everything we do we do for God and in front of God’s very eyes. He suggests doing short conversational prayers without interrupting what we do as if we are conversing with a friend while doing something. It is a good book for beginners who want to deepen their prayer and enrich their religious imagination.
Confessions by St. Augustine of Hippo
Augustine’s Confessions tells a story, confesses, and prays all at the same time. If you love narratives filled with deep reflections, this book is for you. Its core idea, as I see it, is how the Lord pursues us and urges us to seek our heart to find God there. The text seamlessly shifts between narrative, prayer, and introspective meditation, a welcome break from the monotonous perspective of single-genre books. This book is good for people who don’t mind reading theologically rich stories and mind-bending reflections. Highly recommended for individuals digging into words, texts, and their implications.
Interior Castle by Teresa of Avila
Teresa of Avila’s book uses a castle as an allegory for the soul and takes the reader slowly into deeper rooms of this castle to describe the growing intimacy of the soul with God. This is a sophisticated book written by a highly imaginative mystic who does not shrink away from using strange images to explore the depths of the soul. If you love to read fantasy books, this is for you, not because its subject matter is untrue but because you would be used to the imagined worlds of rich internal structures and landscapes. The core idea Teresa offers is an imagined, gradual, inner journey towards an intimacy with God that uses prayers and various virtues. Now if you buy this book, make sure you buy the older translations. I have seen some modern translations that dilute the strangeness of the images and mix it with ego-oriented, self-help junk.
Prayers of the Bible by John E. MacFadyen
Technically speaking, MacFadyen’s book is not a mysticism book. It is analytical in that it analyzes prayers of the Bible to discover patterns. But it is written from a Christian perspective by a biblical scholar, and it will open your eyes to the rich world of biblical prayers. You will learn things to apply to your own prayers and enrich them. I especially suggest this book to those of you who want to pray beautifully and soak your prayer in biblical imagery. The core idea of the book is that biblical prayers are diverse, yet all of them have some central patterns that can be learned and applied to our daily prayers.
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