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Illuminate Your Spirit With Enlightening Books While Vacationing

July 5, 2008

By Helen T. Gray, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

Jul. 5–S ummer often brings vacation days, trips to flee the routine and extra “me” time.

It can be a season to rest the body. It also can be a time to renew the mind and refresh the spirit — through reading.

But where to start? To help you, we asked people from various faith backgrounds to suggest spiritual, inspirational or religious books they think would be good summer reading. Their answers are paraphrased below.

Our suggestion is to broaden your scope. Try something you wouldn’t ordinarily read. Perhaps you’ll find a new favorite.

From the Rev. Thom Belote of Shawnee Mission Unitarian Universalist Church:

–Traveling Mercies: Some Thoughts on Faith, by Anne Lamott (Anchor; 2000). With an introductory essay about her path to faith by way of recovery from addiction, Lamott offers personal essays about her struggles and the blessings she receives from her faith community. Her natural tone is distinctly irreverent and equally hilarious.

–Jamesland, by Michelle Huneven (Vintage; 2004). Huneven introduces us to three protagonists: a Unitarian Universalist minister, a mentally ill man struggling to rebuild his life after his family leaves him, and a bartender seeking meaning and relational health. Somehow these three lives bump into one another, and an unusual friendship is struck. Their own private shames are healed by their willingness to be present to one another.

–Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience, by James P. Carse (HarperOne; 1995). Carse is knowledgeable about Buddhist, Christian and Islamic mysticism, as well as a kind of natural mysticism, an enchanted connection with nature. In this charming book he shares stories of everyday life. He succeeds in seeing wonder and mystery all around him, whether it is observing the short-order cook at a greasy local diner, thinking back to his first date with his deceased wife, or visiting a vernal pool by moonlight.

From Carol Meyer of WisdomWays Spirituality Ministries:

–Gandhi, the Man: The Story of His Transformation, by Eknath Easwaran (Nilgiri Press; 1972). This is a fairly short and easy-to-read book, with lots of pictures and stories, but it is loaded with spiritual wisdom and power. In showing how Gandhi got to be such a great spiritual being, it inspires its readers to some of the same greatness. You will come away from reading this book full of Gandhi’s energy and insights, challenged and changed for the better.

–Awareness: The Perils and Possibilities of Reality, by Anthony de Mello (Zondervan; 1990). This modern spiritual classic by a Jesuit from India is a little gem. It helps you see yourself and reality in new ways through the insights of Eastern spirituality and Western psychology. This book, teaching us how to be aware and free, was a best-seller before “living in the moment” became popular.

–The Great Work: Our Way Into the Future, by Thomas Berry (Random House; 1999). This is a hopeful, profound book that illuminates the path we all need to take, personally and institutionally, if we and the planet are to survive. Berry, a religious prophet and great mind, blends cosmology, science and ethics in a compelling call to join in the defining spiritual task of our time — to live in a beneficial and sacred relationship with the Earth.

From Pastor Olivia C.Q. Aiken of Memorial Missionary Baptist Church:

–Even With My Issues, by Wanda A. Turner (Whitaker House; 2001). This book is about being set free and experiencing the freedom that can come only through Jesus Christ. It shows that the shame and guilt of our past can severely cripple us, along with the personal rejection of family and friends, and discusses the fear of starting over and the high cost of being alone. But God is the king of comebacks.

–Unarmed but Dangerous, by Tawana Williams (self-published; 2004). Williams was born without arms but shows that disability is no reason to fall short of your dreams. She takes away the excuses that many people use to secure themselves inside their comfort zone. After reading this book, you may never again make an excuse for not being who God called you to be.

–Rediscovering the Kingdom, by Myles Munroe (Destiny Image; 2004). This book unlocks the revelation of “kingdom living.” As we rediscover the kingdom, we find that the methods we have been using to solve age-old problems of government, religion and failed systems can all be solved only by rediscovering the kingdom of God. This is about God’s way of doing things, God’s way of government and God’s way of thinking.

From Bishop Emeritus Raymond J. Boland of the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph:

–I’d recommend reading and re-reading the parables from the New Testament, especially those of Luke and Matthew. Basically they are simple stories with a spiritual wallop. Allow them to simmer in the mind and they will produce insights that can mellow or change attitudes.

–My Life With the Saints, by the Rev. James Martin (Loyola Press; 2006). The saints can be our friends and role models par excellence as we go about our daily lives and summer vacations looking for God. One or more of the author’s sometimes surprising selections may affect your life more than many long days on a sun-drenched beach.

–Anam Cara (from the Gaelic, “Soul Friend”), by John O’Donohue (Bantam Press; 1997). The subtitle says it all: “Spiritual Wisdom From the Celtic World.” Those fortunate enough to spend some relaxing time in scenic surroundings will more readily recognize the creative finger of God at work around them. This book is both a soothing palliative and a stimulating incentive for those concerned about our ecological future and, more importantly, our kinship with the one who “in the beginning made the heavens and the earth.”

From Robert Shelton, religious studies professor at the University of Kansas, Lawrence:

–Forgiveness: A Legacy of the West Nickel Mines Amish School, by John L. Ruth (Herald Press; 2007). Many people were surprised by the response of an Amish community to the shooting deaths and wounding of their schoolchildren in 2006. Forgiveness is basic to their Christian tradition and is described and clearly discussed by a Mennonite writer who relates it to other religions as well.

–Reflections of a Peacemaker: A Portrait Through Heartsongs, by Mattie J.T. Stepanek (Andrews McMeel; 2005). Mattie Stepanek, who died of a neuromuscular disease before he reached age 14, produced books of extremely insightful poetry and saw himself as “a poet, a peacemaker and a philosopher who played.” This book is a child’s amazingly mature faith-based perception of what is important in life, unfettered by “adult” experiences that tend to distract one from basic values.

–Martin Luther King, Jr.: Spirit-Led Prophet — A Biography, by Richard Deats (New City Press; 2000). Coretta Scott King, in her foreword, praises Deats for producing an “invaluable spiritual portrait” and “unique biography.” With much of his life devoted to the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an organization influential in King’s nonviolent actions, Deats is in touch with the Christian commitment that motivated King, well-explained in a very readable book.

From Imam Rudolph Muhammad of the Al-Inshirah Islamic Center:

–Prayer and Al-Islam, by Imam Warithuddin Muhammad (Muhammad Islamic Foundation; 1982).

This is an excellent book for English-speaking people seeking a balanced explanation of the religion. It gives a clear, updated reflection on religious principles that any spiritual-minded individual can benefit from.

–The Sealed Nectar, by Safiur-Rahman (Islamic University Al-Madina Al-Munawwara; 1979). A highly recommended biography of the life of the Noble Prophet of Islam. There is more recorded history detailing the life of Prophet Muhammad than any other scriptural prophet. The reader can benefit from his examples of mercy, kindness, forgiveness, compassion and faith.

–The Gospel of Barnabus, edited and translated by Lonsdale and Laura Ragg (Clarendon Press; 1907). This is an interesting presentation of lost biblical Scripture. Very thought-provoking. It gives a challenging detail of the life of Jesus Christ that shows the connection in the Scriptures of the Abrahamic faith.

From Rabbi Jacques Cukierkorn of the New Reform Temple:

–As a Driven Leaf, by Milton Steinberg (Behrman House; 1996). Steinberg drew from classical Jewish sources and creatively filled the gaps to create a fabulous novel. A book-selling Web site, www.alibris.com, says: “This masterpiece of modern fiction tells the gripping tale of renegade Talmudic sage Elisha ben Abuyah’s struggle to reconcile his faith with the allure of Hellenistic culture.”

–The Secret, by Rhonda Byrne (Atria Books/Beyond Words, 2006). From a Jewish perspective, this well-publicized book is all about practical Kabbalah. Even though the word Kabbalah is never mentioned in the book, every concept it highlights comes straight out of the ancient Jewish teachings of Kabbalah.

–The Penitent, by Isaac Bashevis Singer (Farrar, Straus and Giroux; 1983). This uplifting novel tells the story of Joseph Shapiro, a man who abandons modern life for the sake of a traditional Jewish lifestyle to find the meaning of life.

From Pamela Couture, vice president and academic dean at St. Paul School of Theology:

–Earthy Mysticism: Spirituality for Unspiritual People, by Tex Sample (Abingdon Press; 2008). This is a memoir that tells stories of significant moments in the author’s spirituality. Sample narrates times in the midst of ordinary experience when God was made manifest to him, beginning with an early story of his vocational call and a poignant story of spirituality in the midst of his son’s death.

–Shake Hands With the Devil, by Lt. Gen. Romeo Dallaire (Carroll and Graf Publishers; 2005). In the flush of stories emerging from Rwanda, this autobiography from the general who led the U.N. peacekeeping force offers important balance. He recognizes the fallibilities and promises of Hutu and Tutsi leaders, and he struggles with theological ideas of humanity and evil.

–Where Soldiers Fear to Tread: A Relief Worker’s Tale of Survival, by John S. Burnett (Bantam Books; 2005). This memoir of a U.N. Food Program worker in Somalia may be read in conjunction with Robert L. Phillips and Duane L. Cady’s Humanitarian Intervention: Just War vs. Pacifism (Rowman and Littlefield; 1996), in which the philosophy of humanitarian intervention is debated.

To reach Helen Gray, religion editor, call 816-234-4446, or send e-mail to hgray@kcstar.com.

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Copyright (c) 2008, The Kansas City Star, Mo.

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