There are many books that have inspired me to deepen my relationship with God. Here are a few of the most important, along with some useful websites. Also, you will find links to teachers and guides who are important resources for me.
The Bible, always the most important resource in coming closer to God, is available in many different versions, translated by people who have differing ideas about how the original Hebrew, Aramaic (Jesus’ own language) or Greek ought to be worded in English. I recommend that you compare a couple different translations so you can see for yourself how different the translators’ views can be.
My own favorite version is The Jerusalem Bible, which derives from a French translation. It is both faithful to the original sources and beautifully poetic. The New Jerusalem Bible has been updated using gender-neutral language where appropriate (see NRSV).
The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) is generally accepted as the most accurate translation. Words that are gender-neutral in the original version are translated as such, correcting the historical preference in English to translate every gender term as masculine. In my own Bible study, the NRSV is a touch stone.
If you are a church-goer, you may want a copy of the translation used by your denomination. The Roman Catholic Church in the United States uses the New American Bible (NAB). The Episcopal Church uses the NRSV.
An online resource that I rely upon is BibleStudyTools.com, a searchable online Bible and concordance.
The Catechesis of the Good Shepherd
I remember vividly the fateful day in September, 1988, that, waiting for my daughter in the teacher’s lounge at her Montessori school, I picked up a North American Montessori Teachers Association magazine and read an article entitled, “The Religious Potential of the Child,” by Dr. Sofia Cavalletti. Her book, The Religious Potential of the Child, (Liturgy Training Publications, Chicago, 1992), contained a message of hope that I had not known I was waiting for. I enrolled in the first-ever regional formation course in the Chicago area and it changed my life forever.
The Catechesis is an approach to the religious formation of children and adults. It is rooted in the Bible, the liturgy of the church, and the educational principles of Maria Montessori. Children gather in an “atrium,” a room prepared for them, which contains simple yet beautiful materials they use to help them absorb the most essential proclamations of the Christian faith.
The Catechesis is called formation, not education, because we acknowledge the truth of Augustine’s words that in relation to God there is only one Inner Teacher. The catechist, like a matchmaker, creates the environment in which the child and Christ can get to know each other intimately. In the process, the catechist herself may fall in love with God. For more information about the Catechesis of the Good Shepherd, see their website cgsusa.org.
The Rule of Benedict, a Spirituality for the 21st Century by Joan Chittister (Crossroad, New York, 2010)
I’ve been reading this book daily to deepen my understanding of the role of daily prayer in my life. Joan Chittister’s voice is simple, direct and powerful. She has been a passionate and prophetic speaker and writer for over 30 years. A Benedictine Sister of Erie, PA, she is an international lecturer and award-winning author of over 40 books, and founder and executive director of Benetvision. In this book Chittister presents the Rule of Benedict, which was introduced over 1500 years ago to guide Christian life in community. The Rule is divided into short daily excerpts accompanied by Chittister’s explanation how the Rule is relevant to today’s major spiritual issues. For more information about Joan Chittister see benetvision.org
Holy Women, Holy Men; Celebrating the Saints (Church Publishing, New York, 2010)
The source I used in Inspirational Daily Prayer for the feast days of the saints and holy women is available from Church Publishing at churchpublishing.org A pdf version is downloadable here.
The Murmuring Deep; Reflections on the Biblical Unconscious by Avivah Gottlieb Zornberg (Schocken, New York, 2009)
This is Dr. Zornberg’s third book, and, although it is challenging, it is her most accessible book. Her breathtakingly bold and creative insights make for compelling reading. Her writing reveals to me the truth of God’s words to Jeremiah: “I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts.” Jeremiah 31:33
Using the technique of Jewish midrash, Zornberg gives “a revolutionary analysis of the intersection between religion and psychoanalysis in the stories of the men and women of the Bible.” [from the inside cover] She informs her literary analysis of the text with concepts drawn from psychoanalytic thinkers, as well as literature and midrashic texts. For more information on Dr. Zornberg, including her books and upcoming appearances, see avivahzornberg.com.
Teachers and guides
Since 2008, my understanding of the Hebrew Scriptures has been immeasurably enriched by my studies on Skype with Israeli Torah scholar Tamar Pelleg. Tamar is a trained Maggid/Teacher of Sacred Texts, and a certified facilitator of Bibliodrama, a deep experiential and expressive form of studying a biblical text through role play. Tamar’s website is www.torahdrama.com.
When I was raising my children I often turned to Angie Poulos for advice. Angie, a certified Parent Coach, raised 7 children, including a child with disabilities, and is grandmother to 6 children. For many years she was a Montessori directress working with very young and special needs children. She brings deep compassion as well as a world of experience to issues of parenting. Her website is poulosparentcoaching.com.
Periodic silent retreats have been a most enriching resource for deepening my relationship with God. Holy Wisdom Monastery in Middleton, Wisconsin, near Madison, is the home of the Benedictine Women of Madison, an ecumenical group of women religious. They create both interior and exterior environments in which I can hear the Inner Teacher, a voice difficult to hear in the rush of daily life. They offer Benedictine prayer three times a day, a terrific library, and delicious food, much of it grown in their own gardens and cooked by their resident chef. Their website is http://benedictinewomen.org
More Bible resources
Here are some books I use regularly to go deeper into my Bible study:
The literal translation of the Bible can yield surprising insights. For those of us who don’t read Greek, The New Greek English Interlinear New Testament translated by Robert K. Brown and Philip W. Comfort (Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Wheaton, IL, 1990) gives a literal English translation for each Greek word.
Similarly, the literal interpretation of the original Hebrew or Aramaic can be a revelation. The Five Books of Moses, translated by Everett Fox (Schocken, New York, 1997), has changed the way I read the first five books of the Hebrew scriptures: Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. Fox strives to maintain the syntax of the original language, restoring to the text an earthy humanity and vigor smoothed out of most English translations.
The Catholic Study Bible (Oxford, New York, 1990) was created as “a key to the Scriptures that combines directness and simplicity with the explanatory power of modern scholarship.” It includes the full text of The New American Bible with introductions and notes for each book of the Bible, and more than 600 pages of current study material written by many of the finest scripture scholars, both Catholic and from other denominations.
The Jewish Study Bible, featuring the Jewish Publication Society Tanakh Translation (Oxford, New York, 2004), includes the entire Hebrew Scriptures along with commentary by outstanding biblical scholars and Judaic specialists.