Small Simple Ways is a lovely book by retreat leader Vinita Hampton Wright, who offers her trademark compassion and encouragement, to lift readers up and help propel them forward. This book covers 52 weeks (Monday through Sunday) structured into four-week sections to focus on a principle of spiritual growth, as taught by St Ignatius of Loyola including;
- God in All things
- Spiritual Freedom
Each day connects the general focus with a specific aspect or action of healthy spiritual life such as:
Sundays are reserved as a day for resting our hearts in God. Through practice and repetition of these basics thoughts that build upon themselves over the course of a year, the book helps you to step into your future, with good healthy spiritual habits.
Everyone can find time in their life for prayer, and it’s a little bit what has gone wrong with modern society. No matter what your faith, just spending a few minutes each day being thankful and praying to the God that you feel comfortable with, is a great way to start each day. Blogger Ronke gets up at 5.30am each morning and makes time for reading her Bible, then reads something uplifting, then has some gentle exercise before a shower and breakfast. By the time her children wake, she’s ready for the day in a positive mindset. Having a routine like this sets you up far better for the day, than lying in bed thinking ‘oh God, not another day to get through, what could go wrong this time?’
If you’re not familiar with Catholic faith (not the same as the Catholic church run by the Vatican who takes $30,000 a month to rent out a building to McDonald’s) and has a history of covering up sexual abuse, it helps to learn that there are various orders:
- Dominicans are the studious intellectuals
- Franciscans are inspired by St Francis of Assisi
- Jesuits have many scholars (one is Pope Francis)
- Benedictines produce a high-caffeine wine that apparently tastes awful, but is popular with Glaswegians on rough estates to get them going. Known locally as a bottle of ‘what are you looking at?!’
- Passionists are known for helping the poor and downtrodden, inspired by St Paul of the Cross in Italy (and know that some ‘Catholic MP’s have indeed had a rap on the knuckles by many priests for their policies on poverty etc).
- Ignatians have a passion in helping people follow their vocation for God. If you feel you have a calling to do something to help, this is the place to go and the books to read. They also believe strongly in discernment, which is making decisions based on God’s Will.
- Microshifts is a wonderful book by a Catholic writer Gary Jansen, to help you make small adjustments in the way you think, act, work and pray, to gradually reshape deep rooted patterns. Rather than think of a relationship with God as a daily burden, this can help you to look forward to quiet time. Blending masterful storytelling with practical tips, he suggests simple small changes such as how we greet others, how we sleep and how we deal with the chatter in our heads.
The Dominicans are my favourite Catholic order, because everyone needs a favourite. It’s like baseball. The Franciscans are busy loving anything and everything that comes across their path. Rabbits. Kittens. Spiders. Trees. Mushrooms. Kevin Davis
If you have a feeling in your bones that Jesus Christ is not a Trump-supporting, gun-carrying right-wing activist who believes in drilling oil before saving polar bears – read The Lost Religion of Jesus. This book by a knowledgeable scholar delves into the real history, to find the man lost behind organised religion. And yes he was a quiet, peaceful pacifist!
Secrets of the Lost Mode of Prayer is worth a read. Gregg Braden describes an ancient form of prayer that was lost 17 centuries ago, and how St Francis believed the ‘beautiful and wild forces within us’ was the most powerful force in the universe. Despite the orders of the early Christian Church which found this prayer method removed, it’s still used in remote monasteries of Tibet today. There are no words or outward expressions, just timeless secrets revealed through personal accounts and case histories. In simple terms, the book explains why prayer often does not work – we’ve been doing it wrong all along! Real prayer is feeling like your prayer has been answered (sometimes to God’s Will), blessing and forgiving everyone and seeing beauty and goodness in all.
One man who spent years meditating in the US and attended seances and more, said (after he had converted to Catholicism) that he only found peace after coming across a church and finding ‘old ladies praying in peace’ inside. He carried on with his plan to visit an occult centre to become a medium, but after feeling a ‘dark sticky feeling’, he left, became a Catholic and never went back.
The founder of Manna Cards was (and still is) a turtle-loving environmental scientist, who now devotes her life to making lovely prayer cards on eco paper, after her own revelation.
What Can We Learn from the Poor Clares?
Calm the Soul: A Book of Simple Wisdom and Prayer is a beautiful book of practical advice in preparing for prayer, by an enclosed order of nuns based in Galway, Ireland. This book by the Poor Clares draws on the fruits on their monastic lives, and suggests simple practices to help nourish the soul, and find a sense of calm in today’s stressful world.
St Clare of Assisi was an Italian friend and devotee of St Francis of Assisi, the beloved patron saint of animal welfare, but also of ecology and simple living (he was a real party boy, before he became a saint!) These nuns are an interesting bunch, with between them former lives of being accountants and university activists. Today they live a simple life of praise, prayer and work, centred on God alone.
Learn ways to slowly build up the amount of time spent in prayer and meditation daily, to achieve peace and well-being. This is not about gazing at your naval, more about reflection on common prayers in the Catholic faith such as the Our Father and Hail Mary. Includes meditations on Scripture, and prayers for specific needs such as sickness and depression.
Poor Clare orders live mostly in silence, and this is a great starting point. Our life is now so noisy. Just turning off and not speaking (or listening to anyone speak unless of importance) for a few hours is good. A lot of modern stress is caused by saying the wrong thing, listening to others saying things to upset you (including in the media) or having opinions about things that others are saying. If people just shut up, none of these problems would exist!
But it is not just silence, it is silence in prayer. Prayer is not ‘asking for what you want’, rather ‘listening to God’. Even when people pray novenas (9 day prayers to ask God for help), the idea is not to say ‘you didn’t give me what I wanted!’, if the novena ‘doesn’t work out’. It’s all at God’s Will. The whole purpose of a novena is to bring one closer to God, so that sometimes what is asked for is not given, other times it is not given for the wrong reasons (selfishness). And other times we are asked to wait.
The Poor Clares of Galway writes that ‘like music, we need both notes and rests – sound and the silence unite to produce a harmonious blend’. So don’t just churn out a list of wants. Remember that before Jesus raised Lazarus, he turned to the Lord first in thanksgiving.
Praying Through Pain is a book for anyone who is suffering, and words cannot help. You may feel angry or confused, and that makes it tough to turn to God. And well-meaning family and friends may say ‘just be patient’ or ‘offer it up’, which leaves you feeling worse. In this book, Barbara offers a simple and practical way to communicate with God in difficult times including:
- Scripture stories of pain
- How to use Ignatian spirituality effectively
- Mini-prayers, words & phrases to help
Read this book any way that suits your personal journey. Dip into a chapter that speaks to the emotions you’re feeling. Or sit with a passage of Scripture until it sinks into your heart. Talk to God about what you’re feeling, then listen for the voice of God to help.
Each brief chapter focuses on one emotion or state of being, offering meditations, prayers and Scripture. For instance, the chapter on Impatience includes a passage from Ecclesiastes to remind you there is ‘an appointed time for everything’. The chapter on Helplessness reminds that ‘it is when we are most helpless that we turn to God’. There are also chapters on Trauma and Anger, and lessons including Psalms and questions for contemplation.
About the Author
Barbara Lee is a spiritual director with a ministry for older people in New York City. A retired lawyer and former magistrate, she is a long-serving member of Ignatian Volunteer Corps which help people in the community.
Encountering Signs of Faith is a book by Allison Gingras, who began to use her time for personal prayer and family devotions, inspired by a friend’s gift. She soon discovered that these tangible signs (which Catholics believe prepare us to receive the grace of the sacraments) helped both her and her profoundly deaf daughter to connect with God and the motherhood of Mary.
Forms of sacramentals include blessings, prayers, devotions and the rosary. In this book, Allison shares how the above helped her strengthen her faith, as she waited to meet her adopted daughter, and also helped her to bond with the toddler. She offers examples of saints who inspired and embraced sacramentals, and also teaches the spiritual benefits of using sacred images, novenas (9-day prayers), prayer cards, lectio divina (sacred reading) and holy water into daily life. The book includes with each chapter reflection questions and grace-building activities.
Allison Gringas is a Catholic speaker and writer, who also hosts podcasts online. She shares her faith with humour and honesty in books, presentations and retreats. She lives in the USA.
Breath Prayer introduces us to poem-prayers for walking, working, dressing, cleaning, sitting in silence, doing the dishes, or living in community. Breathing the Divine into our daily lives, these beautiful recitations became as natural as breathing. The prayers recite and guide us, and open our hearts to the everyday sacred. Whether reciting the Jesus Prayer or prayers from other faiths, these simple prayers create a spiritual connection in the quiet. Each of the 40 prayers include reflections on life’s ordinary beautiful and heartfelt advice for discovering the sacred all around. Includes guidance for creating your own breath prayers, to deepen your practice. Listen to Faithful Love.
Breath as Prayer offers over 80 prayers focused on Scripture, along with brief meditations with gorgeous colour illustrations and guidance on breath prayer and why it works. Ideal for anyone experiencing stress, anxiety or fear, or anyone looking for new avenues to connect with God. Breathe deeply and learn this invitation to pray.
ESV Prayer Journal is a beautifully illustrated Bible journal to help you engage with Scripture and pray with purpose, with artwork by Ruth Chou Simons. Guide your study of a foundational Scriptur topic over 30 days, and turn quiet time into a meditation on God’s Word, creating space for writing and prayer.
Each week features an overview of a Bible passage followed by 5 days of teaching and prayer prompts. Plus space for writing, clear definitions of Biblical terms and artwork. This journal will guide you in a study on wisdom over 6 weeks, to learn what it means to be truly wise, how we attain wisdom, and how to apply wisdom to our lives. Inside find:
- A weekly overview (a Bible passage around the central theme)
- Interactive Bible study (includes 5 days of teaching, prayer and journal prompts)
- Strengthen Spiritual Disciplines (combine prayer and study to connect with God)
- Makes a great gift! Perfect for birthdays and graduations, or to use with a friend.
Do Heavenly Angels Really Exist?
Today many places (shops, online shops) sell all kinds of tat, to try to convince people that if they do, they will ‘talk to their Angels’. Of course it’s nice to find a feather on the ground, but does that mean if you don’t find a feather, then your Angels are not around? And one has to ask why Angels would find a parking space, but not stop a war?
Angels have existed since time began, and there’s no reason to think they don’t exist, and some pretty reassuring and convincing stories. But don’t use your beliefs (or theirs) to buy rubbish wrapped in plastic etc. You can still be inspired by Angels, without having to bring them down to the consumer-binge level, something that Angels obviously would not want.
Anne Neilson is an artist who specialises in painting Angels. Unlike many, she is inspired by conventional religion, and includes Scripture in her books, something which many New Age angel products don’t.
I have always painted to praise music. I’ve found it to be the time when I know that the Holy Spirit works through me on the blank canvas – a time of prayer and worship while I am painting these ethereal beings. Anne Nielson
So what are Angels? They were mentioned in the Bible to ‘adore God’ and the name is Greek for ‘messenger’ (if you remember, an Angel told Joseph and Mary about the upcoming birth of Jesus Christ). The job of Angels is simply to praise and worship God – not find parking spaces for us mortals. There’s nothing wrong with praying, but if you want to remove yourself from the tat commercialism bit, ultimately we are supposed to pray to God, not Angels. The three main messengers of God at the saints Michael, Raphael and Gabriel (archangels), and are also meant to be guardians of the human race.
Catholics don’t even believe in praying to Angels. They believe they exist, but prayer is reserved for God. And it’s not a long-list of wants. Catholic nun Briege McKenna once wrote that the way to pray is a bit like when you sunbathe on the beach. You just go into your own space and just ‘be’, rather than an eastern meditator, but this time you are focusing on God. You don’t have to say or do anything, you are kind of assimilating the Holy Spirit, to find inspiration. You can pray to your Guardian Angels, but you don’t need to be on first-name terms with them:
The practice of assigning names to the Holy Angels should be discouraged, except in the case of Gabriel, Raphael and Michael, whose names are contained in Holy Scripture. Directory on Popular Piety and the Liturgy.
Books to Help Respect Earth’s Creator
Creation is what some people lose sight of (we’re not talking about American Biblical creationists who deny science – one even suggested the Grand Canyon was only a few thousand years old, despite mountains of scientific evidence by geologists that it contains rock layers carved over billions of years by the flow of water).
Alfred Vogel was a Swiss herbalist who despite his alternative views, always laid the love of nature down to ‘the Creator’. So did his student Dr Jan De Vries (they met when he boasted to Alfred that he come out top in his pharmacy class, with Vogel replying ‘you must have a very small mind’). Jan later became one of Scotland’s most celebrated naturopaths, who often peppered his strong Dutch accent with Scottish phrases! Here are some nice books to celebrate creation – and its Creator!
Becoming Rooted asks what it means to become better relatives to our greatest teacher, and to live a deeply spiritual relationship with the community of creation. Cherokee descendent Randy Woodley offers a 100 day journey to start you off, replacing the American dream (known as an Indigenous nightmare) to get in touch with the water, land, plants and creatures around us, and the people who lived on the land thousands of years before the arrival of Europeans. The book also offers a stark reminder of who Jesus Christ was (not some right-wing white politicians but a wise prophet who respected simple living and the earth).
Drawing Close, Encountering Joy is an artist’s celebration to discover nature’s wondrous mysteries, wrapped in beauty. From redwoods to the Rockies and ocean to high desert, here is an invitation to connect with the natural world. Psalms and prayers for the earth unfold, from early morning dew through daytime hours to the night watch. Delight in the colours of dawn, linger in the fellowship of the forest, savour the solitude, lament the losses, be refreshed by tumbling waters, celebrate the glories of life and hear the robin singing. Draw close and encouter the joy and peace of the natural world.
An Altar in the World is a guide to finding the sacred, beneath our feet. In this acclaimed lyrical modern classic, Barbara Brown Taylor reveals countless ways we can discover divine depths in the small things we do and see each day. While people often go to extraordinary lengths in search of a ‘spiritual experience’, she shows that everyday lives can be a holy ground to encounter God at every turn. For her, even barren deserts can become ‘the house of God and the gate of Heaven’, where a ladder of angels connects Heaven to earth. This book reveals concrete ways to discover the sacred in ordinary ways like hanging out the washing, shopping for food, feeding an animal or losing our way. Renew your sense of wonder at the extraordinary gift of life.