Summer Spirituality Series: Hildegard of Bingen, a Spiritual Reader

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I’m a little ashamed to admit that before last summer I had no idea who Hildegard of Bingen even was. I was organizing a saint peg doll swap focused on the Doctors of the Church, and in my research came across the fact that there are only four female doctors of the Church. Three I was familiar with: Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila, and Therese of Lisieux. The fourth was Hildegard, a ground breaking writer, leader, naturalist, musician, artist and more. She was born in 1098 in Germany and she lived for 81 years. She founded monasteries, advised kings and Popes and is an incredible example of a woman with power for any feminist, Catholic or not.

Hildegard of Bingen: A Spiritual Reader* by Carmen Acevedo Butcher is a great introduction to this spiritual giant. The book gives a brief biography of Hildegard, followed by selections from her songs, Scivias, Play of the Virtues, letters, Physica, The Book of Life’s Merits, and The Book of Divine Works. At times when reading the plays and naturalist papers she wrote I felt a bit like a college student again- and I will admit, my Medieval literature class was not my favorite part of being an English majoy. But I loved the songs so very much. Butcher’s translations are beautiful and the poetry is amazing.

I enjoyed that no section of this book was terribly long. Even the parts that were denser in terms of prose style moved quickly into the next set of writings. And Hildegard was so good at writing so many different things that there is something for everyone in this book. Her writing is inspiring to pray with, interesting to read and breaks many of the “rules” of literature at her time.

This book would be great for anyone who likes poetry or drama. The plays are fun to read in terms of the history and style. They show a lot about what plays were like in Medieval times. It’s also a great book for people who want to read about strong women. Hildegard’s spirituality and feminism seem way ahead of her time. I love her vision of women in the Church.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Depending on what you like to read, different parts of this book will be easier or harder to get through. I flew through the songs because I loved the poetry and found it uplifting and inspiring. The naturalist papers and the letters were a little slower for me, but a history buff would probably really enjoy those parts.

Stars: 5. I loved that this book helped me grow spiritually and also helped me learn more about history and literature. I really enjoyed reading literature in the midst of all the YA fiction I read for school.

*This is an affiliate link. This means if you purchase the book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Praying with Therese of Lisieux

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It was the ultimate Goodwill find: in one trip, Praying with Therese of Lisieux, collected writings of Hildegard of Bingen, and a book about Our Lady of Fatima*, one of my favorite Marian apparitions. I brought all three home, ready to start my quest to learn more about Mary and the female Doctors of the Church. So far I’ve worked my way through the two about Therese and Hildegard, and I’ve just started the one about Fatima.

Praying with Therese of Lisieux by Joseph F. Schmidt was published as part of the Companions for the Journey Series by the Word Among Us. Unfortunately most of the rest of the series is out of print, which was disappointing, because I would have liked to try out the books featuring the other female Doctors of the Church that the series had. But the book on Therese is still available online, as are several other books by Joseph F. Schmidt, FSC. I am looking forward to checking these out.

The book is set up with a little bit of background on St. Therese at the beginning, followed by 15 meditations from her writings. Each meditation is set up with a theme, opening prayer, story from Therese’s life, some of Therese’s words from her writings, a small reflection, numerous ideas for personal prayer, then a scripture and closing prayer. This sounds like a lot and it is. I normally do my prayer and reflection in the mornings before my household is up, and there were several times I had to spread this all throughout the day in order to do it. I did really like all the prayer suggestions, especially because I am a journaler. I felt like there were many ideas I could think about and write about as part of my prayer.

Because there are fifteen meditations and because of their length, this book would make a great retreat for a group or an individual. I used this book during our school’s winter break, which gave me an uninterrupted two weeks to do one meditation per day without all the extra things I would be doing during work. I could see this book being a nice resource on a vacation when the pace of life is a little slower.

This book would make a great gift for someone going through RCIA or about to be confirmed. It would be an excellent resource for a spirituality group or provide a structure for a retreat based on St. Therese.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Because the lengths and topics vary from meditation to meditation, some days of using this book were easier than others. I got a lot out of all the meditations regardless of ease.

Stars: 4. The only reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars is that sometimes the meditations were too long and detailed to fit my daily life. But the content and organization were great, and the author clearly knows a lot about St. Therese and loves her. I am looking forward to reading his other books.

*The links to books in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you purchase a book using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: The Way of Trust and Love

Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. That means that if you use my link to purchase a book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

I first encountered the writings of Father Jacques Philippe a few summers ago, when I read a copy of Interior Freedom * that my Dad had given me. (You can read my review of that book here.) I’ve told this story before, but it’s such a good one that parts of it bear repeating. Father Philippe is very open about the fact that his spirituality is greatly influenced by St. Therese of Lisieux, and for years I had a weird spiritual block about Therese. As I finished Interior Freedom in my parish’s adoration chapel, I felt a tug on my heart. Okay God I thought, I’ll read Story of a Soul *if you want me to. As I walked out the door, I ran into Fr. Peter, one of our priests. “I’m looking to put together a group of people interested in reading St. Therese’s Story of a Soul,” he told me. “Would you be interested in joining us?” I love the way God works.

The Way of Trust and Love * is a small book based on a retreat that Father Philippe gave in Spain about 10 years ago. It is based on the writings of St. Therese of Lisieux, who called her “little way” a way of trust and love. He suggests that if possible, the book still be used as a retreat, with the reader using one of the six chapters each day for a week and then ending with a day of prayer and reflection. Reading the book was not feasible for me during the school year, but I did have time every Thursday afternoon when I would bring my class to adoration at the parish. Reading this book in the presence of the Eucharist was an incredible gift. Each week I found a gem of insight and spirituality that was exactly what I needed to hear.

Because this book is mostly the transcripts of talks, the writing style is a little different from Philippe’s other books, but I liked that. At times I found his conversational style easier to understand than his more polished works. There were also some great quotes throughout the book that gave me the spiritual kick in the pants I needed. Here are some of my favorites:
“The most important task of all is to save mankind, and mankind will be saved by prayer…not everyone can spend hours in church, but each of us must do the little that he or she can. If there were a little less television and a little more prayer in our lives, we would be more at peace.”
“Worrying never solved any problem. What solves problems are trust and faith.”
“If trust disappears when we do wrong, it shows that our trust was based on ourselves and our deeds.”

I want to read this book again sometime soon with a spirituality group. I would recommend it to anyone, but especially people who want to learn more about themselves and St. Therese.

Popcorn Rating: 2. Father Philippe’s work always makes you think, reread and try harder.

Stars: 5+. There aren’t a lot of spirituality books that I reread, but this one I’m already planning to see if I can form a women’s group to read it again. It’s just that good. I also read this during a year when I was coming out of a very tough time of depression and anxiety and during the loss of a pregnancy. This book helped remind me that trust in God is not based on my circumstances and that God (and many others) love me so very much.

*the links for books in this post are affiliate links. This means that if you use my link to purchase a book, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series: Theology of Home

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I had seen the book Theology of Home * all over my instagram feed for months and was drawn to it for several reasons. First of all, the photography for the book is beautiful. Second, especially since having a house of my own and having children, I’ve been looking for ways to build the domestic church. Now during this extended time of quarantine (our county has been locked down since March 16th), my home is more than ever our family’s church. I want to make sure that my home and its physical space lead my family closer to Jesus every day. When a student gave the book to me as a gift, I was thrilled!

The book is set up as a series of essays by several Catholic women: Carrie Gress, Noelle Mering, and Megan Schrieber. The photography is the work of Kim Baile. The essays are collected into 12 chapters: Entering, Remembering, Building, Light, Nourishment, Safety, Order, Comfort, Hospitality, Balance, Leaving, and Mary, the Homemaker. The photos of these women’s houses are incredibly aspirational. Even though I knew that no family with four to six children keeps a house that clean and that they were definitely staged for photos, I struggled a little with the perfection in these pages. None of the essays dealt with my piles of laundry in the living room or inability to keep our table clear of all sorts of junk.

Look at the end pages!

If you love decorating magazines, this is a good book for you. It’s beautiful and uplifting, but it didn’t hold the practical ideas that I had hoped it would. I am a huge fan of self-help, and for some reason I thought this might be a little more like Catholic self help for the home. That being said, I want to reread the essays with a notebook and keep track of the ideas or decorating that I want to try in my own home. The first time I just read the book straight through.

I think this book would make a great gift for newly weds or friends who have just bought a house. I would hesitate to give it to a brand new mom because those first months and years are so hard and this book makes it look a little easy.

Popcorn rating: 5. This book is easy and relaxing to read. It will inspire you to clean your house and hang some art. My three year old even liked reading it with me.

Stars: 4. I wanted things to be more specific and practical for my reality, which I realize was not the purpose of the book, but it was my hope for the book. However, it is one of the most beautiful books I’ve read in a while, and I think that counts for a few stars of its own.

*this is an affiliate link. This means that if you purchase the book using my link, I receive a small commission at no cost to you.

Summer Spirituality Series 2020

Today is my last official day of the weirdest school year ever. More than ever I am feeling the need to recharge physically, emotionally and spiritually. As I have the past two summers, I am planning to do a series of blog posts designed to help you do that too. These are the spiritual books I’ve read throughout the year or in past years that have helped me grow in my faith and be the best possible teacher, wife, mom and Catholic woman that I can be. (Don’t worry, I know I have a loooooong way to go, these are just some of the books that are helping me to get there.) Because I started the year with the lofty goal of getting to know the female Doctors of the Church a bit better, there is a theme in some of these books, but you’ll also notice a LOT of St. Therese of Lisieux in there. Reading and praying with her writings helped me get through a lot of difficult times this year.

Like last summer, the rating system I will use is one that my sisters and I use: popcorn.  If a book is an easy, kick off your sandals and read at the beach book, it will be a 5 popcorn read.  If it is a book that will challenge you (think the writings of Saint Teresa of Avila or Saint John Paul II) it will be a 1 popcorn read.  To avoid people thinking a 1 popcorn read is a bad book, I will use stars to indicate how helpful the book was to me spiritually.

Finally, for many of the books I will provide a link to where you can purchase it on Amazon. If you decide that this may be a book for you and purchase it using my link, I will receive a small commission at no cost to you. This is a small way for me to pay for the blog and continue to provide great content and resources to teachers and parents for absolutely free.
Happy Summer!

Summer Spirituality Series: Wrap Up

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Thanks for following along with my summer spirituality series. This will be the last post in the series, so it’s just a recap of the books in list form, with links for where to buy them and links back to the original posts. In August I’m going to be posting about getting my room and lessons ready while my entire school is a construction zone.

Here are all the books I reviewed this summer:

Interior Freedom by Father Jacques Phillippe, which you can read about here.

Forget Not Love by Andre Frossard, which you can read about here.

A Man of the Beatitudes by Luciana Frassati, which you can read about here.

Esther by Beth Moore, which you can read about here.

The Return of the Prodigal Son by Henri Nouwen, which you can read about here.

Beautiful Mercy by Matthew Kelly, which you can read about here.

Story of a Soul by Saint Therese of Lisieux, which you can read about here.

Ponder by Elizabeth Foss, which you can read about here.

Ablaze: Stories of Daring Teen Saints by Colleen Swaim, which you can read about here.

Call Me Blessed by Elizabeth Foss, which you can read about here.

The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, which you can read about here.

Thanks so much for reading and thank you to everyone who purchased books using my links- this helps me to keep offering content for teachers and students for free. Thanks again and stay tuned for some great back to school topics including classroom culture and retreat topics and talks. Have a great rest of the summer!

Summer Spirituality Series: The Artist’s Way

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The summer after I had my son, I purchased The Artist’s Way at our local bookstore. My sister Anne, a super talented artist, had recommended the book to me several times, and I felt my stay at home would be a good time to undertake the immense amount of writing that goes into this book. As with many of my reflections this summer, I horribly failed at doing The Artist’s Way and shelved it to try again the next year.

So last summer I tried again, and this time made it through the entire 12 week program laid out by Julia Cameron in the book. Each week you read a chapter, take a weekly artist’s date for one hour and commit to writing 3 pages every single morning. While the book is not a prayer book, Cameron very much believes that our creativity is a gift from God, and that our use of our creativity is our gift back to God. I personally very much agree with this point of view, and my experiences of writing my way through the exercises became one of the most spiritually enriching things I did last year. My writings last summer through her program actually became last summer’s spirituality series.

The two main activities in the program are the morning pages and the artist’s date. The morning pages are exactly what they sound like. The very first thing in the morning, right after you wake up, you write 3 long hand pages in a notebook or journal. There are no specific requirements for these pages beyond the length, although Cameron emphasizes that writing out by hand is much preferred to typing. The artist’s date is the practice of taking one hour a week to just do something fun that connects you to your creativity. For artist’s dates I painted my nails, made jam, went for walks and checked out local thrift stores. (Mostly I was trying to find fun and free or nearly free things to do.). By the end of the book I had pages and pages of ideas and I had tripled the readership of this blog. I also had gotten into the habit of using my third morning page each day as a prayer journal, which had helped me grow closer to God, which is always my goal.

Popcorn rating: 1. This book is hard, but incredibly rewarding.

Stars: 5. This book changed my life, and made me own my creativity in a way I hadn’t before. It also gave me a daily prayer practice that I want to continue moving forward.

Summer Spirituality Series: Call Me Blessed

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I’ve written before about my small community of women who meet to study God’s word with me. While the numbers fluctuate and members come and go, this group has been one of the greatest sources of spiritual nourishment for me in the last four years. So when I found Call Me Blessed by Elizabeth Foss and her ministry of Take Up and Read, I knew my group had to try it.

This book was set up a lot like Ponder, which you can read about here. There are five days of study each week for a four week study. One day is a rest and check in day and one day for a memory verse. The five days of study each feature one woman of the Bible, her story in the scriptures, additional scriptures to deepen understanding, lectio divina templates, reflections from writers and quotes from John Paul II’s Dignity and Vocation of Women. So it’s a fair amount of time for each day of study, and sometimes the pacing of this book was too much for me. I wanted nearly twice the time to study each woman.

I really liked the format of some of the pages, so I am including pictures in a review for the first time ever.

Popcorn Rating: 3. Some days there was a lot more to think about and do than others, and the lack of depth on certain Biblical women made some days go quickly.
Stars: 3. I loved the layout of the book and the style, but some of the character choices were confusing. For example, in the story of Jairus’s daughter, the book focused on her instead of the hemorrhaging woman, who has much more to say and do than Jairus’s daughter.

Summer Spirituality Series: Super Girls and Halos

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Last summer I wrote a post about My Badass Book of Saints by Maria Morera Johnson, which you can read here. Super Girls and Halos is Johnson’s second saint book, which is organized very much like the first one, but with a twist. In this book she matches up inspiring saints with strong fictional women from popular culture. There are four sections to the book, one for each of the cardinal virtues: temperance, fortitude, prudence and justice. Each section has two chapters featuring two women each.

I wanted to love this book, just like I wanted to love the one before, but there were a few things that I struggled with. For one, Johnson spends A LOT of time on her analysis of the characters in pop culture. It reminds me of friends who really want you to like D and D so they keep explaining and reexplaining how cool it is. Also, at times I felt like she loved the character but had struggled to find a saint to match. Some of her saint stories seemed flat compared to her character sketches. That being said, this book was super interesting to my students- two borrowed it and actually read it during the year, which is more than I can say about any other saint book I have in my classroom. And even if I felt there could be more about the saints, she picked some really great powerhouse women to highlight.

The saints and character match ups are as follows:
Justice: Wonder Woman and Katharine Drexel; Rey and Claire of Assisi
Prudence: Black Widow and Mary Magdalene; Dana Scully and Teresa Benedicta of the Cross
Fortitude: Storm and Cunegunde; Hermione Granger and Margaret d’Youville
Temperence: Katniss Everdeen and Mary MacKillop; Nyota Uhura and Kateri Tekakwitha

Popcorn Factor: 3. I got really bogged down in the Wonder Woman chapter.
Stars: 3.5 Again, the saint stories were great, but I felt the balance was slightly off.

Summer Spirituality Series: Saint Books for Kids and Classrooms

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While most of my posts so far this summer have been about books that have been helpful to me in my own walk with God this year and at other times in my life, I thought I would take some time to talk about some books that have helped me to teach the faith to my son. Many of these books will seem very juvenile, but they do translate well to classroom use. I love using picture books in middle school. Students find it somewhat unexpected, and many beautiful children’s books can deal with topics that apply to our study of scripture and the moral life. The following books are all books I have read to my son and several I have also used in my classroom.

Saintly Rhymes for Modern Times by Meghan Bausch is a beautifully illustrated book with paper pages. Each page focuses on a single saint with a short rhyme describing a few of the things that make that saint special. I especially love the fact that this books highlights more recent saints, and many of the saints that I feature in my religion class. While I haven’t used this one in school yet, my son loves it and it has his patron saint in it. I will be using this book as I highlight our saint of the month in class this year though.

Probably one of the most classic saint books of my childhood was the Picture Book of Saints by Lawrence Lovasik. The update version has many of my favorite saints in it, with the same style I remember from when I was little. Each page features one saint, their feast day, patronage and a short story of the saint’s life. I have 10 copies of this book in my classroom and we use them often. Because they are designed for children, my students can use them as a quick reference when they need to select a saint for a project. The concise written story provides a launching point for further study.

While The Clown of God by Tomie De Paola is not strictly a saint book, I think it can fit into this category of books. A classic story retold with De Paola’s gorgeous illustrations, this book is a great one to use with the parable of the talents or to talk about stewardship. Giovanni is a gifted juggler who spends his life gaining fame and fortune through his fabulous juggling. At the end of his life, Giovanni is left with nothing and ends up in a Catholic Church on Christmas Eve, where he has only one gift to give the Christ child. It’s a truly beautiful book, and this is one I have used in school. De Paola has lots of other beautiful religious books too.

I also love The Song of Francis by Tomie De Paola. While not strictly based on Francis of Assisi’s Canticle of the Sun, this book takes the spirit of that beautiful prayer and puts it in a format for children. This book is beautiful and bright and is a great way to teach students about adoration and praise prayers. Often I will have students write their own “Song of (their name)” and illustrate is as a companion project. My son likes the pages with the birds.

All of these books are easy to read, so they all get a popcorn rating of 5. As for stars, I love illustrations and children’s books. I think that picture books are highly underused in a classroom setting, and I give each book 5 stars for spirituality and teachability.