By popular request, here are some of the spiritual memoirs I’ve read and loved, and the guiding religion for the narrator indicated.
(There are a lot, lot more than these, but the ones listed I actually have copies of, so they were easier to find.)
I love this book and I don’t care who knows it. I get all the objections, wealthy white privilege and all that, but the spiritual parts of this book moved me in ways I hadn’t been moved for decades. The only part I don’t like is the “love” part – I didn’t want a goopy romance, I wanted more of India and Italy. But still, I love this book like whoa, and I’m so excited about Gilbert’s new nonfiction that’s coming out this fall.
The Wishing Year by Noelle Oxenhandler
(No particular tradition)
Noelle devotes herself to a year of learning about the power of wishes, in order to manifest herself a new home, a new relationship, and so on. It’s not exactly spiritual but it’s a good story and very hopeful when it comes to drawing from the universe what you want by presenting what you want to the universe.
Martha is an ex-Mormon, and her first memoir details the trial-by-fire she went through. The second tells the story of her pregnancy with her son Adam, who was diagnosed with Down Syndrome in utero. She chose to have him despite intense pressure to terminate the pregnancy, and began an adventure of spiritual connection with a child who ended up rocking her world all the way to God and back. It’s not a “mommy memoir,” it’s a mystical pregnancy memoir, and it’s way cooler than I make it sound.
Leaving Church, an Altar in the World, and Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor
Barbara is an amazing writer, and her history as a minister makes the spiritual underpinnings of her books feel that much more authentic. In the first she describes how she and her husband made the decision to leave their church (pretty much what it says on the tin). The second talks about nature as an altar, and the holiness of the seasons; and the third speaks of all the dark places in our lives that scare us, from caves to our own minds.
Andrew seeks to connect her spirit to her home, and searches out the holiness in the smallest of things, from fixing a screen door to putting up curtains. Every inch of the house feels like an extension of the soul.
Wendy Shankar’s life was going great until bam! she was diagnosed with a debilitating autoimmune disease. Desperate for relief, she tries all sorts of therapies, and describes them to hilarious effect. There’s no earthshattering conclusion to her story, but she gives you hope, and you feel like there’s someone out there having just as weird an experience as you are trying to be “more spiritual.”
Not a single memoir, but a collection of stories from the “new Buddhists,” refreshingly young voices who approach the Dharma from a wide variety of walks of life.
I don’t know what drew me to this book other than the beauty of the author’s website (seriously, it’s one of those sites you just want to stay in and roll around in her graphics). I had wanted to give a friend a copy of the book for Christmas, but read it myself first, and found the writer’s style so beautiful and poetic. It’s a lovely book to give as a gift, so if you read it and find it’s not for you, you can pass it on to a religious friend needing a joy infusion.
The first memoir-esque Pagan book I ever read. It tied the whole “lessons about the goddess” into the story of a woman’s actual life. It was almost painfully heavy-handed at times by trying to be both a memoir and a how-to, but every page felt like something was there, just waiting to be grasped. I really wish there were more like these, but less interested in teaching and more just about telling a woman’s story as a Pagan.
Girl at the End of the World: My Escape from Fundamentalism in Search of Faith with a Future by Elizabeth Ester
(Scary Fundamentalist Cult)
This one was kind of harrowing. The narrator grew up in one of those home grown Bible cults, and felt so utterly trapped by the expectations of what a young woman was supposed to do in the strict laws (like spanking babies with a belt to “break their spirits”) and the feeling of living with a noose around her neck. She and her husband eventally break free, but after that, they wander around like war orphans for a while, unsure what ground is safe to walk on. A compelling read.
Karen Armstrong entered a convent at age 17, but was miserable inside its walls. When she finally left, the confusion and spiritual sadness left her questioning her vocation – until a diagnosis of epilepsy helped her work through some of the experiences she’d never been able to speak of. Now Armstrong writes some of the most compelling comparative religion books out there (read her biographies of the Buddha and Muhammed, they’re both excellent)
I mentioned this one in my last post about Jesus – the woman who decided to “fake it till she made it” about God and how eventually it worked. I did finish reading the book, and by the end I felt a lot more convinced that she’d done more than just clap her hands together to save Tinkerbelle. She discusses joining Bible study classes that appealed to her inner researcher, and other small groups to try and figure out her place in the church. Her conclusion seems to be that not everyone is going to have big firework moments with God, and that’s just fine, because if we spend too much time staring up, we’re missing a lot of lovely things down here. I still don’t think her strategy would (REMOTELY) work for me, but I appreciate her point of view way more since getting the full picture. I also appreciate that she’s not calling herself “finished” the way a lot of memoirists seem to suggest even when they’re only 30 years old. Michelle is very well aware of her faith as an evolving thing.
That’s all for now – there will definitely be a second post here, both because I ran out of room and because I’m currently in the middle of two other memoirs that might wind up on the list.
Now it’s your turn, fair reader – what’s your favorite spiritual memoir? Or even if it’s not a memoir, it could be a spiritual or self-helpy book that has a deeply personal slant from the author so it feels like she’s telling you her story. Tradition and denomination are irrelevant, just tell me what you love.~♡~ Become my patron for exclusive online content and read new stories before anyone else!