by Father Mark Goldasich
Don’t be that guy.
You don’t ever want to hear these words addressed to you. They’re never good, because they signify some sort of offensive behavior.
When it comes to reading, don’t be that guy. You know, the one in four Americans who didn’t even read part of a book in 2015, according to a survey done by the Pew Research Center. Choose, instead, to read and grow.
Christmas is the perfect opportunity to give others (or yourself) the gift of reading. Below are a few of my favorites:
We’re encouraged to enter into a deeper personal relationship with Jesus, especially at this time of year. An excellent place to start is with Father Jim Martin’s “Jesus: A Pilgrimage” (New York: HarperOne, 2014; $27.99; 510 pgs.). Don’t shy away because of its length. (About 60 pages are notes at the end.) Father Jim is an engaging writer, who blends faith, storytelling and humor. This is not some boring tome for scholars, but an invitation to accompany the author on his tour of the Holy Land and see how those sacred places made Jesus come alive for him. If you’ve ever wanted to go to the land where Jesus walked (or relive your experience), Father Jim will make you feel as if you’re right there with him.
Maybe you’re thinking that you don’t have time to plow through a big, long book. How about a 365-page one? Think you’d have time to read just one page a day? For no more than three mintues? Each year, the Christophers, a nonprofit organization in New York, publishes a new volume of its “Three Minutes a Day.” Each entry is literally one page long, and consists of a little story, a line from Scripture and a one-line prayer. You can get a copy for $10 at: www.christophers.org.
I’ve discovered that “reading” art is a fruitful way to pray. Christians have realized this for centuries as evidenced by our iconography. If you’d like a very brief, but attractive introduction to praying with icons, check out “Icons: The Essential Collection,” by Sister Faith Riccio, CJ (Brewster, Mass.: Paraclete Press, 2016; 116 pgs.; $16.99). This tiny volume has reproductions and close-ups of 28 icons of Our Lord, the saints and some notable New Testament events. Each icon has a brief explanation, as well as a prayer or quote from the saint, the Scriptures or a spiritual writer.
A meatier entry from the same publisher is Timothy Verdon’s “Art & Prayer: The Beauty of Turning to God” (2014; $34.99; 310 pgs.). This beautiful book is chock-full of stunning pictures, illustrating various depictions of prayer, such as: spaces of prayer, the prayer of pleading and contemplative prayer, to name just a few. This is a visual feast that will enrich the soul as well.
If you’re a little rusty in prayer or just looking for new ways to pray, hunt down a copy of “Everyday Divine: A Catholic Guide to Active Spirituality,” by Mary DeTurris Poust (New York: Alpha Books, 2012; $14.95; 211 pgs.). The author teaches readers in this crazybusy world how to bring God into all we do — through exercise, work, technology, song, nature and much more. Her writing is clear, practical and inspiring.
Though not specifically spiritual, you can make this “your best year yet” by picking up Karen Ann Kennedy’s book of the same name (North Charleston, S.C.: CreateSpace, 2014; $14.95; 389 pgs.). Its purpose is to help jump-start your life by focusing each day, a month at a time, on areas like finances, fitness, gratitude, organization, learning and healthy eating. It’s practical and challenging, moving your “resolutions” from dream to reality.
For those like me who are in middle age, this can be a wonderful time of both reflection and planning. A marvelous companion for this stage of life is Wilkie Au’s “The Enduring Heart: Spirituality for the Long Haul” (Mahwah, N.J.: Paulist Press, 2000; $18.95; 179 pgs.). The book helps readers to “be still and still moving.” This is a volume that, although an easy read, invites reflection at the end of each chapter by means of a prayer and a series of thought-provoking questions.
And, lastly, for the child in all of us, grab a copy of “The Sparkle Box: A Gift with the Power to Change Christmas,” a children’s book by Jill Hardie (Nashville, Tenn.: Ideals Publications, 2012; $19.99; 32 pgs.). Though written for kids 4-8, its message of reaching out to the needy in imitation of Jesus puts everything into perspective. It even comes with its own sparkle box!
This Christmas, be the “guy” to make 2017 something truly special. After all, as Mark Twain is supposed to have said, “The man who doesn’t read has no advantage over the man who can’t.”