Books and Meditation Supplies
My personal favorites—the books about meditation I read again and again.
Christian Meditation and Prayer
Centering Prayer and Inner Awakening, by Cynthia Bourgeault.
This book is a wonderful starting point for Christian meditation. Centering prayer is the best-known Christian meditation technique, and Cynthia Bourgeault has taught it for decades. She explains meditation in the context of Christian theology. She says, “What goes on in those silent depths during the time of Centering Prayer is no one’s business, not even your own; it is between your innermost being and God; that place where, as Saint Augustine once said, ‘God is closer to your soul than you are yourself.’ ” (page 6) What I love most about Cynthia Bourgeault is her fearlessness and how she gives both simple and complex scholarly explanations for every point she teaches. She is an Episcopalian priest and scholar who teaches widely about meditation and Christian mysticism. (Lanham MD: Cowley Publications, 2004.) Click here to buy
The Heart of Centering Prayer: Non-Dual Christianity in Theory and Practice, by Cynthia Bourgeault.
This is Rev. Cynthia Bourgeault’s latest book, and she is the foremost teacher of the Christian meditation technique Centering Prayer in the world today. She says, “Centering Prayer is quintessentially a pathway of return in which every time the mind is released from engagement with a specific idea or expression, we move from a smaller and more constricted state of consciousness into that open, diffuse awareness in which our presence to divine reality makes itself known along a whole different pathway of perception.” The book begins with a short introduction for beginners to this technique. In Part 2, Bourgeault explains the concept of non-duality as part of Christianity and in Part 3, she carefully works through the ancient Christian mystical book, The Cloud of Unknowing. (Boulder: Shambala,2014.) Click here to buy
Immortal Diamond: The Search for Our True Self, by Richard Rohr.
“This book saved my Christian faith,” is what a friend told me after reading Immortal Diamond. It’s a brilliant, matchless book about our deepest self and God. Richard Rohr discusses Christian mysticism—knowing God directly in meditation—as a way Christians can know the living God better. Father Rohr is a Franciscan priest who is trying to bring Christians back to Jesus’s authentic teachings. Rohr says, “Whenever the Spirit descends anew, the forces of resistance to it become all the stronger, even in the world religions….So how can we do our part to further ‘the work,’ ‘the great turning,’ the ‘refounding’ in our own lifetime? We must rebuild from the very bottom up, and that means restoring the inherent sacrality of all things—no exceptions—and all the past mistakes must be included as teaching moments and not just something to hate. We must rethink all the links in the ‘great chain of being.’” (page 117) What I love most about Richard Rohr is his stubborn, knowledgeable, waspish voice as he works to bring Christianity back to the heart. (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2013.) Click here to buy
Christian Meditation: Experiencing the Presence of God, by James Finley.
James Finley studied under the great Christian scholar Thomas Merton. His teaching is wise, clear and thorough. He gives simple step-by-step instructions on how to start meditating. He explains what meditation and mysticism mean for Christians. He says, “Spiritual reading, discursive meditation and prayer prepare our hearts for contemplation. Contemplation is a state of realized oneness with God. When engaged in contemplation, we rest in God resting in us. We are at home in God in us.” (page 17) Finley touches on the concept of nonduality: “This in-and-as aspect pertains to stones and stars and the smell of burning leaves. It holds true with respect to the loaf of bread we are slicing, the berries we are rinsing off in the sink, or the dust we’re sweeping into the dustpan. Suddenly, without warning, we can find ourselves in the midst of such simple things, being awakened to that which transcends all that we see manifesting itself in-and-as all that we see.” (page 49) What I love most about James Finley is how easy he makes it to step into the very advanced concept of nonduality. Finley is a former Trappist monk. (New York: HarperOne, 2004) Click here to buy
Silent Compassion: Finding God in Contemplation, by Richard Rohr.
This 70-page book is a wonderful, thoughtful introduction to contemplation and meditation as a new way to open to God. Rohr explains contemplation and non-duality in the context of Christian theology. He says, “John Duns Scotus… said you may speak of being with one voice from the being of the earth itself, to the waters upon the earth to the minerals within the earth, the flowers and trees and grasses, the animals, the humans, the angelic choir, the divine….Once you stop seeing the divine in any one link of that chain, the whole thing will fall apart. It is either all God’s work or you have a hard time finding God in mere parts. That split and confused world is the post-modern world we live in today, which no longer knows how to surround and ground all things in silence.” (page 22) (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2014.) Click here to buy
The Book of Forgiving: The Fourfold Path for Healing Ourselves and Our World. by Desmond Tutu and Mpho Tutu.
This book changed my life. I used to think certain things could never be forgiven, but Archbishop Tutu teaches a way to forgive even the most unspeakable injuries and sins. Certainly there is help and wisdom here for anyone hoping to heal. Certainly Tutu is helping us all be better Christians. In every chapter he uses meditations and visualizations as part of his teaching. He says, “But I can tell you that it all matters. Whether we love or hate, whether we help or harm, it all matters. I can tell you that I hope, if I am the one who is beaten and bloodied, I will be able to forgive and pray for my abuser. I hope that I would be able to recognize him as my brother and as a precious child of God….We can create a world of forgiveness. We can create a world of forgiveness that allows us to heal from those losses and pain and repair our relationships….You carry forgiveness with you in your heart. It is described by your humanity. You just need to look inside and discover it—discover the power it has to change your life and to change the world.” What I love most about Desmond Tutu is how he opened my heart to forgiveness that I thought could never happen. (pages 224-225) (New York: HarperOne, 2014.) Click here to buy
The Book of Joy: Lasting Happiness in a Changing World, by the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
This book is fun, profound, easy to read and very well written. It offers dozens of simple explanations of meditation, healing and ways to find joy in today’s world. Both Tutu and the Dalai Lama believe strongly that “spiritual practices were the essential ground of their being, sustaining and supporting them through their lives.” (page 309) The book includes a whole section of recipes for Joy Practices, including such things as prayers for dealing with frustration and anger, a practice to help us laugh at ourselves and meditations on death. They say, “Seek out your own communities of love and practice and bring the teachings of joy to them in whatever way is meaningful to you and your community….Relationship is the true proving ground for spirituality. Ultimately, joy is not something to learn, it is something to live. And our greatest joy is lived in deep, loving and generous relationships with others.” (page 348) What I love most about this book is that it’s two old men who have been through hell showing us specific ways to find joy, no matter what. Archbishop Desmond Tutu is an Anglican bishop who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. The Dalai Lama, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, is the spiritual leader of millions of Buddhists around the world. (New York: Avery, 2016.) Click here to buy
What the Mystics Know: Seven Pathways to Your Deeper Self, by Richard Rohr.
This is a useful, thoughtful book of very short Christian meditations and teachings about important spiritual ideas, such as “Contemplation means practicing heaven now,” and “When you are transformed, others will be transformed through you.” Rohr is using the word “mystic” to mean people who experience the Divine directly through meditation. He says, “Through the use of scriptures and both traditional and new metaphors, I want to give thoughtful guidance from classical sources, so you can know that your experience is not just your experience but the common domain of the perennial, or wisdom, traditions. How else can we distinguish the guidance of the Holy Spirit from our own egoic whims and fantasies?” (page X) Here’s one of his meditations: “The word of God calls us to greater wisdom. The only way the Lord can do so is by making the system fall apart. That’s called suffering. It’s how God shows us that life is always bigger than we presently imagine it. Faith allows us deliberately to live in a shaky position so that we have to rely upon Another. God gets closer blow by blow.” (page 50) (New York: Crossroad, 2015.) Click here to buy
Into the Silent Land: A Guide to the Christian Practice of Meditation, by Martin Laird.
“We are built for contemplation,” says Martin Laird. “Communion with God in the silence of the heart is a God-given capacity, like the rhododendron’s capacity to flower, the fledgling’s for flight, and the child’s for self-forgetful abandon and joy.” (page 1) Laird is really a poet. His writing itself sings, so this is an exquisite book. Some of the very best writing in this book deals with how meditation can help terrible human problems such as isolation and addiction. He reports one addict’s experience as he began to meditate: “‘The payoff was the calming of my inner turmoil. There is something in me that the turmoil doesn’t reach. And I cling to my breath and my prayer word like a dog to a bone….I need this God who draws me to silence.'” (page 112) Later Laird says, “It is important to see what James was freed from. For a moment he was free from the self-loathing that manifests itself as condemnation of others.” (page 114) What I love most about Martin Laird is how he talks about life’s worst horrors using the unbearably beautiful words of a poet. Laird is an Augustinian priest and professor at Villanova University, and he is firmly rooted in Christian scripture. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.) Click here to buy.
A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness and Contemplation, by Martin Laird.
This book is a delight partly because the writing is even more brilliant than that in Laird’s first book. He says, “One of the most debilitating results of the spiritual fragmentation that has plagued Christianity in the last several centuries has been the opposition of the contemplative life to the active life….The life of stillness [meditation] gradually heals this split and leads us into wide-open fields where buried treasure lies (Mt 13:45-46), fields where the soul can ‘bathe in its own space.’ The God we seek already shines through our eyes.” (page 42) Another great strength of this book is Laird’s “troubleshooting guide” to common places we fail as we seek God through meditation. He has chapters on depression and panic, the trials from the intellect, and other problems, such as “I sit there and nothing ever happens.” He says, “The rising of the moon is a powerful pull on the earth and its waters. Likewise, the moonrise of Christ’s presence in the heart’s sky exerts a powerful draw on our awareness….Seeing by moonlight is not an increase in the things we need to be aware of, but the expansive opening up of awareness from within. Awareness opens and expands in response to the pull of the rising moon of Presence in the sky of the heart.” (page 77) (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2011.) Click here to buy.
Jesus as a Mystic
The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message, by Cynthia Bourgeault.
This gorgeous, important, well-written book changed my life. Rev. Bourgeault says, “The point being missed—and it’s really a key point—is that for these first disciples, the ones who first listened and said ‘yes’ to Jesus, the outcome was as yet unknown. Both crucifixion and resurrection lay ahead…. What caused them to say ‘yes’ to Jesus?” (page 9) She says that when Jesus said “My kingdom is not of this world,” he was saying “that the Kingdom of Heaven is really a metaphor for a state of consciousness; it is not a place you go to but a place you come from. It is a whole new way of looking at the world, a transformed awareness that literally turns this world into a different place. Marion suggests specifically that the Kingdom of Heaven is Jesus’s own favorite way of describing a state we would nowadays call ‘nondual consciousness’ or ‘unitive consciousness.’ The hallmark of this awareness is that it sees no separation—not between God and humans, not between humans and other humans. And these are indeed Jesus’s teachings, underlying everything he says and does.” (pages 30-31) (Boston: Shambhala, 2008.) Click here to buy
Yes, And… Daily Meditations, by Richard Rohr.
Here’s an easy-to-read book of short, Christian meditations based in the authority and the possibilities of Scripture. Rohr says, “I will try to interpret Scripture that way that Jesus did.” (page ix) My personal favorite is this one: “If you are meditating on a Bible text, Hebrew or Christian, and if you see God operating at a lesser level than the best person you know, then that text is not an authentic revelation. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16), and no person you meet could possibly be more loving than the Source of love itself. It is as simple as that. You now have a foundational hermeneutic (interpretive key) for interpreting all of Scripture wisely.” (page 75) (Cincinnati: Franciscan Media, 2013.) Click here to buy
Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness, by Nan C Merrill.
These lovely translations are perfect for prayer and meditation. The author says, “Just as light dispels darkness, fear cannot exist where love abides….May the prayers of all who read, pray or sing the Psalms help awaken us to the Peace of the Beloved indwelling in every soul. May we become peace, and may we each know the gentle joy of co-creating with our Beloved on behalf of the Earth: our home.” Here’s an example of the translations for comparison: King James version of Psalm 109: “Hold not thy peace, O God of my praise; For the mouth of the wicked and the mouth of the deceitful are opened against me; they have spoken against me with a lying tongue.” Merrill’s translation: “Be not silent, O You whom I praise! Many are the fears that envelop me, causing me to act without integrity. I become boastful that others may not see me tremble, and I speak ill even of my friends.” (page 223) What I love most about Nan Merrill is that her translations lift us to a more loving and honest heart space. (London: Bloomsbury, 2007. Click here to buy Psalms for Praying
Meditations for Life’s Worst
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss, by Pat Schwiebert and Chuck DeKlyen.
This is the wisest, most essential book I have ever read. It looks like a picture book, but it’s an easy-to-read, brilliant map to healing from life’s most terrible pain. With simple, strong words and images, the authors tell how we heal from losses so terrible that we want to stop breathing. It works for both children and adults, and it can be used for ALL the things we grieve—not only the death of a loved one (which is hard enough) but also events such as murder, divorce, job loss, infertility, or a fatal diagnosis. I have seen this book help both children and adults. This is a piece of heaven’s healing here on Earth. (Portland, Grief Watch) Click here to buy.
On Life after Death, by Elizabeth Kubler Ross.
This tiny book packs a huge wallop. I’ve read it many times and given it to dozens of friends. Kubler Ross was the world-famous psychologist who developed the famous five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. Her speciality was dying children. But late in her life, she realized through many experiences that death does not exist. She says, “My real job is… to tell people that death does not exist….You don’t have to do anything but learn to get in touch, in silence, within yourself. Get in touch with your own inner self and learn not to be afraid. One way not to be afraid is to know that death does not exist, that everything in this life has a positive purpose.” (page 54) What I love most about this book is that Kubler-Ross was big enough to see a new truth and tell people about it. (Berkeley: Celestial Arts, 2008.) Click here to buy On Life after Death, revised
Guided Meditations, Explorations, and Healings, by Stephen Levine.
Levine’s meditations help heal the unhealable things. He offers profound, meaty, useful meditations to help people heal during life’s worst experiences. I began reading Stephen Levine’s books 45 years ago when I lost my first baby and I wanted to die in my grief. Topics range from fear, anxiety and eating problems to one’s relationship to God to the heaviest possible lifts—the murder of your child, addiction, rape and sexual abuse, pain, suicide and death.
Stephen Levine worked for many years in hospice programs, counseling people who were dying, grieving or who had received a terminal diagnosis. He worked with people of all faiths. He was a former addict who began practicing as a Buddhist in prison, but he wrote many meditations and prayers for Christians. He often refers to the growth from pain as “the healing we took birth for.”
In a meditation on death, he says, “When we are fully alive we go beyond even death….It is like entering a room to find it has no walls, no door, no one inside. It is going beyond creation and destruction. … We go beyond the limited comprehension of the mind, to the enormous intuition of the heart. Being never dies, only the forms it temporarily inhabits. All survive death. Death is just a change in lifestyles.” (location 3705 in Kindle version, Guided Meditations, Explorations and Healings) Here’s his description of sitting with a dying alcoholic: “As he dissolved out of this lifetime of pain and withdrawal, out of this life of alcoholism and confusion, I continued to encourage him. ‘Go to God. Trust the mercy that awaits you.’ And I reminded him of the light. ‘It is simply the light of your heart, of your sacred nature.’ As I stroked Miguel’s brow, after his final breath, I said to him in Spanish,’ Merge with the heart of Jesus now.'”(page 163, Meetings at the Edge) What I love most about Levine’s work is that he saved me from despair. Click here to buy
All Levine’s books deal with healing the heart through meditation. Here are some of his other books:
Who Dies? An Investigation into Conscious Living and Conscious Dying, by Stephen Levine. (New York: Anchor, 1982.)
Meetings at the Edge: Dialogues with the Grieving, the Healing and the Healed, by Stephen Levine. New York: Anchor, 1984.
Healing into Life and Death, by Stephen Levine. New York: Anchor, 1987.
Unattended Sorrow: Recovering from Loss and Reviving the Heart, by Stephen Levine. Emmaus PA: Rodale, 2005.
Poetry: When Mystics Touch the Divine
An easy, wonderful way to grasp mystical experience is through poetry. Much poetry comes from the poet’s experience of touching the Divine. All of the books below offer shining, profound poetry about this experience.
In mystic poetry God is usually called “The Beloved,” so even though these might sound like love poems, they are really about the intimacy of loving God, not about a human lover.
For Lovers of God Everywhere: Poems of the Christian Mystics, by Roger Housden.
Housden presents 98 poems by Christian mystic poets, including the well-known Mary Oliver. Others range from Marguerite Porete, who was burned as a heretic in 1310, to Interior Castles’ Saint Teresa of Avila to R.S. Thomas, a 20th century poet and clergyman in rural Wales who was nominated for the Nobel Prize. Housden’s comments are short and wonderful. Here are his comments on Saint Teresa of Avila’s poem below: “Orgasmic realizations will always be frowned upon by those who feel they have to keep up appearances. Get used to it! Saint Teresa of Avila, friend and contemporary of Saint John on the Cross, was one of the most ecstatic lovers ever to emerge in the Christian tradition. Her goal was spiritual marriage with Christ, the mere thought of which would make her soul faint with joy.” (page 7) What I love most about Roger Housden is how he brings Christian mysticism into today’s reality. (New York: Hay House, 2009.) Click here to buy
The Sky’s Sheets
When He touches me I clutch the sky’s sheets,
the way other
the earth’s weave
Any real ecstasy is a sign
you are moving
in the right
don’t let any prude tell
–Saint Teresa of Avila (page 6)
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
–Mary Oliver (page 196)
But the Silence in the Mind
But the silence in the mind
is when we live best, within
listening distance of the silence
we call God. This is the deep
calling to deep of the psalm-
writer, the bottomless ocean
We launch the armada
of our thoughts on, never arriving.
It is a presence, then,
whose margins are our margins;
that calls us out over our
own fathoms. What to do
but draw a little nearer to
by remaining still?
–R.S. Thomas (page 140)
Love Poems from God: Twelve Sacred Voices from the East and the West, by Daniel Ladinsky.
Here’s worship on paper—glimpses of God that give me goose bumps. Ladinsky is a brilliant poet/translator whose life work is poems that brush us like God’s breath. He says, “What are ‘love poems from God’ and how can they exist? I feel that if we believe that a divine union with God is possible, then how could they not be true? ‘The Father and I are One,’ said Jesus in the Gospels….It has been said that just as every river is winding its way to the sea, so every soul is returning to a glorious reunion with our source, God.” He has gathered the work of twelve mystic poets, saying, “Through their poetry, their lives and their prayers, God played for us His music…. Hafiz [a Persian poet] sings, ‘A poet is someone who can pour light into a cup, then raise it to nourish your beautiful parched holy mouth.’ I chose these twelve great figures to work with because of their skill to awaken us to the wonder—and thus gratitude— of the common.” (pages xi-xii) What I love about Ladinsky’s work is that his translations give me goose bumps and I can feel God in them. Here’s one by the Christian mystic Meister Eckhart:
Love Does That
All day long a little burro labors, sometimes
with heavy loads on her back and sometimes just with worries
about things that bother only
And worries, as we know, can be more exhausting
than physical labor.
Once in a while a kind monk comes
to her stable and brings
a pear, but more
he looks into the burro’s eyes and touches her ears
and for a few seconds the burro is free
and even seems to laugh,
because love does
–Meister Eckhart (page 108) (New York: Penguin, 2002.)
God Makes the Rivers to Flow: Sacred Literature of the World, Edited by Eknath Easwaran.
This stunning collection offers exquisite scripture and mystical poetry from many religions, including Christian. The great meditation teacher Eknath Easwaran recommended these for use in meditation, as described in Lesson 3. What I love most about Eknath Easwaran is that his meditation technique is so easy and so profound. Here’s a Celtic Christian prayer for meditation, taken from the Ortha Nan Gaidheal, a collection of Scottish oral literature:
I weave a silence onto my lips,
I weave a silence into my mind.
I weave a silence within my heart.
I close my ears to distractions.
I close my heart to attractions.
I close my heart to temptations.
Calm me, O Lord, as you stilled the storm.
Still me, O Lord, keep me from harm.
Let all tumult within me cease.
Enfold me, Lord, in your peace. (page 150)
(Tomales CA: Nilgiri Press, 2003)
Rumi and Hafiz
Rumi and Hafiz are Sufi poets whose stunning poems are beloved by millions of Christians.
The Gift: Poems by Hafiz, the Great Sufi Master, translated by Daniel Ladinsky.
From The Gift:
A Hole in a Flute
A hole in a flute
That the Christ’s breath moves through—
Listen to this
I am the concert
From the mouth of every
Singing with the myriad
–Hafiz, translated by Daniel Ladinsky (page 203)
The Essential Rumi, by Jalal al-Din Rumi (Author), Coleman Barks (Translator), John Moyne (Translator).
From The Essential Rumi:
Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,
there is a field. I’ll meet you there.
When the soul lies down in that grass,
the world is too full to talk about.
Ideas, language, even the phrase each other
doesn’t make any sense.
–Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Bench: I use a little bench every day to meditate because I like to kneel while meditating. These benches are extremely comfortable. Most people also buy the cushion below to pad their knees while kneeling. If you use the search term “seiza benches,” there are hundreds to choose from.
(Click on the image for the Amazon link)
Pillow: Here’s the kind of pillow people use under their knees while kneeling. But you can use any pillow. (Click on the image for the Amazon link)
Timer: You’ll need some kind of timer when you meditate—that way you’re not constantly wondering how long you’ve been sitting there. You can use a kitchen timer or the free clock/timer on your phone. There are thousands of meditation timer phone apps that you can download too. Here’s a link to a free online meditation timer with a nice chime. Click here