At Your Request: A Personal Annotated Reading List for EfM–Part 1

I serve as a mentor for Education for Ministry (EfM) in my Episcopal parish. EfM is an international four-year program in which small groups meet weekly to discuss and reflect on the Hebrew Scriptures, The New Testament, Church History, and theological philosophy. (For more information, visit

Earlier this year, members of my group asked me to keep a list of recommended readings to share with them periodically. Here is the first installment I provided them.

1) Frederick Buechner. Wishful Thinking: A Seeker’s ABC. Harper & Collins, 1993.–This is the first of three books Buechner has written about the vocabulary of faith; it is a quick and informative introduction to his theological thinking.

2) St. Benedict of Nursia. Saint Benedict’s Prayer Book. Ampleforth Abbey Press. First Reprint 1994. –Benedict is the famous abbot and author of “The Rule” for the Benedictine Order of Monastics. The full title of this little book is St. Benedict’s Prayer Book for Beginners. Roman Catholics appreciate Benedict’s instruction, and all persons of faith should become familiar with it.

3) Corinne Ware. Saint Benedict on the Freeway. Abingdon Press. 2001.–Corinne Ware was a spiritual director and professor of pastoral theology at The Episcopal Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas. Her casual and conversational introduction to the Rule of St. Benedict is a perfect handbook for EfM-ers diving into Christian contemplation and meditation.

4) Kathleen Norris. The Cloister Walk. Riverhead Books. 1996.–A reviewer wrote of this book, “Why would a married woman with a thoroughly Protestant background and often more doubt than faith be drawn to the ancient practice of monasticism?” Norris, a prize-winning poet, admits this was precisely her question, and she answers by detailing her experience as an oblate in a Benedictine monastery in North Dakota.

5) C. (Clive) S. (Staples) Lewis. The Screwtape Letters. Harper Collins, 1996 (original, 1942).–If you know nothing about C.S. Lewis, let this classic work be your introduction; if you know lots about C.S. Lewis, go back and tackle this book again. Be prepared to confront your own Screwtape and Wormwood.

6) Joseph Telushkin. Jewish Literacy. William Morrow. 1991.–Rabbi Telushkin’s best-selling catalog of “The Most Important Things to Know About the Jewish Religion, Its People, and Its History,” reads like an encyclopedia with 346 entries, but contains much more fun and wisdom than most encyclopedias–including Wikipedia! A must read (or perusal) for Year-One EfM-ers.

7) Eugene H. Peterson. Eat This Book. Eerdmans. 2006.–After a long career as a Presbyterian pastor, Peterson became a professor and prolific author. His most widely known book is his translation of the Bible known as The Message. Almost everything he has written provides excellent guidance to readers of the Scriptures. This volume will help anyone become a better Bible reader.

8) Brennan Manning. The Ragamuffin Gospel. Multnomah Publishing. 1990.–Manning was a Franciscan priest who battled alcoholism throughout his adult life to the point of the Franciscan Order laicizing him; that is, defrocking him as a priest. He began writing somewhat late in his life and became a spokesperson for “radical grace.” Before his death in 2013, he wrote or co-wrote about 20 books, and was once accused of out-Luther-ing Martin Luther. He referred to himself as Abba’s Ragamuffin. The Ragamuffin Gospel is his best-known book.

9) Kathleen Norris. Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith. Riverhead Books. 1998.–Another book that stresses the importance of vocabulary, especially the often esoteric and bewildering vocabulary of faith and religion. Norris writes a great deal about her struggles and growth with the vocabulary of her spiritual journey. I think of this as her Autobiographical Dictionary. As do Buechner and Telushkin, Norris gives us an understanding of the often mysterious and strange words we encounter in our EfM experience.

10) Helen Cepero. Journaling as a Spiritual Practice: Encountering God Through Attentive Writing. IVP Books. 2008.–Cepero’s title is self-disclosing. Keeping a journal can provide a powerful aid to weekly EfM sessions, and to theological reflection. I urge everyone to give it a try. This book is one of the best guides.

11) Sara Miles. Take This Bread: A Radical Conversion.  NY: Penguin House. 2007.— This memoir unveils a woman whose father told her she’d be much better off spending her Sabbath mornings reading The Sunday New York Times instead of going to church. After dabbling in scores of adventures, thrills, and happenings into her adult years, an incidental Eucharistic event in a California Episcopal Church changed her life. She writes of her encounter with “crumbly” bread and “sweet” wine that “Jesus happened.”

12) Dee Brown. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 1970.–One of my sad admissions as I grow older is this: I should have read this book 40 years ago. Some might say this book doesn’t belong on a spiritual booklist. However, every American who has any concern about social justice, and every person who believes in “loving one’s neighbor as oneself,” ought to read this tragic chronicle of history that followed Christopher Columbus’ first encounter with “Indians” in the Carribean. I will never again blithely refer to our American heritage as “a nation of immigrants.” This brutal history also can teach us much about the ugly tribal events recorded in parts of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures.

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