Making Your Own Bible with Dr. Imani Perry

by | Nov 16, 2022 | Spirituality

I never thought of making my own Bible, at least not until reading Imani Perry’s Breathe: A Letter to My Sons. Perry thinks we should follow the advice of Ralph Waldo Emerson, who said in one of his journals, “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all those words and sentences that in all your reading have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.” The truth is, I felt like I could do that beginning with Perry’s own book. The insights, I felt, on prayer and healthy living were incredible invitations.

The following quotes I found particularly noteworthy. 

“I happen to believe we never stop growing up, and that is my secret for not feeling regret. My failures are my lessons, but I can always get better.” I suppose we recognize this at the beginning of each Mass, with the Confiteor, and certainly any time we celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation. Pope Francis has reminded us that the Sacrament of the Eucharist, rather than a reward for saints, is the bread of sinners.   

I also appreciate her ability and encouragement to tend to one’s wounds, rather than hide or ignore them.

“ . . . cultivate your scar tissue. Massage it, clean it, tend to it.” Is this not a lesson that the Psalmist shares with us? That we bring all before God, all of who we are and all that has happened to us? When we pray “Create in me a clean heart” we are praying for the journey ahead, not wishing the past were different. 1  

In regards to prayer and discernment, I found her insights agreeing with core components of Ignatian Spirituality. She emphasizes care and attention to one’s desires is crucial because they serve as gateways to true love.

“Take the time to strip yourself down to the core, to the simplest of joys. What if you dream your life but remove all money moves, all contingent material fantasies? And just fill it with connection, grace, and rituals? That isn’t an ascetic’s dream so much as it is gospel of living in the along. It is a ritual of reorientation, a steadying, a sense of grace. It might not be enough, but it is something. And the fact is, if you get desire right, you will probably get love right too.”

Her advice on listening is good not just for retreat directors, who help point a person to how the Holy Spirit is working in their life, but it’s also applicable to anyone in a caring relationship. Too often we are overly concerned with saying the right thing, rather than really listening to the person in front of us.

Perry invites us to listen as an act of compassion. She says, “Listening is care.” The path of listening is her method of parenting.  Rather than believing that she is the engineer of her son’s lives, her role is much simpler. “I am just to feed and nourish you, to make space for you to feed yourself.”

But when it does come time to speak, Perry offers her sons a word of warning against the status quo, especially for men. In terms of facing difficulty, she exhorts:

“Don’t resolve it the American manhood way, with violence and insult as deflection.”

Tit for tat is just another way of saying “an eye for an eye” and Jesus explicitly rejects this way of thinking and acting in the Gospel of Matthew. He says, “You have heard it said an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.But I say to you, offer no resistance to one who is evil. When someone strikes you on [your] right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.” Turning the other cheek ought often to be done non-verbally, too. I do not choose what others say to me, but I do choose how, and when, and why I respond, if such a response is even warranted. 

Perhaps why these passages stood out to me so much was because I was not looking for them. What I thought was literature that might serve as an escape from the obligatory reading for class, turned out to be a “class” in and of itself. We often hear the Ignatian invitation to find God in all things, so we ought not be afraid to search for the wisdom that comes from God in literature, even when what we’re reading isn’t the inspired Word of God. 

What gems might be hiding on your bookshelf, waiting to be discovered and appreciated?


  1. Psalm 51:10

Patrick Hyland, SJ   /   All posts by Patrick