If you ask 10 people for a definition of “faith” you might get 10 different responses. Faith is personal. There is beauty to be found in the ways we define one powerful word. Some define faith as God, others as spirit, belief, light, meaning or hope. Faith describes something bigger than the human experience, which transcends life and yet makes it more meaningful. Over the centuries, wars have been fought in its name. And yet because faith encourages connectedness and community, faith can bring people together.
We’ve selected 10 thought-provoking books to launch your personal spiritual journey.
Karen Armstrong, a British journalist and former Roman Catholic nun, goes on a quest for God. Using in-depth research and historical storytelling, she contends that the definition of God changes with time and warns that the idea of a personal God can be dangerous because it encourages people to judge, condemn or marginalize others. The History of God shows how Judaism, Christianity and Islam have overlapped and influenced each other. “The idols of fundamentalism are not good substitutes for God; if we are to create a vibrant new faith for the twenty-first century, we should, perhaps, ponder the history of God for some lessons and warnings,” she writes.
2. The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World
By Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu
“No dark fate determines the future. We do. Each day and each moment, we are able to create and re-create our lives and the very quality of human life on the planet. This is the power we wield.” In The Book of Joy, spiritual leaders Dalai Lama and Desmond Tutu encourage readers to move away from materialistic values and focus on inner values and humanity. The book wants readers to realize we are all meant to coexist and use that belief to foster peace in the world. Understand the role you play in creating your own suffering and in creating your happiness.
Dancing on the Edge of the World is a collection of ancient and contemporary memoirs, fiction and fables about the struggles and joys of Jewish people. A professor of literature at the University of Judaism in Los Angeles, Miriyam Glazer has collected stories that will both inspire and move you. This book is a historical-spiritual journey that seeks to impart what it truly means to be Jewish.
4. A Testament of Devotion
By Thomas R. Kelly
A Testament of Devotion, first published in 1941 by renowned Quaker teacher Thomas Kelly, includes five compelling essays that urge us to center our lives on God’s presence; to find quiet and stillness within modern life; and to discover the deeply satisfying and lasting peace of the inner spiritual journey. He writes, “Life is meant to be lived from a Center, a divine Center…Life from the Center is a life of unhurried peace and power. It is simple. It is serene. It is amazing. It is triumphant. It is radiant. It takes no time, but it occupies all our time. And it makes our life programs new and overcoming. We need not get frantic. He is at the helm. And when our little day is done we lie down quietly in peace.”
5. Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith
By Anne Lamott
Anne Lamott, the dreadlocked author of Bird by Bird and Operating Instructions, among other popular books, says the two best prayers she knows are “Help me, help me, help me,” and “Thank you, thank you, thank you.” Traveling Mercies depicts her travel adventures and life experiences as they nudge her toward Christian faith (including a consultation with God on how to parent). Relatable and human as always, Anne doesn’t claim to have all the answers, but she “knows how to shine the light of faith on the darkest part of ordinary life to expose pockets of meaning and hope.”
Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until the light returns. –Anne Lamott
6. Mere Christianity
By C.S. Lewis
If you want to understand what it means to be a Christian in a straightforward way, read C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, in which the legendary British novelist outlines his fundamental beliefs about religion and human nature. He finds a commonality among Christian faith, which to him shows that “at the centre of each there is something, or a Someone, who against all divergences of belief, all difference of temperament, all memories of mutual persecution, speaks the same voice.” After reading, not only do you gain a better sense of Christianity, but you also put the book down wanting to be a better person.
7. Rooted: The Hidden Places Where God Develops You
By Banning Liebscher
Author Banning Liebscher, founder of the Jesus Culture Ministry in Sacramento, is on a mission to inspire people to encounter God and be empowered to revive and transform their own community. In Rooted, he encourages you to slow down long enough to allow God to grow a root system in your life so you can bear its fruit. “You are where you are because God has planted you there,” he writes. “Discover what it looks like to embrace His process so you can do what He has called you to, change the world.” You are here to make an impact with God through service,” writes Banning. And to carry it out with humility among your community.
Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh uses his poetic style and easy-to-follow interpretations throughout The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching. The book explores how suffering comes in multiple forms and how it, ultimately, can create a path toward enlightenment. “Without suffering, you cannot grow. Without suffering, you cannot get the peace and joy you deserve. Please don’t run away from your suffering. Embrace it and cherish it,” he writes. Readers will learn about several significant Buddhist teachings, including the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and more.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about New Age spirituality, this book is for you. The Soul Searcher’s Handbook takes a fun approach to defining everything New Age—from healing crystals to mind-body-spirit practices. Gain a new understanding of “dreamology,” mysticism and astrology, while you also learn to ground yourself in Mother Earth. “Spirituality is not a religion or a trend—it is a lifestyle. It is a lifestyle of awareness that combines the understanding of faith, body, mind and soul, allowing us to live modern-day enlightened lives in small and big ways,” writes author Emma Mildon. Like the New Age itself, there is something for every searcher in this book; take the piece that resonates most with you.
Drawing on the Harvard Study of Adult Development (“The Grant Study”), lead researcher George E. Vaillant, M.D., examines the extent to which a belief in the afterlife influences well-being and survival over the course of a lifetime. Using spiritual and religious biographies of the men in The Grant Study, Heaven on My Mind shows us the significance that faith and hope for heaven have on our everyday life and well-being. The book ultimately reveals that there’s more value in keeping heaven on your mind than you might realize.