Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton
The monk’s little book will change your understanding of contemplative prayer. It is good for those who want to practice contemplative prayer but don’t know what authentic contemplative prayer is in Christianity or where it comes from. It emphasizes the role of silence in contemplation and how character affects the whole process. But be aware that the book assumes the reader’s familiarity with Christianity and its monastic traditions. This is a book for people who are beyond the beginner’s stage of spiritual development and want a more in depth understanding of prayer.
Imitatio Christi by Thomas à Kempis
Thomas à Kempis was a medieval monk who did not shrink away from implied confrontations with his readers. His book has a terse style similar to that of Proverbs, and it will force you to confront your own spiritual conformism. I think the core idea of the book is to be absolutely and literally Christ-like in order to live a life close to God. It is good for those people who like reading aphorisms and do not mind sharp, prophetic reminders of our sluggishness. The book has prayers, God’s addressing humans, and admonishments that will urge you to question where you stand in your journey towards God. With this book too, find the older translations that do not dull the shock that arises from its pre-modern language and conceptual framework. Its language is easy, and it does not use too many technical theological concepts, so it can be read by people who are kind of an experienced beginner on their spiritual journey. But in all honesty, I don’t know what to make of this book because certain things that the book suggests do not make sense to me. Anyway, read it and learn its ideas; you will gain a new perspective on your spiritual life.
Dive deep, read more: Ten powerful prayers from the Bible
Divine Names by Dionysius the Areopagite
This book takes God’s names or certain adjectives used to describe God and explores their implications. The true author of the book is unknown, but it is written by someone who knew Neoplatonism well. If you love to read religious books steeped in philosophy, then this book is for you. The core idea of the book is that we can learn about God by reflecting on God’s names though as the book progresses, it takes a decisive turn towards negative theology (a theological method that explores what God is not rather than what God is). However, Divine Names is for spiritually advanced Christians who have some familiarity with ancient Greek philosophy and who do not mind reading mysticism blended with theology and philosophy.
The Cloud of Unknowing by an unknown author
Similar to Divine Names, this anonymous book also relies on stripping all mental images and concepts away from our mind. The basic idea of the book is that the contemplative prayer and life are the easiest yet very advanced path towards God. This is not a beginner’s book. If you are an intellectual who loves thinking and does not shy away from speculative theological reflections filled with faith, then this text will open new worlds to you. You will want to read this book twice to fully appreciate what it says so that you can apply its teachings.
The Sacrament of Present Time by Jean-Pierre De Caussade
Some translators translate the title of this book, written by a French Jesuit priest, as Abandonment to Divine Providence, which sums up what the text teaches. It is all about how to surrender ourselves to the Lord in order to get close to God. The core idea is that every moment we have can be used as a sacrament and opportunity to give ourselves to the Lord. It has a warm and somewhat elliptical style that does not allow you to pinpoint exactly what it says, but as you read, you will notice repeated patterns that bring its main ideas into focus. I believe Jean Pierre’s book is for people who are at the intermediate level of their spiritual development.
Dive deep, learn more: Ten Widely-Known Texts to Memorize From the Scripture
The Prophets by A. J. Heschel
Technically speaking, The Prophets is neither a mystical treatise nor written by a Christian. But A. J. Heschel, one of the great Jewish rabbis and scholars of the twentieth century, will give you plenty of insights into the prophets of the Old Testament. You can apply those insights to better understand God’s interaction with humans. Heschel has a very vivid writing style, full of evocative images that not only explore the details of the prophetic texts but also shed light onto the God that the prophets spoke about. The book is dense and deals with concepts such as sensitivity, evil, the wrath of God, the suffering of prophets, etc. If you like to read books that explore a topic in depth, refuse to follow the stale conventions of religious or academic books, and move you, then this book is worth your time. Spiritually advanced people will benefit more from this book.
That’s it, my friends. Now you have enough books to occupy you for a year. Take your time and savor the insights they will give you. They are worth your time because every one of these books will deepen your appreciation of the faith.
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