Best Books of 2020

2020 was a wild ride, and it was a very interesting exercise to reflect back on all the books I read (and didn’t read) this year. I found myself much more drawn to poetry; to short reads with a lot of depth; and putting down any book that was just too stressful.

With our local library closed quite a few months of the year, my reading list was a bit shorter. But as I made a list of favorites, it was just as hard to choose as always. All of these books were a gift discovered at just the perfect moment, and truly carried me through this year.

Mother Maria: Essential Writings

“The world is so exhausted from its scabs and sores, it so cries out to Christianity in the secret depths of its soul, but at the same time it is so far removed from Christianity, that Christianity cannot and dare not show it a distorted, diminished, darkened image of itself. It should scorch the world with the flame of Christ’s love, it should go to the cross on behalf of the world. It should incarnate Christ Himself in it.”

Maria Skobtsova

The Divine Milieu, by Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

“Throughout my life, by means of my life, the world has little by little caught fire in my sight until, aflame all around me, it has become almost completely luminous from within…the divine at the heart of the universe on fire..Christ; his heart; a fire; capable of penetrating everywhere and, gradually, spreading everywhere…By virtue of the Creation and, still more, of the Incarnation, nothing here below is profane for those who know how to see.”

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Rose, by Li Young Lee

O, to take what we love inside,

to carry within us an orchard, to eat

not only the skin, but the shade,

not only the sugar, but the days, to hold

the fruit in our hands, adore it, then bite into

the round jubilance of peach.

There are days we live

as if death were nowhere

in the background; from joy

to joy to joy, from wing to wing,

from blossom to blossom to

impossible blossom, to sweet impossible blossom.

Li-Young Lee, “From Blossoms”

Evelyn Underhill – Worship, Concerning the Inner Life, The House of the Soul, and everything else

So it is that the real mark of spiritual triumph — the possession of that more lovely, more abundant life which we discern in moments of deep prayer — is not an abstraction from this world, but a return to it; a willing use of its conditions as material for the expression of love.

…Either secretly or sacramentally, every Christian is a link in the chain of perpetual penitents and perpetual communications through which the rescuing Love reaches out to the world. Perhaps there is no more certain mark of a mature spirituality than the way in which those who possess it are able to enter a troubled situation and say, “Peace,’ or turn from the exercise of heroic love to meet the humblest needs of men.

…Try to see people by His light. Then they become ‘real’.”

Evelyn Underhill

You Must Revise Your Life, by William Stafford

“A writer is not so much someone who has something to say as he is someone who has found a process that will bring about new things he would not have thought of if he had not started to say them.”

William Stafford

Crime and Punishment, by Dostoyevsky

“The darker the night, the brighter the stars,

The deeper the grief, the closer is God!”


The Artist’s Rule, by Christine Valters Paintner

“Be. Here. This moment. Now is all there is, don’t go seeking another. …Lose track of all time. This too is prayer. Listen for the words that rise up: Awaken. Envision. Sing, Alleluia. Place marks on the page saying I am here. Watch as word and image dance together. Luminous. Illuminated. This is your sacred text. This is where God’s words are spoken, sometimes in whispers, sometimes in shouts. Be there to catch them as they pass over those sacred lips, tumbling so generously into your open arms.”

Christine Valters Paintner

The Abundance, by Annie Dillard

“Why do you never find anything written about that idiosyncratic thought you advert to, about your fascination with something no one else understands? Because it is up to you. There is something you find interesting, for a reason hard to explain because you have never read it on any page; there you begin. You were made and set here to give voice to this, your own astonishment.

Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful; it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you.”

Annie Dillard

Revelation of Divine Love, by Julian of Norwich

“And after this our Lord showed himself in even greater glory, it seemed to me, than when I saw him before, and from this revelation I learned that our soul will never rest until it comes to him knowing that he is the fullness of joy, of everyday and princely blessedness and the only true life. Our Lord Jesus said repeatedly, ‘It is I, it is I; it is I who am highest; it is I you love; it is I who delight you; it is I you serve; it is I you long for; it is I you desire; it is I who am your purpose; it is I who am all.

“…See that I am God. See that I am in everything. See that I do everything. See that I have never stopped ordering my works, nor ever shall, eternally. See that I lead everything on to the conclusion I ordained for it before time began, by the same power, wisdom and love with which I made it. How can anything be amiss?”

Julian of Norwich

On Writing, Risking, and Giving It Away

At some point last year, I found myself surrounded by piles of finished and half-finished poems, sitting at a crossroads of sorts.

It was rare for me to be squeezing in this much writing on the edges of my other paid writing work, and I felt lucky. One by one I was harvesting a windfall of autumn fruit, and it was slowly piling up into baskets.

Not all of it was beautiful; some had worm holes right through them, others had grown into odd-looking shapes. But it was all there, mostly edible, piled up around me. And I felt at that moment confronted with a choice: do I simply let it sit here, and risk the chance of it going rancid? Or do I take the risk to give it away?

There is an inherent tension in art – and I’ll speak particularly to writing since it is what I know best. Continue reading

The Invitation

It is hard to believe that we are nearing the six-month mark of life with COVID-19. Six months of social distancing, increased isolation, ordering everything to-go, and (for many of us) a new routine of working entirely at home.

As I reflected back on the past six months recently, I thought about where I have seen God at work. Like all of you I’ve traveled the ups and downs of this season; I have struggled hard against the limitations it has presented and learned some sobering truths about myself in the process.

And it is here I have seen Him working: in the discomfort we are all being forced into, and all the questions that it raises. I have seen Him at work in both the softening and the unsettling places. I have seen Him draw out people’s hopes and dreams, move them towards self-sacrifice, give them courage. I have found Him in the beauty and light that still rises to meet us each morning and the arms of darkness that wrap around us each night. Continue reading

All the Life We Cannot See

There was a time when anything felt possible.

When the world was enchanted, shot through with the presence and power of God.

When nothing was “just” bread, “just” water, “just” music.

Today, by contrast, we live much like the Apostle Thomas. Unless I can see it with my eyes, unless I can prove it with data or brain scans, unless I’ve come to this conclusion by studying chimpanzees, I won’t believe.

After all, it’s just words. Just bread. Just water.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if the two are not mutually exclusive? What if something as simple as water, or words, or even air is the doorway into the most real reality there is?

What if the physical world is the very place we were created to connect with God?


You see, our souls and brains have a body. It was never God’s intention to simply create a mind as much as to create a man. Yes, we must learn about God – we are called to love Him with our whole heart, soul, mind, and strength. But of we believe we can simply think our way to God, to holiness, then we have no idea what it means to be truly human.

Because we’ve been trained for several centuries now not to see the world as enchanted, trying to see it any other way can feel like putting on a pair of glasses you don’t really need – they may be cool, but they seriously distort reality and end up handicapping more than helping us.

But may I suggest that in reality, we are suffering from a severe case of near-sightedness? And because we can’t see all that we can’t see, we’ve convinced ourselves that it’s not really there?


It would take a long history lesson to go into the many ways the enlightenment period and the advance of technology has seriously shaped our society – including our Christianity. The sheer number of books and articles written to scientifically defend the faith is just one example of how much pressure we are under to produce facts and data in order to believe.

I’m not here to discount the importance of education, research, learning, or data. These things certainly have a good place and point us towards God. But I also can’t help but think of the many times God has defied the “laws” of nature in the past. How He confounds the wisdom of the wise and never, ever works like we would expect. How the literal definition of being God is being outside of “reality,” of our human definitions and limitations. God may have created data and science, but He also transcends it.

At the risk of getting in over my head, let me get to the point: For thousands of years, humans experienced the world as enchanted – that is, shot through with the spiritual world. (It’s also worth noting that I’m writing to a very Western audience here, as there are still plenty of places in the world where this is the case). We have lost something very precious by throwing this away with all of the superstitions and animism and idol worship that we (rightly) don’t endorse in the Church. We have flattened the world to our five senses and squinted so long in nearsightedness, we’re blind to all that we can no longer see.

But what if we could train ourselves to see the world with different eyes? What if we could step through the doorway and see everything in three dimensions again? That is exactly what we must habituate ourselves and our spirits to do. If you remember my blog on liturgies last year, this is also one of the reasons we have been drawn to liturgical and contemplative prayer.


A trembling membrane is all that separates us from the world beyond our sights. The problem is, we’ve been living another way so long, it isn’t easy to remember this. It takes intentional focus to “stop squinting” and see life with a new lens. But when we do, we live differently. We go through our days tangibly conscious of the loving presence of God – whether or not we “feel” it. A smell, a sound, a familiar touch – all of these become a way we not only appreciate the world, but commune with God.

This is why I started the Pilgrimage Poetry Project. I want to challenge myself to practice this way of seeing the world. I want to go through my day with an unbroken conversation with my God, and that means I need to show up and pay attention to the world and the people around me.

I want to notice my days, savor the gifts they bring, and learn from them. Mostly, I want to remain attentive to the whispers of the Spirit in my own heart. And maybe someday, I can be present with others in their questions and their search for wholeness, and I can help them listen to the whispers in their own heart as well.

But it starts with my own work, my own transformation.

It starts here. It starts today.

Am I paying attention?



Introducing the Pilgrimage Poetry Project!

I’ve been covertly writing poetry all my life, but lately it has become an important spiritual practice for me. I call it the Practice of Paying Attention. Not only has this practice been incredibly healing, but it’s awakening a part of myself I’ve always been a bit reluctant to share with the world – the part of me that delights in beauty and mystery.

The poet Paul Murray speaks of the moment as “the place of pilgrimage to which I am a pilgrim.”  When I think about how I want to live my life, the word that always comes to mind is as a pilgrim, in the most ancient sense of the word.


To live as a pilgrim is to live simply, purposefully, and expectantly. To have a clear destination in mind, but to take what comes day by day. It is cultivating the art of paying attention to the fullness of the life around us.

Every moment is transparent with possibility. Each person we meet is a fellow-traveler with a story to tell. The question is: Can we remain open to being changed?

The more I’ve thought about what I wanted this 28th year of my life to be about, the more I keep coming back to this. And so, I’m taking a deep breath and “going scared” and inviting you to journey along with me. I’m calling it the Pilgrimage Poetry Project. For the next year I’ll be writing poetry following the ancient Church calendar and seeking to find God in the moments of every day. Afterwards, I plan to publish a small collection of poetry and art (eek!). It would be a delight to have you journey with me on Instagram, Facebook, and right here.

PPPLogoOriginally I thought I should wait and begin the project at Advent, the official beginning of the Church calendar. But then I thought – if this is all about finding God in the ordinary, then what better time to begin than Ordinary Time?

In that vein, I’d like to begin by sharing my first poem with you. My hope and prayer is that this project will help us all to practice the art of paying attention to our lives and find God present there.

Ordinary Time (3)






The World Will Be Saved By…

I would like to make the case for beauty.

Here is my manifesto: Beauty inherently inspires us to live more beautifully. The truest things in the world are also the most beautiful. Beauty, truth, and goodness – these three are always inextricably linked together, or else each is incomplete.

The poet John O’Donohue speaks rightly that “an awful lot of urban planning, particularly in poor areas, has doubly impoverished the poor by the ugliness which surrounds them. And it’s understandable that it’s so difficult to reach and sustain gentleness there.” Unjust as it is, there is a reason nobody wants to live in certain areas of town. In fact, recent studies have shown that an increase in green space in cities statistically lowers crime. Continue reading

You do all things well.

I recently re-discovered Tenth Avenue North’s album The Struggle. Many of their songs focus on making sense out of suffering. I’ve found myself thinking a lot about these lyrics in the past few weeks:

All I hear is what they’re selling me
That God is love, He’s isn’t suffering
And what you need is a little faith in prosperity
But oh my God I know there’s more than this
If You promise pain, it can’t be meaningless
So make me poor if it’s the price for freedom

I wonder sometimes how innocently I’ve believed the lie that what God wants most is for me to be happy. Of course in my head I know this isn’t true; although God loves me, what he wants most for me is my joy in becoming holy, in becoming more like Christ. But to follow Christ means to follow the way of suffering. So why am I alarmed, as Paul says, that I must suffer as well, whether it may seem big or small? Continue reading

The Creativity of Relationship

I find humanity a lovely, fascinating, complicated and sometimes frustrating thing.

I know you feel the same. I hear it in our laughter together over ridiculous viral videos, our confusion over a global crisis, and the love and loyalty we carry deep inside.

I hear it in words of loss, pain, and mourning; squeals of happiness or the silent smiles of deep joy. We all share this collective joy and pain of living. We all know what it’s like to be loved, and we know what it’s like to be lonely.

All my life I’ve felt what you might call the tug of the artist–the desire to be creating, inspiring, and making beauty. Only recently did it burst into my mind with sudden clarity–how every relationship is, in essence, an act of creativity. Taking two people who are completely unique and forming a relationship that has never existed exactly like this before. Continue reading