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In Exile

By Ron Rolheiser, OMI


Contemporary writers in spirituality influential in English-speaking world


Among those who write in the area of spirituality today, who’s being read? Here’s my list of spiritual writers who are highly influential today in the English-speaking world:

— Henri Nouwen — Dutch/American, Roman Catholic, priest. Perhaps the most widely read and most influential among all contemporary authors in spirituality.

— Thomas Merton — Roman Catholic, monk, one of the most influential spiritual writers in the past 100 years.

— C.S. Lewis — British, layman, Anglican. Well-known across both religious and secular circles. Brought a literary genius to his articulation of the Christian faith.

— Jim Wallis — American, Evangelical, layman, popular evangelist, social activist, social organizer. The closest our age has to a “Dorothy Day.” Widely read and respected across all denominational lines.

— Thomas Halik — Roman Catholic, priest, Czechoslovakian, recent winner of the prestigious Templeton award.

— Parker Palmer — Quaker, layman, American, much respected across all denominational lines. Has written brilliantly on the spirituality of education and on achieving a Christian balance in life.

— Alan Jones — Episcopalian, priest, American. Wisdom drawn from the deep wells of Christian tradition. Practical spirituality with depth.

— Carlo Carretto — Roman Catholic, hermit/monk, Italian. Carretto spent many years living as a hermit in the Sahara Desert and writes out of that experience.

— Ruth Burrows — British, Carmelite, nun. Deep insights into mysticism, faith, and contemplative prayer. Eminent common sense, blended with a deep knowledge of the mystical tradition.

— Richard Rohr — American, Franciscan, priest, popular evangelist. Numerous books on prayer, masculine spirituality, addictions, overcoming dualism, overcoming sectarianism, finding balance in your life, scriptural commentary.

— Wendy Wright — American, lay woman, Roman Catholic. A specialist regarding Francis de Sales and Jane Chantel, but with wider writings, especially about the place of devotions within our spiritual lives.

— Peter Tyler — British, Roman Catholic, layman. A specialist in Carmelite spirituality. An emerging young voice.

— Thomas Keating — American, Roman Catholic, monk. The widely accepted “canon” on contemplative prayer.

— John Main — British/Canadian, monk, a popular, trustworthy guide on contemplative prayer.

— Laurence Freeman — British, monk, another trustworthy guide on contemplative prayer

— Kathleen Norris — American, Presbyterian, lay, Oblate of St. Benedict. Deeply immersed in the tradition of the Desert Fathers and equally attuned to our spiritual struggles within contemporary culture.

— Trevor Herriot — Canadian, layman, Roman Catholic. A powerful apologia for protecting nature, but his more explicit spiritual writings are highly reflective essays apposite the place and role of our sexual energies in either protecting or despoiling nature.

— Barbara Brown Taylor — American, Episcopalian, priest, popular-evangelist. Strong literary writer with an audience within secular circles. A unique blend of insight, Scripture, tradition, and balance. Always a worthwhile read.

— David Steindl-Rast — American, Roman Catholic, monk, had the distinction of being Henri Nouwen’s spiritual director. Writes with depth, drawing many of his insights from the richness of monasticism.

— Anthony de Mello — Indian, Roman Catholic, Jesuit. Brings the insights of Buddhism and Eastern spiritualities into his articulation of Christian spirituality.

— James Martin — American, Roman Catholic, Jesuit. A key, young voice within spirituality today. Widely popular, and deservedly so.

— Anne Lamott — American, Episcopalian, laywoman. A unique blend of insight, Christian commitment, and blistering iconoclasm.

— Marilynne Robinson — American, novelist, Congregationalist. Not a spirituality writer per se, but an exceptional novelist whose characters express her spirituality. An exceptionally bright apologetic voice.

— Simone Weil — French, Jewish, laywoman. Her writings manifest a spiritual sensitivity and depth that includes her in most discussions about contemporary spirituality.

— Etty Hillesum — Dutch, Jewish, laywoman. Her writings exhibit an extraordinary insight into spirituality. And she backed them up with martyrdom.

— Scott Hahn — American, Roman Catholic, layman. Very popular, catechetical and instructional.

— Rabbi Abraham Heschel — American, Jewish, rabbi. Exceptional spiritual commentaries on the Jewish scriptures. Widely read and respected.

— Rob Bell — American, Evangelical, popular evangelist. A brilliant young voice. Good balance, good insights, and an exceptional capacity to speak to a contemporary audience.

— Rick Warren — American, Evangelist. Stunningly popular across denominational lines. His book, The Purpose-Driven Life, has sold over 30 million copies worldwide, and is worth the read.

— John Allen — American, Roman Catholic, layman, journalist. Most everyone’s ear-to-the ground vis-à-vis what’s happening ecclesially around the world.

— Joyce Rupp — American, Roman Catholic, nun. Good, insightful, particularly popular with women.

— Michael Higgins — Canadian, layman, Roman Catholic. Does a lot of highly insightful journalistic commentary on contemporary spirituality. The official biographer of Nouwen.

— Joan Chittister — American, Roman Catholic, nun. Powerful social justice and feminist voice. Knows the tradition of monasticism very well and draws key insights out of its deep wells.

— Paula D’Arcy — American, Roman Catholic, laywoman. Inspires a near-cult following among devotees particularly apposite her spirituality of healing.

— Annie Dillard — American, Roman Catholic (convert), lay. Her writings invariably articulate an aesthetic and moral insight that is a natural friend of religion.

— Elizabeth Johnson — American, Roman Catholic, nun. An exceptional mentor for those who searching for a better intellectual apologia for their faith.

— Bill Plotkin — American, “naturalist,” layman. Challenging writings vis-à-vis the place of nature in shaping our souls.

— Belden Lane — American, Layman, “naturalist,” akin to Plotkin.

My apologies to those whom I didn’t name, particularly those young, emerging voices such as Kerry Weber, David Wells, and Bill McGarvey, among others, who should be more widely read.

Rolheiser, theologian, teacher and award-winning author, is president of the Oblate School of Theology in San Antonio, Texas.

He can be contacted through his website:
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