Spirituality and Religion
"A chaplain doesn’t have a leisurely hour in which to explain God. The suffering is right there, and its urgency demands an immediate response."
~ from Kate Braestrup's Beginner's Grace
Triumph of the Heart: Forgiveness in an Unforgiving World by Megan Feldman BettencourtAfter several painful experiences made journalist Megan Bettencourt feel angry and bitter, she met a man who had forgiven his son's killer and reconciled with his family. Struggling to understand how his generous response could be possible, she set out to learn more about the human ability to forgive. She looked at scientific studies on the physiological healing effects of forgiveness and interviewed several people who had offered forgiveness in especially traumatic circumstances. Weaving recollections of her own upsetting rejections into her narrative, Bettencourt offers thought-provoking conclusions that may inspire others to learn the discipline of forgiveness.
Post-Traumatic Church Syndrome: A Memoir of Humor and Healing by Reba RileyAfter an apparently untreatable illness knocked author Reba Riley for a loop on her birthday, she started a quest for spiritual healing in lieu of unattainable physical wellness. In this engaging and often humorous memoir, Riley (who was raised Pentecostal) chronicles her efforts to overcome "post-traumatic church syndrome," which had left her cynical and empty of belief. Visiting 30 different religious communities before she turned 30, she worshipped at mosques and Buddhist temples; attended churches that met in movie theaters, bars, and basements; studied meditation; and attended a Yom Kippur service. Believers and skeptics alike will enjoy her inspiring account of recovery -- both physical and spiritual.
Choosing Hope: Moving Forward from Life's Darkest Hours by Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis with Robin Gaby FisherAuthor Kaitlin Roig-DeBellis survived the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre along with her entire first grade class by quickly packing the students into the classroom's bathroom. After the shootings, she faced professional frustration and felt despondent, but channeled her emotions into projects that would aid children in needy schools. In Choosing Hope, which includes dark accounts of the horror she endured, Roig-DeBellis offers inspiration as she recounts how her faith sustained her determination to overcome despair and allow hope to prevail in her life.
The Vatican Prophecies: Investigating Supernatural Signs, Apparitions... by John ThavisWhile official Catholic teaching emphasizes that faith is based on reason, spectacular reports of miraculous events sometimes outshine day-to-day religious practices. The Vatican carefully examines each claim while avoiding endorsements that could promote irrational beliefs. In The Vatican Prophecies, John Thavis, the former Rome bureau chief of Catholic News Service, discusses intriguing examples of these paranormal phenomena. He also details the Vatican's responses, which sometimes debunk the accounts but often provide ambiguous evaluations to avoid offending devoted believers. Though it's not meant to satisfy thrill-seekers, this accessible survey offers fascinating information about the Vatican's handling of sensitive supernatural topics.
America's Secret Jihad: Our Hidden History of Religious Terrorism by Stuart WexlerSince the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center, religious extremism has been associated with radical Islam. However, in America's Secret Jihad historian Stuart Wexler describes a Christian terrorist movement called Christian Identity that has its roots in the early 20th century. During the 1950s, the leaders of this anti-Semitic movement joined forces with the segregationist Ku Klux Klan in efforts to incite a race war in the U.S. Tracing specific violent events, including the 1963 bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, AL, and the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., back to Christian Identity, Wexler offers a thought-provoking and persuasive analysis of American religious violence.
Focus on: Spiritual Practices
Beginner's Grace: Bringing Prayer to Life by Kate BraestrupPrayer is not reserved for formal worship and can be part of any kind of daily experience, but people often feel they need help learning to pray. In response to this need, author Kate Braestrup, a Unitarian Universalist minister, gives examples of prayers derived from many faith traditions, organizing them according to situations Braestrup herself has experienced -- including a "Hospital Prayer" invented alongside the anxious mother of a newborn. Braestrup's anecdotal style vividly portrays the uses of prayer in real-life situations. You may find her earlier memoir, Here if You Need Me, equally inspiring.
The Greatest Prayer: Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord's Prayer by John Dominic CrossanThe prayer most Christians know by heart, called the "Lord's Prayer" or the "Our Father," offers much more than a rote summary of the needs Jesus taught his disciples to pray about. In The Greatest Prayer, biblical scholar John Dominic Crossan examines the prayer phrase by phrase, interpreting it in the historical context of Jesus' times and opening up a rich landscape of human and Godly concerns. The regular practice of repeating the Lord's Prayer, either during public worship or as part of private devotions, receives a new depth of meaning from Crossan's straightforward and accessible discussion.
One Perfect Word: One Word Can Make All the Difference by Debbie MacomberThrough much of her life, bestselling novelist Debbie Macomber has made it her practice to choose a single word to study and make part of her daily religious practice for a year. In One Perfect Word, she explores the power of words to inspire, guide, console, and reveal one's inmost desires. Drawing on her journals, the writings of others, and remembered anecdotes, she connects the significance of individual words to the power of faith. While Macomber is a Christian and draws from Christian writings, readers seeking more depth in any spiritual practice will find her book inspiring.
The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and... by Stephen G. PostAccording to author Stephen Post, a professor of preventive medicine, helping others causes the release of brain chemicals that reduce stress and increase a sense of happiness. In The Hidden Gifts of Helping, Post advises taking on the discipline of altruism through a regular practice of good deeds. He reveals how applying this principle eased his own stress after he lost a job and explains how it can work for anyone. No matter how you help, to the best of your ability -- knitting shawls for the seriously ill, donating money for disaster relief, tutoring children -- you'll find serious life challenges easier to handle.
The Sabbath World: Glimpses of a Different Order of Time by Judith ShulevitzThe weekly observance of Sabbath is an essential component of Judaism that has asserted its influence by making the seven-day week nearly universal. The Sabbath's exacting requirement of six work days and a day of rest may clash with modern 24-7 schedules, but in The Sabbath World journalist Judith Shulevitz engagingly details the spiritual and cultural advantages of Sabbath practice for busy people, since it can offer a change of pace even if not undertaken for religious purposes. For another accessible book on the Sabbath, try Joseph Lieberman's The Gift of Rest.
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