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Top Five from 2008

Here are my favorite five reads from the past year, at a glance. We’d like to invite you to share the top five — or one, or four — that have made a personal impact for you this year, provoked deeper thought, sparked new conversations, or resonated with something in your soul.

Finding God in a Tangled World (by Juris Rubenis and Maris Subacs, translated from Latvian to English by Paul Valliere) is my treasure-find of this year. I stumbled upon in my public interlibrary loan system, and this book makes me absolutely jubilant. It is a series of snippets — the subtitle is “Thoughts & Parables” — that are like stars, each entry a sparkle that brings a new voice, a new thought, a new way of seeing things. They deal with everything from love to politics to idols. “Emptiness is an invitation to think.” ” In a soul there is either an icon or emptiness.” ” Do not let small truths give you the illusion that you are great.”

Stories of God (by Rainer Maria Rilke, translated from German to English by M.D. Herter Norton). I first fell in love with Rilke’s poems, but this little volume, written in 1899, I find equally compelling. In it, the narrator recounts meeting various people — the lady next door, his lame friend Ewald, a gravedigger — and telling them stories. The stories are a mix of allegory, art, and legend; and each one makes you step back from the tidy theologies, the ways we arrange things, and the familiar phrases to something deeper that’s hard to summarize — which, I presume, is why he uses stories.

Home by Another Way (by Barbara Brown Taylor). Taylor has become a favorite writer of mine since I reviewed her Leaving Church: A Memoir of Faith for this site. Her voice is refreshing, her ideas pithy, and her approach to the life of faith is both motivating and healing. Home by Another Way is a collection of sermons structured around the liturgical calendar, giving pocketfuls of sagacity and beauty that pull me into the heart and experience of Christ, even if I only have ten minutes to read.

The River Why (by David James Duncan). My top novel of the year, The River Why is all about fishing (about which I know nothing)! Yet I don’t think I’ve encountered another novel that so brilliantly tells a story of spiritual journey and experience — almost entirely unencumbered by typical religious terminology, explanations, settings, or teachings. Brilliant, witty, and deeply insightful — and makes me more curious about Duncan’s Adventist background.

Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin). This book tells the story of how mountain climber Greg Mortenson went from a failed attempt to climb Pakistan’s K2 (the world’s second-highest mountain) to what is now a full-fledged non-profit organization called the Central Asia Institute that establishes schools in some of the most remote regions of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Midway through the story, 9/11 happens, bringing a new significance to Mortenson’s work.

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