Book Recommendations for 2021

Books worth reading this coming year

Here are a few books that have challenged and inspired me this past year. I pray they might do the same for you this coming year!

Book Recommendations for 2021

These are the best reflections I’ve read about Coronavirus and the Christian faith. Both N.T. Wright and Walter Brueggemann are two of my favorite theologians.

Not only are we facing a pandemic, but a lot of political unrest. Please, please, please take the time to read Lee Camp’s political manifesto for Christians. It might just change your life (as Kingdom thinking does).

I have been reading and re-reading St. Augustine for years. I have also been following the work of James K. A. Smith. In this book I found much more than I imagined! This was this year’s most spiritually forming book for me. I highly recommend it!

I love reading biblical theology by scholars who strive to condense their longer and deeper works into tomes for a popular level. This book by Richard Bauckman is absolutely brilliant!

In addition to reading theology, I enjoy reading novels and poetry for spiritual formation. This year during quarantine I spent time with Rainer Maria Rilke and T.S. Eliot. I always love reading Tolstoy and Dostoyevsky. Check out these anthologies that will help you better discover the spiritual writings of these two Russian giants!

This past year I have taken a greater interest in Patristics. If you would like to read writings from early Christian theologians, the Philokalia is a great place to begin!

In addition to Patristics, I discovered Alexander Schmemann and his work, For the Life of the World. I started learning about sacramental theology in regards to storytelling in Catholic literature (for ex. Flannery O’Connor) and now I’ve found one of the classic works on the topic and it has revolutionized my thinking.

Check out this anthology of short stories by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie. These stories can help you reflect on interracial relationships and what it means to be a part of the same community with people who are radically different than you are. Also check out Chimamanda’s fellow Nigerian author, Chinua Achebe, especially his work, Things Fall Apart.

In the area of pastoral theology, I could not leave out a title by Eugene Peterson. This book is not to be read straight through but to be read little by little for deep reflection. This book is a part of a larger series on pastoral work.

Even before I saw his painting “The Garden of Earthly Delights” in person, I have been fascinated by the person and work of Hieronymus Bosch. So I thought I’d end this list with a book by one of my favorite publishing houses, Taschen.

Let yourself be challenged by people who are different than you, people who lived in other times and places. Dare to become not only better informed, but spiritually transformed.

Praying Through Cinema

A beautiful video about the films and spirituality of Andrei Tarkovsky.

My love for Russian literature has led me to look into other forms of Russian expression like art and film. This short video is an excellent example of how spirituality and art are intimately intertwined.

If you would like to learn more about prayer in the Russian tradition, check out The Way of the Pilgrim, a classic of Orthodox spirituailty.

The next Tarkovsky film I would like to see is about the artist behind this icon, Andrei Rublev. The film is available on YouTube with English subtitles.

Michelangelo Infinito

“The true work of art is but a shadow of the divine perfection.”

Michelangelo was a sculptor, painter, architect, poet and much more. A new biographical film, Michelangelo Infinito came out this last year in Italy. I went this week to see it here in Buenos Aires.

The film reminds us of his passion and artistic ambition. It was a specially poignant reminder that artists have the ability to see beyond that which is most easily perceived by a quick glance. In the case of Michelangelo, where many saw a block of marble, he saw la pietà.

Michelangelo was also a poet. Here is one of my favorite poems and an English translation.

90. I’ mi son caro assai più ch’i’ non soglio

I’ mi son caro assai più ch’i’ non soglio;
poi ch’i’ t’ebbi nel cor più di me vaglio,
come pietra c’aggiuntovi l’intaglio
è di più pregio che ’l suo primo scoglio.

O come scritta o pinta carta o foglio
più si riguarda d’ogni straccio o taglio,
tal di me fo, da po’ ch’i’ fu’ berzaglio
segnato dal tuo viso, e non mi doglio.

Sicur con tale stampa in ogni loco
vo, come quel c’ha incanti o arme seco,
c’ogni periglio gli fan venir meno.
 I’ vaglio contr’a l’acqua e contr’al foco,
col segno tuo rallumino ogni cieco,
e col mie sputo sano ogni veleno.

I feel more precious, I am more than one,
For, since you held my heart, my worth grew more:
A marble block, when carving has been done,
Is not the rough, cheap stone it was before.

As paper painted or just written on
No longer is a rag one can ignore,
So, since you looked at me, as I was won,
My value has increased for evermore.

Now, with your splendor printed on my face,
I go like one who, dressed with every kind
Of amulets and arms, can dare all wars.
I can walk on the ocean, brave all blaze,
Give in your name the light to all the blind,
And my saliva heals all poisonous sores.

Translation: Joseph Tusiani

*James M. Saslow. The Poetry of Michelangelo: An Annotated Translation. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1991.

David, Galleria dell’Accademia, Florence

I have enjoyed two biographies of Michelangelo:

The Agony and the Ecstasy: A Biographical Novel of Michelangelo, Irving Stone

Michelangelo: A Life in Six Masterpieces, Miles J. Unger

A hagioscope was a hole in the wall of medieval churches that allowed people from the outside to see inside and most specifically to be present in the sacred moment of the eucharist. Michelangelo, like a hagioscope helps transform our vision of the mundane, the quotidian in order to be witnesses of that which is imbued with the holy. His vision represents a new paradigm or hermeneutic through which we can begin to perceive the sacred nature of our lives.