The Joy of a “comfort book”

Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister
Illuminated Life by Joan Chittister

Comfort, yes, comfort my people, says your God.”  (Isaiah 40:1)

What do you do when you need comfort? Where you turn when you feel stressed or overwhelmed?

  • Some people go for a walk or do some gardening.
  • Others turn to “comfort foods” (think M&M’s, for me…).
  • There might be the temptation to self-medicate with pills or alcohol (I don’t recommend this – it ends up hurting too many people).
  • I once heard an actor talk about the “comfort movies;” he watches films he knows will reliably lift his spirits or make him laugh.

When I am searching for a “no calorie” way to calm my mind, restore my soul, and feed my spirit, I often turn to a “comfort book.”  I am basically too cheap to actually buy books but I am fortunate enough to serve a church that sits across the town common from our public library. Usually I simply borrow any book I wish to read.

But there are certain books – those comfort books – which I have purchased over the years because I know I will turn to them again and again. My stash of comfort books are in the bookcase by my bed – they are within easy reach so I can grab one and let it fall open anywhere. Most of the books are so familiar that I don’t need to read them cover to cover any more. There is an eclectic mixture of devotionals, a few novels, and even some children’s books – there is nothing like a chapter of Winnie the Pooh to bring me straight back to my safety and security of my childhood when things are spiraling out of control.

One book that reliably offers me inspiration and remind me of God’s presence is Joan Chittister’s Illuminated Life: Monastic Wisdom for Seekers of Light. Sister Joan is a Benedictine nun who shares her insights and wisdom on-line ( ) and through her writing.  Illuminated Life offers 26 reflections (one for each letter of the alphabet) which encourage readers to intentionally seek God in every circumstance.  This book is just right for me – each reading is long enough to provide some food for thought, but short enough to fit into my time-crunched day. I love the reminders like…

  • A = Awareness, to “see everything in life as sacred” (23).
  • G = Growth, because “union with God is not a static thing” (50).
  • S = Silence, which is a “lost art in a society made of noise” (106).
  • Z = Zeal, which brings us to God, “the energy that drives us” (136).

This book encourages me to be “contemplative” in the midst of a busy life.  Being contemplative has nothing to do with a somber, dour life filled with silence and ritualized prayers. Instead, it is an active, joy-filled invitation to search for God now, in the middle of whatever chaos you may be experiencing, because surely God is there.

Life can be overwhelming, tiring, and discouraging. This book is a celebration of God’s faithfulness. It reminds me that God wants to be found/discovered/experienced by us every day.

And that offers me great comfort.

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