In his memoire, Confessions, St. Augustine famously describes his life’s lowest point.
One afternoon, while taking inventory of his misery, Augustine is overcome. He has a public meltdown. Crouching under a tree, sobbing uncontrollably, he pours out his heart. Eventually, he blames heaven for his predicament. “How long, O God,” asks Augustine, “will you be angry?”
Then, still choking back tears, Augustine hears a voice — the voice of a child, chanting, Tolle lege! Tolle lege!
Literally, “Take it and read!”
Interpreting this as a message from God, Augustine grabs a Bible, lets it fall open to a random passage, and begins to read.
The rest is history. In reading, Augustine is embraced by the radical love of God. In reading, Augustine is transformed.
I am reminded of Augustine’s story whenever I hold a book that was recommended to me by one of you. What could be better than having a friend write the name of a novel on a scrap of paper and say, Tolle lege?
Friends, with summer unofficially upon us, it is time to compare notes. What sort of life-changing reading material belongs alongside the detective novels on my summer reading stack? Here are a few already on my list:
David Brooks, The Road to Character (Random House, 2015)
In recent years, Brooks has moved from political punditry to something that looks a lot like public theology. In fact, Brooks claims that he wrote this book “to save [his] soul.” With a preamble like that, it had to go on my stack.
Chaim Potok, My Name is Asher Lev (Knopf, 1972)
Twenty years ago I first read this powerful novel about a boy growing up in a Hasidic neighborhood in Brooklyn. Potok offers both a fascinating portrait of this subset of New York’s religious world and provocative grist for those interested in religion and the arts. This book will be the subject of our congregational book-read this fall.
James K. A. Smith, You Are What You Love: The Spiritual Power of Habit (Brazos Press, 2016)
Protestant reformer Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in is really your god.” Holding to this wisdom, Smith asks us to think about things we really love. Then he calls readers to look closely at classic Christian habits to see what sort of love these practices may stir up in our hearts. I’m in!
What’s on your summer stack? And what have you read lately that has been transformative? Please leave your recommendations here…