June 1, 2020


Ellen Salmi Van Cleef 


As we welcome the warmth of spring and the joy of Easter, many people seek new beginnings, whether that’s outdoor recreation or a deeper commitment to our faith life and practice. With spiritual reading, we can do both, enriching our inner closeness to God while enjoying the beauty of creation outdoors. Here are two great spring reads to help do just that:


It might seem obvious to say, “God loves you,” but how do you think your life would change if you really believed this? In this book, author Henri J. M. Nouwen invites us not to reject our loneliness, anxieties and longings, but to choose to live the struggles and celebrations of daily life differently. A Dutch Catholic priest, Nouwen wrote prolifically on the spiritual life, and his core message in this compilation of short daily meditations is clear: You are a beloved child of God.

It’s something we’ve all heard before. And yet, truly embracing this reality — and letting it reorient our lives — is a lifelong challenge. Nouwen knew this firsthand, and, throughout the book, he explores everything from prayer to productivity, fear to forgiveness, caring for others to the cross.

“You are the Beloved” offers a simple reading for each day from the trove of Nouwen’s musings on how to live a life with God. It is a joy-filled little book, one that doesn’t shy away from how complicated the spiritual life can actually feel. We are wounded people living in a broken world. And yet, this book draws from a deep well of flowing hope:

“God loved you before you were born and God will love you after you die. … This is who you are whether you feel it or not. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. Life is just a little opportunity for you during a few years to say, ‘I love you too.’” Practical and lyrical, with writings, prayers and concrete advice, this book is an unintimidating yet hearty way to start, revive, or continue a daily practice of spiritual reading.


Wandering through a bookstore in the Minneapolis airport, I was surprised to see Pope Francis’ smiling face looking back at me. His picture on the cover of Gaudete et Exsultate (Rejoice and Be Glad), stood above a staff review that read something like this: “This book will change your life! Pope Francis reveals the key to happiness and how to find it!”

In this short book, Pope Francis invites each of us to an abundant life of blessing that can only be found in a life with God. He reminds readers that God calls every person to be a saint. Being holy doesn’t take being a hero. In fact, we can each think of “saints next door,” people in our daily lives who witness God’s love and mercy in small but faithful ways. Our world doesn’t make radical discipleship easy, though, and there are many obstacles to holiness we need to guard against.

But the journey of discipleship isn’t a dreary one. In fact, Pope Francis’ ideas hinge on the passage of the Bible where Jesus speaks exactly about being blessed, happy and holy: the beatitudes. Exploring each one in turn, the pope reflects on the challenge inherent to Jesus’ teaching: “Let us listen once more to Jesus with all the love and respect that the Master deserves. Let us allow his words to unsettle us, to challenge us, and to demand real change in the way we live. Otherwise, holiness will remain no more than an empty word.” Pope Francis’ down-to-earth style and call for a concrete conversion are empowering. So our enthusiastic bookseller was right: This book will change your life, if you let it.