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Reading as a Spiritual Practice

Reading as a Spiritual Practice

by Sarah Stewart on January 06, 2023

Reading widely and constantly has always been at the heart of my own preaching and writing practice. I never know where I will find connections, inspiration, and unexpected depths. I purposefully read nonfiction that supports my spiritual leadership and preaching.

This was the year I embraced audiobooks, and especially thrillers in audiobook format. I took a few long drives last winter, including a solo trip to Tennessee. I needed something to listen to on the long road. Plot-driven thrillers turned out to be just the thing. Favorites in this genre included:

Did you know I lead a monthly book group at First U, exploring religious community through fiction and memoir? Everyone is welcome to attend; the next meeting is Wed. Jan. 18 at 6 p.m. in the Bancroft Room. Our January book is Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline. It’s a fast-paced, sexy thriller about a Métis family targeted by a loupgarou, a werewolf-like monster. Joan Beausoleil is gutted by the disappearance of her beloved husband. When she sees him a year later in a parking lot, dressed like a preacher and seeming not to recognize her, she will stop at nothing to get him back. The book reminded me of the Biblical book Ruth as much as “Sleeping Beauty,” and introduced me to the rich Métis culture. The real monstrous threat is the colonial domination of Métis culture and land.

Another theme this year was the connection between good books and good television shows. 

  • Seeing Shining Girls on Apple TV inspired me to read the book; whereas the show is a thriller, the book is more of a love letter to Chicago’s history and the women (cis and trans) who have called it home. Be warned that both the TV show and the book depict sexual assaults
  • Octavia Butler’s novel Kindred (published by Beacon Press) has been made into a new drama streaming on Hulu. I read Butler’s Parable of the Sower this year. It’s a deeply spiritual work of science fiction; her Earthseed aphorisms make a fine prayer.

This year I also found myself grateful for the work of translators. (It’s fitting that the book that is carrying me into 2023 is Babel by R. F. Kuang.) Translators can be hidden from view. A reader often has to read the copyright page to learn the name of the translator. A really good translator makes their work transparent, so that the reader peers through a clear glass pane of language to encounter a foreign text. Translation allowed me to read the Russian novel that inspired 1984 and Brave New World; a darkly funny book by one of Ukraine’s best-known authors; and the classic Madame Bovary, among others. Reading in translation expands what I know about the world.

All links in this post are to Tidepool Bookshop, owned by members of First Unitarian Church. I checked many of this year’s books out of the library, and I also shop for used books at Bedlam Book Cafe in Worcester. I am looking forward to more reading and sharing my insights from reading with you in 2023. I’ve signed up for the Massachusetts Reading Challenge and invite you to do the same, if you like. As always, let me know what you’re reading right now!

In faith,

Rev. Sarah Stewart

Books I Read in 2022


Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency by Douglas Adams (reread) (abridged audiobook)

Cassandra at the Wedding by Dorothy Baker

The Shining Girls by Lauren Beukes (audiobook)

Parable of the Sower by Octavia E. Butler

The High Window by Raymond Chandler

The Book of Philip K. Dick (stories)

Empire of Wild by Cherie Dimaline 

Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert, trans. Lydia Davis

Dead Lions by Mick Herron (audiobook)

Real Tigers by Mick Herron 

Slow Horses by Mick Herron (audiobook)

Spook Street by Mick Herron (audiobook)

The Sentence Is Death by Anthony Horowitz (audiobook)

The Word Is Murder by Anthony Horowitz

Search by Michelle Huneven

The Haunting of Hill House by Shirley Jackson

Darkness at Noon by Arthur Koestler, trans. Philip Boehm 

The Plot by Jean Hanff Korelitz (audiobook)

Never Saw Me Coming by Vera Kurian (audiobook)

Death and the Penguin by Andrey Kurkov, trans. George Bird

Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré

The Constant Gardener by John Le Carré 

The Anomaly by Hervé Le Tellier, trans. Adriana Hunter

Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the End of the World by Haruki Murakami, trans. Alfred Birnbaum

Falling by T. J. Newman (audiobook)

Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys

Her Last Affair by John Searles (audiobook)

In the Bleak Midwinter by Julia Spencer-Fleming

Homicide Trinity by Rex Stout (stories)

Murder By the Book by Rex Stout

The Magician by Colm Tóibín

Finch by Jeff VanderMeer

Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut

All Systems Red by Martha Wells (audiobook)

We by Yevgeny Zamyatin, trans. Clarence Brown


The Human Condition by Hannah Arendt

“Our Father”: An Introduction to the Lord’s Prayer by Ernst Lohmeyer, trans. John Bowden

The Actor and the Target by Declan Donnellan

The True Secret of Writing by Natalie Goldberg 

This Is Going to Hurt: Secret Diaries of a Young Doctor by Adam Kay 

Arctic Dreams by Barry Lopez

The Boundaries Workbook by Jake Morrill

What I Talk About When I Talk About Running by Haruki Murakami, trans. Philip Gabriel

The Defiant Middle: How Women Claim Life’s In-Betweens to Remake the World by Kaya Oakes

Viruses, Plagues, and History: Past, Present, and Future (2nd ed.) by Michael B. A. Oldstone 

High Conflict: Why We Get Trapped and How We Get Out by Amanda Ripley

The End of Craving: Recovering the Lost Wisdom of Eating Well by Mark Schatzker


Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh

The Three Escapes of Hannah Arendt: A Tyranny of Truth by Ken Krimstein

What If? 2: Additional Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by Randall Munroe

The Wild Beyond the Witchlight: A Feywild Adventure

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