A selection of the responses from our survey asking young adult Friends (ages 18–35) to share their reading recommendations on spirituality, Quakerism, religion, and faith.
The Faith and Practice of the Quakers* by Rufus Jones (1927) Submitted by Carl Drexler, 34, a member of Live Oak Meeting in Houston, Tex., living in Magnolia, Ark.
Rufus Jones wrote in a way that transcends the decades passed since this book’s first publication in 1927. He captures the sense of a strong, vibrant Quaker approach to faith, grounded in its Christian roots. It is both a source of guidance and inspiration as well as a strong tie to our collective past.
An Apology for the True Christian Divinity* by Robert Barclay (1678) Submitted by Michael Doo, 26, a member of Stony Run Meeting in Baltimore, Md., living in Baltimore
I’ve always been interested in early Quaker writings. Robert Barclay was one of few well-educated early Quakers and his famous Apology drew very clear lines between the Bible, classical texts, and Quaker beliefs. In a time where many young Quakers are challenged by their faith and the concept of God, Barclay’s Apology provides a logical, well-thought-out approach to the basic tenets of Quakerism. It may be challenging for some, but the process of reading it is a journey in and of itself.
Holy the Firm by Annie Dillard (1997) Submitted by Sylvia Madaras, 19, a member of Chambersburg (Pa.) Meeting living in Greencastle, Pa.
I highly recommend Annie Dillard’s Holy the Firm. As a modern transcendentalist, mystic, and poet, Dillard is unequivocally one of the best spiritual writers of the era. She combines her strengths of storytelling, prosaic work, and poetic observation to create a brief and transcendent look into the life of a poet living on the Puget Sound.
When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times by Pema Chödrön (1996) Submitted by Julia Thompson, 30, a member of Lafayette (Ind.) Meeting living in Lafayette
This is my go-to book for words of wisdom during difficult times. There is so much insight and wisdom in the pages.
The Lamb’s War, blog by Micah Bales (Lambswar.com) Submitted by Elizabeth Martin, 30, a member of Central Philadelphia (Pa.) Meeting living in Philadelphia
The Lamb’s War is a blog that presents tough questions about the world we live in and asks us to think about how to act to create the kingdom of heaven here on Earth. Micah Bales, who is a founding member of Friends of Jesus Fellowship (a Quaker community in Washington, D.C.), has a thought-provoking way of writing—which you can see in the comments! I find the writing to be inspiring and often helps me redirect my thoughts to what is important to me: living my life in line with Spirit (which some call Christ).
An Introduction to Quakerism* by Pink Dandelion (2007) Submitted by Mackenzie Morgan, 25, an attender of Friends Meeting of Washington (D.C.) and Friends of Jesus Fellowship (D.C.) living in Silver Spring, Md.
Pink Dandelion’s An Introduction to Quakerism explores the many branches of Quakerism. I’ve found that whether you’re new to Quakerism or simply grew up in an area where only one Friends tradition is represented, the historical information and explanations that touch on all types of Quakerism in this book are very valuable. I know that Quakerism as it is practiced in my local yearly meeting is not how it is practiced everywhere, and this book gave me a good insight into how the different beliefs found within Quakerism evolve and justify themselves.
The Wisdom Jesus: Transforming Heart and Mind—A New Perspective on Christ and His Message by Cynthia Bourgeault (2008) Submitted by Madeline Schaefer, 26, a member of Radnor (Pa.) Meeting living in Philadelphia, Pa.
I’ve never had much beef with Jesus, but I’ve never been particularly inspired by his message either. After reading this book, I’m convinced not only that Jesus was one of the leading wisdom teachers of his time (along with many other philosophers and shamans), but also that his message speaks directly to my own experience as a Quaker today. Cynthia Bourgeault depicts a Jesus living and breathing and thinking in a time of great intellectual and spiritual turmoil, and developing a philosophy that spoke deeply to both the hearts and minds of people around the world. His main message was one of unity—of tying together the heart and the mind, of looking beyond binaries to something more divine. Bourgeault is absolutely brilliant, as well as full of heart; her words will give you hope for the future of the message of Christianity at a time when the tradition seems to be falling apart. And the hope isn’t really for a more unified church, but for a more unified world through Jesus’s radical message of oneness.
Faces in the Fire: The Women of Beowulf by Donnita L. Rogers (2011) Submitted by Elizabeth Wine, 31, a member of University Friends Church in Wichita, Kans., living in Wichita
This novel is written by a woman who has been involved with Quakerism in the south-central part of the country. The setting is a sixth-century Viking settlement, which is usually not the type of book I open. However, the characters and the plot drew me in. It’s always great to read fiction by a Quaker author!
Simple Truths: Clear and Gentle Guidance on the Big Issues in Life by Kent Nerburn (2005) Submitted by Galen Fick, 28, a member of Ottawa (Ontario) Meeting living in Guelph
When I was 18, my father gave me a book titled Letters to My Son by Kent Nerburn. Though the author doesn’t identify as a Quaker, his spirituality and life philosophy resonate deeply. The advice contained within—on topics from love to war to work and material things—is helpfully worded for navigating the complexity of becoming an adult in our society. Having been raised Quaker, I found that it especially hit a chord. Now, ten years later I picked up another book by Nerburn, Simple Truths, and found a similar resonance. Where I found Letters to My Son especially impactful as I came of age, Simple Truths is written for a more general audience and provides some clear words to ponder as we seek forward in our lives.
Small Gods by Terry Pratchett (1992) Submitted by Howie Baker, 31, a member of Louisville (Ky.) Meeting living in Louisville
Terry Pratchett writes a thought-provoking account of Brutha, a reluctant prophet who is chosen by his god to spread the true faith. Brutha gets swept along in the machinations of an evil genius within his own church and winds up in the bewildering realm of philosophy in a far-off land, but through it all, his unshakeable faith and his personal connection to his god guide his way. Small Gods is a wonderful story of how the most humble of us can serve and show the way for future generations. A must read for anyone who feels pulled along the divine path.
The Cloister Walk by Kathleen Norris (1997) Submitted by Rick Durance, 24, an attender of New Haven (Conn.) Meeting living in New Haven
Kathleen Norris’s book The Cloister Walk is ostensibly about her time at a Benedictine Monastery in Minnesota compared to the rest of her life as a writer in rural North Dakota. Yet it is more than that. It fleshes out Christian tradition and community living (transcending Protestant and Catholic divides). It gives us a glimpse into the lives of saints, including Jerome and Emily Dickinson, while also laying bare Norris’s own life and faith (with its sublime beauty and glaring flaws). It is an inspiration to those of us on the Christian path, as well as to those who are skeptical of religion. I found it gave words to many of the feelings I’ve had about living in community, looking at tradition, and trying to follow Christ. I highly recommend it.
A Description of the Qualifications Necessary to a Gospel Minister* by Samuel Bownas (first published in 1750) Submitted by Ashley Wilcox, 32, a member of Freedom Friends Church in Salem, Ore., living in Atlanta, Ga.
I first read this book with another young adult Friend who was also feeling a call to ministry. We read a chapter each week and then discussed them together. Bownas provides practical advice to ministers and elders among Friends, including how and when to speak. Although the language is antiquated, it is the best resource I have found for Friends who are experiencing a call to ministry.
Plain Living: A Quaker Path to Simplicity* by Catherine Whitmire (2001) Submitted by Jennifer Bowman, 32, a member of Camden (Del.) Meeting living in Arlington, Va.
I picked up this book in my mid 20s when I was seeking a stronger understanding of the testimony of simplicity in mind, body, and spirit. Plain Living contains a collection of experiences from many people exploring simple truths, challenges, and joys in different times and places. Not demanding a cover-to-cover reading, the patient design of Plain Living is a thoughtful, inviting, and exceptional resource, totally in sync with the transient lifestyle of young adult Friends. I highly recommend it for those who wish to focus their tired or scattered thoughts and restless spirit to center.
Why I Wake Early by Mary Oliver (2004) In the Wild Places by Sarah Katreen Hoggatt (2012) Submitted by Sara Waxman, 31, a member of Chestnut Hill (Pa.) Meeting living in Philadelphia, Pa.
Both of these titles are poetry compilations, and both explore faith in the Divine through nature and in unexpected places. I relate to the arcs of each and of many of the poems, as I find myself confronted by the Divine not necessarily in meeting for worship, but in the recognition of the everyday mundane and the exuberance of nature.