First off, I do not currently follow any particular religion (though I was raised Roman Catholic), but I am a spiritual person. I do not seek out religious books as a matter of course, but these books were very interesting and thought-provoking. I was fascinated by Anne Lamott’s and Elizabeth Gilbert’s personal journeys toward faith, and Jon Krakauer’s book is about a sect of Mormonism and shed some light on a religion I didn’t know much about. As a spiritual seeker myself, it is always interesting to me to read about the different paths that people take to find inner peace or to learn about other religions that I am not familiar with.
- Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith by Anne Lamott
- Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith by Jon Krakauer
- Eat, Pray, Love: One Woman’s Search for Everything Across Italy, India and Indonesia by Elizabeth Gilbert
A little more information on each book…
The book is not about your conventional spiritual journey because Anne Lamott is anything but conventional. She writes with a directness and honesty that makes this book intense and involving but also very funny. She grew up in an unconventional family and struggled with drugs, alcohol, and eating disorders before realizing that she might not live much longer if she continued on that path. In addition, she found herself pregnant and single. If there is ever a time when you need a spiritual awakening, it would be then. And Lamott found her spiritual home in a Christian church where she was “adopted” by the old African-American women of the congregation. Her stumbling toward a faith that works for her is the heart of this book, and I think it is all the more relatable because she puts herself out there — warts and all. She has written several other books on faith that I haven’t’ read yet (Grace Eventually: Thoughts on Faith and Plan B: Further Thoughts on Faith) but they are on the “to read” list.
Jon Krakauer is a journalist primarily known for his excellent books on mountaineering and adventuring. He began this book while investigating murders of a mother and her daughter that was committed by two brothers who claimed they were acting on orders from God. The brothers belonged to a fundamentalist sect of Mormonism, and the book is an exploration of this sect, fundamentalism and the history of the Mormon Church. What the book is NOT is an attack on the Mormon church itself; Krakauer does a good job of telling the history of the Mormon faith while distinguishing the distinct path that the fundamentalists took away from the church. An intriguing look at how fundamentalism can lead some people far astray from the path that their church intended.
One night, Elizabeth Gilbert realizes that she doesn’t want to be in her marriage anymore. The subsequent divorce leads to some intense soul-searching and a spiritual journey that takes her to Italy, India and Indonesia in a quest to find some peace and answers to what she wants and needs in life. Taking a year off, she decides to go to three countries to explore pure pleasure, pure prayer and then find a balance between the two. She begins in Italy in an effort to heal her wounds and just take care of herself. This part is all about pleasure — eating good food, learning a beautiful language, and just relaxing. She then travels to an ashram in India where she follows an intense program of meditation and prayer that eventually culminates in profound spiritual insights. She finally travels to Indonesia to find a way to balance between the two extremes practiced in Italy and India. It is an engaging and fun read that feels like you are getting to read someone’s very personal diary.