Reading to Open the Inner Heart

The Power of Soul

Robert Sardello's The Power of Soul: Living the Twelve Virtues is a powerful invitation to look openly at the values around which we live our daily lives. In it, he 'shows us how to educate the emotions, refine the soul, and develop inner character. He explains how to locate the essence of our soul and to gain and inner sense of how soul wants to act in the world to bring about the good."

It is time to turn serious attention to inner as well as outer development, and this book would be a strong and clear companion on that journey.

The Grace in Aging: Awaken as You Grow Older

Kathleen Dowling Singh in this book is one of the first authors I have read who distinguishes clearly and succinctly between mid-life and elder years, and to point out how elder years are judged in our culture as "going downhill" from mid-life. Her refreshing writing, simple and profound all at once, prompts anyone who reads it to want to quote it to friends or write out quotes to remember - especially if you are aging into that last third of life. "Opening, allowing, letting go" (p.27) gently invites us to enter into this phase of life as a gift in itself, full of unexpected surprises and graces. When we can let go of cultural expectations, which have invaded most of us at some level, then this last stage of living opens as a rich treasure hoard which we not only experience, but which we leave as an inheritance for those coming behind us in years. Her work is astoundingly beautiful and profoundly practical!

The Rebirthing of God

Loughcrew (Ireland)Sunbeam Equinox

Here is John Philip Newell's new book. He is the author of A New Harmony,  which I have been recommending for a few years. This book, subtitled "Christianity's Struggle for New Beginnings" is one of the first to observe the dissolution of Christianity's established religions and to invite readers to be a part of "a new holy birth of sacred living." From the introduction:

The walls of Western Christianity are collapsing. In many parts of the West that collapse can only be described as seismic...there are three main responses or reactions to this collapse. The first is to deny that it is happening. the second is to frantically shore up the foundations of the old thing. The third, which I invite us into, is to ask what is trying to be born that requires a radical reorientation of our vision. What is the new thing that is trying to emerge from deep within us and deep within the collective soul of Christianity?

Another novel

In my blog a couple of weeks ago I recommended a novel by Corban Addison: Garden of Burning Sand, about the abuse of girl children in Zambia. I was so moved by it that I bought and am just finishing Addison's other novel, A Walk Across the Sun. It is about the trafficking of teenage girls in India though as is usual with his writing, there are layers of other stories going on with the trafficing being the thread...through France and the United States as well as India. This book, like his other, disturbs whateve we may be thinking about this issue, making it real and in your face among ordinary people. RECOMMEND without delay!

Reading has stopped

For the third time in my life, the ability to fill myself with transformative reading every day, something that has been for me like food for several years now, has stopped. This happened twice before, when I was so filled with spiritual insight and experience that when I went to open my usual morning books one day, I could not. I felt as full as if I had finished a six-course meal.

Now it has happened again. In the mornings now, I first do a short body practice, a set or two of Tai Chi, meditation/prayer, a spontaneous drawing and a page of meditative writing...but any of the books I have all around me waiting to be read are closed to me. I take them up and they are literally closed; I could not take them in even if I did try to read them.

I am full enough. Another dimension of interiority is leading me, and claiming me. The language to describe it is elusive, but what I just stated is just how it is. I am surrounded by fantastic book sof spiritual insight and teaching, but - for now - they are closed to me, and another, more integrative, digestive time is having its way.

No More Drama

Isn't that an attractive phrase? It's the title of a book written by my friend Gregory Boyce, a TA therapist in Guelph, ON. The subtitle of this book is "A Practical Guide to Healthy Relationships" and so it is.

Greg makes very clear and practical the underlying dynamics of a very familiar triangle: Rescuer, Victim and Persecutor. Most of us have one of these as a preferred way of being in relationship with those close to us, but the really important insight in this way of relating is that - once we indulge in one of those behaviours, it is only a matter of time before we go the cycle and experience all three.

This behaviour is unconscious until we catch a glimpse of ourselves engaging in one behaviour. If we are honest, and admit that behaviour, then we will see clearly (and humbly) when one unfolds into another. Greg's book makes this easier to see, and also shocking in how predictable we are! Available from

Embracing Solitude:Women and the New Monasticism

I would like to recommend a new book by Bernadette Flanagan PBVM, faculty member of All Hallows College in Dublin. Bernadette has done an important service as the emerging invitation to contemplation grows and deepens in the world; not necessarily through vowed religious, but in a wider population of women. In tracing the history of women's choices for solitude and the richness and variance of that long tradition, she brings us to our own time in a way that opens that possibility for all of us. This book is available from

my emerging work

As I recognize my late-sixties aging process, I am listening to what might be my emerging focus in the world as my capacities for travel, long periods of facilitating and sustained hours of work are noticeably diminishing. Today I came upon this quote from Henri Nouwen and the spark took on a sharper focus and these words resonate with my emerging soul:

We cannot change the world by a new plan,

project or idea. We cannot even change

other people by our convictions, stories,

advice and proposals, but

we can offer a space where people are encouraged

to disarm themselves, lay aside their

occupations and preoccupations and listen

with attention and care to the voices

speaking in their own center.

This is the soul work drawing me now, and I lean toward it even as I move towards a sabbatical time which will allow me to listen even more deeply.

The Exquisite Risk

Written in 2005, I would recommend this book to be read, pondered, and read again. It is classic innerlife/outer reflection. Nepo, who has been emerging as a very practical, life-in-all-its aspects spiritual writer, poetically and simply writes about the many ways in which the mysteries of our lives are reflected in nature, in loved ones, and in the soul insights to which we often find it difficult to pay attention to, or believe. The chapters are short and I am glad they are, for the pondering they initiate often takes days.

Flannery O'Connor

Brigid's Well, Kildare, Ireland

Flannery O'Connor used to be a familiar name in Catholic circles when I was young. She was a novelist, philosopher and writer who was severely incapacitated by lupus and died of it at the age of 39.

A new book of her spiritual writings has just appeared, and it was reading the review of it in the Toronto Globe and Mail a few weeks ago that ignited some kind of little flame that said "perhaps you can read her now." For I couldn't read her before. Her novels are deep in their theme: the ongoing struggle between good and evil in the world, set in the southern United States, where she lived and died. Now perhaps, my own spirituality is just mature enough to be moved by the depth and breadth of her spiritual understanding, and her refusal to be seduced by the religious institutions of the world, even the Catholic Church to which she staunchly belonged.

She was ahead of her time, and it is only now, decades later, that her voice resonates with the present state of the world and of religion.  I am moved by her succinct brilliance and no nonsense spirituality. She is a truth-teller...the kind we need today. At the same time has been published an actual prayer journal that she wrote at a very young age (actual handwriting version as well as printed text) that is both inspiring and inviting. Prayer - just prayer - without a lot of the fancies we have dressed it up with - needs a return. Just as this becomes clear, Flannery O'Connor returns. Thanks to the seers who have brought her back.


James Hollis, a Jungian Analyst who thought himself at the end of his writing career, has given us one more gift in his new book Hauntings: Dispelling the Ghosts Who Run our Lives. This might be his most valuable book of all.

Hollis in his usual readable way simply shows how we are all shaped by our past, and denial of that, or unconsciousness of it, continues the chaos that so many people - even people who have been in therapy/spiritual direction for many years - still experience.

The book reminds me of a Dylan Thomas quote which has never left me: "We are lived by powers we pretend to understand." Hollis not only makes those daily influences clear and understandable, but he offers ways to incorporate them rather than run from or deny them, something that much of our First World Culture is based on.

The Big Picture of Change

Diarmuid O'Murchu has a new book: God in the Midst of Change: Wisdom for Confusing Times.

In his customary gifted way of simplifying gigantic, brain-stretching ideas, Diarmuid offers in clarifying language a vision ofwhat is happening in the world today as change accelerates and structures either end or fall apart. This is NOT an apocalyptic vision but a truthful one. It resonates with what I see and experience; an escalation of intensity that is bringing about a transformation none of us can describe clearly. He uses short sections rather than chapters, and it is a very stimulating read, echoing both ideas and experience that we all encounter every day.

For the first time I understood the global financial crisis and its implications. And his lists for "Handling the Transition Wisely" at the end of each short chapter are stunningly simple and doable. Let this be your introduction to the big picture in the most practical way.

Recovering a Sense of the Sacred

This small and reflective book, written by Carolyn M. Toben, is her narrative account of ten years of conversations with Thomas Berry, mostly in the Green Valley Grill, near where they both lived.

Many find Thomas Berry's actual books thick with words and difficult concepts. Here, Toben illuminates his teachings in the ordinary words he used with her. She took notes at these meals...which he loved!

I would recommend this book as a meditative way to slowly be transformed by Thomas Berry's simple and profound view of the natural world.

The Book of Awakening: Mark Nepo

The subtitle of Mark Nepo's book is more revealing than the title: Having the Life You Want by Being Present to the Life You Have.

Just ponder that for a minute or two. This book contains a daily meditation plus 3-4 very brief practices at the end of each one to take it through the day. I haven't seen such earthbound spirituality, simplicity and practicality in one place for a long time. Nepo's capacity to see the natural world as deeply woven with human living is inviting and profoundly practical.

Silence: The Mystery of Wholeness

This book is a transformer. It cannot be read with the mind, but only in the deepest soul reality where one invites and allows transformation. After reading it, you might not remember specific things that moved you, or be able to repeat them: that is good! But Sardello's articulation of Silence as an Inner Presence, not an absence of sound,  or a vacuum of any kind, is a transforming experience in itself. At the end of each Chapter is a practice that opens an experience of which he writes in the Chapter.

Profoundest words ever uttered

Quoting from John Philip Newell's A New Harmony, P. 128:

Perhaps the profoundest words ever uttered were "God is love." (1John 4:16) They are attributed to John the Beloved, the one who leaned against Jesus at the Last Supper and was said to have heard the heartbeat of God. The profoundest utterances in life are always the simplest of utterances. The problem with truth is not that it is too complicated for expression. The problem with truth is that it is too simple for expression. Three simple words, "God is love," which is to say that when we love, we are one with God. And when we do not love, we are not one with God.

 Perhaps most, or even all of the trouble in the world comes down to this: We do not love enough, or even at all.

How to respond

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More books that will transform

Which title resonates in you?


A New Harmony: The Spirit, The Earth and the Human Soul (2011) by John Philip Newell

The Holy Trinity and the Law of Three: Discovering the Radical Truth at the Heart of Christianity (2013) by Cynthia Bourgeault

The Hidden Gospel: Decoding the Spiritual Message of the Aramaic Jesus (1999) by Neil Douglas-Klotz

Emptiness Dancing(2006) and The End of Your World:uncensored straight talk on the nature of enlightenment(2008) by Adyashanti

Open the Door: A Journey to the True Self (2008) Joyce Rupp

The New Spiritual Exercises: In the Spirit of Teilhard de Chardin(2010) by Louis M. Savary

Reading as transmission

Alana Gorski OSF, reading Chapter statement at Wheaton Franciscan Chapter, April 2012

The word "transmission" isn't often used in Western religious practice, but I have come to see it happening here in the same way as it is a common word in Eastern spiritual practice: receiving teachings directly from a teacher or a book, taken straight within your own heart in a way that transforms the person.

The closest we have to this in the West is the practice of "lectio divina", a four-step, deeply contemplative way of reading a sacred text that invites and allows change within the person practising this reading way. Many years ago in religious communities, and even now in monastic enclosures, "spiritual" or sacred reading is an important element in daily devotions.

I would like to hold out here that today many books and teachers hold the possibility for such transmission, and that receiving the teaching - the willingness to open, surrender and be changed internally by what one is reading is the key element in such inner transmission.

Without being able to put these words on it until now, I have been receiving teachings as "transmissions" from many teachers through their books for almost 7 years now. I want to and will explore this further in these pages, as I try to articulate what it has meant for me. This is an awareness that is just now emerging into my consciousness. I will also begin to list here the titles that have been particular sources of transformative transmission for me.

Rilke as evolutionary teacher

I want to unfold.

Let no place in me hold itself closed,

for where I am closed, I am false.  (Rilke)

the both/and

We are called to be contemplatives who are passionately engaged in the world, and activists who ground our efforts in the silence and stillness. 

                                                                         Miribai Starr, in The God of Love  p. 125

Realistic View of our world now

    Quoting Constance Fitzgerald, Carmelite Sister who writes extensively about the Dark Night, not just the personal one, but the cultural one we are in now:

          Although my exploration raises its own disturbing questions, I hope it will offer a significant contribution to theological reflection at a time when polarization, suspicion, denouncement, investigation, silencing, alienation, anger, cynicism and sadness divide our Church, and when our country is rocked by economic meltdown precipitated by years of wrongdoing and greed, our earth menaced with extinction, the religions of the world plagued with extremism and age-old distrust that fuel war and terrorism, the people of the world abused with violence, slavery, and deprivation too great to measure. We are encumbered by old assumptions, burdened by memories that limit our horizons and, therefore, unfree to see God coming to us from the future.” (keynote presentation to the Catholic Theological Society of America, 2009)


A steady stream of reading is finding its way to those who wish to explore a more reflective, transformative and contemplative relationship with Divine Awareness dwelling in one's Inner Heart. A precious few are offered here. May they lead you to your own.

By Richard Rohr: The Naked Now; Falling Upwards; Immortal Diamond

By Christopher Germer: The Mindful Path to Self Compassion

By Thomas Keating: Invitation to Love

By Robert Sardello: Silence

By Ilia Delio The Emergent Christ and The Unbearable Wholeness of Being

Lee Gauthier 26.01.2015 04:17

Brenda, the richness and clarity of your comments and descriptive summaries of these so many important books I will carry with me.

Carolyn Reinhart 19.05.2014 18:57

I like your page Brenda. It is very helpful to have an overview of books and thoughts from others.

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Latest comments

23.11 | 19:20

Hi Marilyn...can you share your writing when there's a chance? Love to read some!

04.01 | 19:04

Thanks, Andie...that's it exactly ! So glad you experienced it!

04.01 | 18:36

'Whatever you need
and wherever you go next -
will come to you'
My holiday experience.

28.12 | 15:12

Hi Brenda,
I've just finished reading The Choice - got it from the public library. What an amazing story and an unbeatable spirit. I'll check out youtube now