*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God. I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1. If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.
From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read. (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc. I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?) This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.
That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:
5. Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
Admittedly, this may seem like kind of an “amateur” pick since it became SO popular and was turned into a movie. (I generally try to stay away from such popular culture when I can), but the idea of it intrigued me: a woman goes on a geographical journey around the world that coordinated with her spiritual journey within. This coincidently was published in 2006 which happens to be, for me, the year my own personal geographical journey began (we moved from Wisconsin to Utah, which, though understandably not as challenging as some people’s adventures, was certainly geographically different enough for me).
This book is a true story. A memoir of Gilbert’s own experiences as she discovers much about her passions, her relationship with God, her relationship with herself and so much more. It was an easy read and at times laugh out loud funny, which is always a big plus for me. What I learned most here, though–and it seems so ridiculous to say it now because it’s become so ingrained in me–was that most likely God is not going to communicate with us through a booming voice from the heavens as is described in the Old Testament. Instead, Gilbert made me realize in her telling of her experience that God comes to us in our minds through our own thoughts, or (though I don’t remember her saying this specifically, it’s been my personal experience since then) by pressing words or ideas into our hearts. (Or, as I’d later hear Paula D’arcy say, “God comes to us described as our own lives.”) Still, as ridiculous as it may sound now, at the time in my life that I read this I was still waiting, I guess, to hear God in a booming voice from the heavens. But she spelled it out for me so clearly saying,
“It was merely my own voice, speaking from within my own self. But this was my voice as I’d never heard it before. This was my voice, but perfectly wise, calm and compassionate. This was what my voice would sound like if I’d only ever experienced love and certainty in my life. How can I describe the warmth of affection in that voice, as it gave me the answer that would forever seal my faith in the divine? “ (pg. 16)
It was Gilbert’s acknowledgment of this, that prompted me to pay more attention to the thoughts I was having. You know those great thoughts you have and you start to think you’re a total genius for having come up with them? I hate to break it to you, but there’s a good chance God put it there for you to take hold.
But, since making this realization, I’m happy to report that it’s changed nearly everything about how I think and act. It didn’t change it overnight, mind you, but I can remember the time in my life before I read this book. I was a young mom, with young kids, transported to a “foreign land” (a.k.a. NOT “HOME”), and any time I spent thinking was pretty much synonymous with worrying. Worrying about the future, about my kids, about my husband, his job, our house, our money, our time, etc. etc. And then trying to control whatever of it I could. Newsflash here: this was largely unproductive, and a waste of time. I know, like I said…newsflash.
But once I made this discovery–that God was in my thoughts–I was able to pick out a thought here or a thought there that brought me some peace, some solace, some calm in the middle of a storm, and it slowed me down enough to be able to do whatever real cognitive thinking I needed to.
Though to be honest I’m not sure I put all this together until several years later. But I do remember some of my earliest discoveries with this. For instance, I was worried about something and I’d find myself humming a song. I’d suddenly think to myself, What am I humming? Most of our worrying is about things we can’t control, so let’s say I was worrying about whether or not my kids were going to miss me at school that day, and I’d realize that I was humming my answer to those worries in song. And what I was humming was The Beatles’ “Let it Be.” (It turns out God is prevalent in the secular world, too. He doesn’t just linger in the churches. Who knew? wink. wink.) That’s just one example in a bazillion, but I think you get the idea.
Or maybe not.
I’m still not sure if the way I’ve described it here makes any sense, but I can promise you this: if you become more aware of your thoughts, you’ll likely become more aware of how God works in your everyday life. Sifting through our thoughts is no easy task, because many of them (not surprisingly) are not put there by God. They are put there by our own ego, or as distractions to keep us from making progress in our own lives. So, though it may be a bit off the topic, one way to think of free will (which is almost always a stumbling block in our faith) is to understand the “power” God has given us to freely choose which thoughts we hang on to and which ones we let go.
It’s like He’s saying, “It’s your choice. You can spend all day worrying, or you can listen to Me (via The Beatles, via your own humming) and just Let It Be.”
And once you realize that is how a relationship with God really works, you’ll begin to see it’s no wonder we first read about Moses speaking to God in the clouds.
It just sounds so much less crazy when you say it that way.