If you’re enjoying ReadTheSpirit, you may have noticed areas of our Web site that we plan to expand, like our six Top 10 lists that are “Coming Soon” to help you find the top spiritual media in various categories. As we expand, our goal is always to help you, as readers.
And, we’re especially eager to learn more about what you are reading. What books would YOU like to share with other readers? What books are helpful to you? Uplifting for you? Useful in your efforts to make the world a better place?
As we expand, you’ll find more places for you to add your comments here at ReadTheSpirit. We’re encouraging you to and share your helpful ideas about finding and enjoying good books.
This whole reader-centered theme runs throughout the 10 Theses that serve as our founding manifesto and guiding light. Click Here, if you haven’t read those 10 Theses yet and you’re curious about them.
Fortunately, we’re not alone in this idea.
A growing number of authors — and readers — understand the importance of encouraging people to talk among themselves about their religious lives. The book featured at the top of our story today is a great example. It’s called, “20 Poems to Nourish Your Soul.” It’s a terrific book by Judith Valente and her husband Charles Reynard. (You’ll read more about their story in coming weeks here on ReadTheSpirit.)
Both are respected poets and Judith is nationally known as a reporter on the PBS network’s “Religion and Ethics Newsweekly.” She’s famous, but this is not a “celebrity book”. It’s a humble, wise book that cordially invites us to sit down with Judith and her husband, as if we were sharing a warm cup of tea with them. They share with us some of their beloved selections of poetry — and invite us to think about other poetry that we might enjoy together.
We welcome that approach to building bridges between people.
Just this past weekend, I was invited to speak at an “Engaging The Other” nationwide conference held here in Michigan. (Photographer John Hile’s photo, at left, shows one of the Tibetan monks who worked through the weekend painstakingly building a colorful sand mandala at the conference.)
When I wasn’t involved in sessions, I spent my time sitting in comfortable corners of the conference center, asking people: “So, what are YOU reading?”
The answers were terrific! Let me share just a few of the answers I heard — and you might find yourself prompted to start asking this question of your friends, too.
Jehan Olweean was full of terrific suggestions! She’s a special- education teacher in her 20s who spoke at the conference about innovative strategies for overcoming conflict among students — and building a respectful community in situations that throw students together from diverse backgrounds.
“So, what are you reading that you think other people would enjoy?” I asked her between sessions.
“Oh, I just finished ‘The Alchemist,‘ and it’s wonderful!” she said. “I loved it so much that I had to go buy a couple more copies to give to friends.”
“That’s Paulo Coelho, the mystic storyteller,” I said. “What did you enjoy about his book?”
Jehan (pictured a right) said, “It’s this story of a boy trying to find the path toward his destiny. It tells about his adventures. But it’s bigger than that.
“It’s about trusting yourself and your spiritual path,” she said. “If you are struggling with any life decision, I think this book will definitely guide you in your decision making. The book shows you that, first, a lot of what’s happening is not in our control. And, second, if you remove your anxiety and get away from your stress, you’ll find the answer within you — your true path.
“It’s a story about trusting your spiritual path, regardless of your faith. For me, it’s about trusting God to take care of us and guide us to our destiny.”
“That’s a great suggestion. What else are you reading?” I asked.
“With my students, we just read ‘Number the Stars‘ about this Jewish girl in Europe in World War II who has to leave her family and live with another family to hide — and, when she does that, she has no idea where her parents are or if they are safe,” Jehan said.
“I have some students from single-parent homes in our class and some students who have a missing parent and they don’t know where that parent is, so I found a lot of my students could identify with the uncertainty and anxiety the characters go through in ‘Number the Stars.'”
“I know that book and, usually, it’s given only to younger readers,” I said. “One of the things we’re committed to doing at ReadTheSpirit is helping adults find treasures that they’ll enjoy among books that they may never discover — because, for example, so many great books are in sections marked for children or for young readers.”
“I bought a copy of ‘Green Eggs and Ham‘ for my husband!” she said, chuckling. “That’s a great book whether you’re a child or an adult.”
“You’re right. I love Dr. Seuss books,” I said. “And I know how much other adults love them, too.”
She said, “It’s fun. And, through all of the rhymes and the simple sentences, you can gather something that I think adults spend a lot of time and money trying to learn in life.”
“It’s that we need to overcome some of our prejudices against new experiences. We need to re-examine some of the new things we just refuse to do because we’re stuck in our ways. In the book, Sam I Am keeps saying: You have to give new things a chance! And, in the end, you learn that some of our prejudices against new things are just silly.”
“Dr. Seuss was pretty wise, wasn’t he.”
“Yes. I like ‘Sneetches,’ too,” Jehan said. “That book also is about our prejudices. These characters, the Sneetches, all want to be up at the highest level in their society and they also want to force some people to be the Others in their society. In the story, the Sneetches get all mixed up in this until they don’t know whose way is
which way and which way is right. They finally realize that trying to isolate the Other in their community is just absurd and causes problems for everybody.”
There must have been a playful, creative air at the conference, because Jehan was not alone in recommending that adults take a fresh look at books that we may overlook, because we think they’re stories for young readers.
Another speaker at the conference, Dr. Robert Oppenheimer, a psychologist who works on conflict resolution among students in urban schools, wound up grinning broadly when I asked him the question: “So, what are you reading?”
“Well, to be honest,” he said, “there’s a Jewish Cinderella story that I’ve been reading with my daughter Rachel, who’s 6, and we both love it.”
I said, “Tell me a little about the story.”
“It’s called, ‘Raisel’s Riddle.‘ The main character is Raisel, a Jewish girl who lives in a village with her grandfather, who is very wise and who teaches her a lot,” Oppenheimer said. “But he dies and she’s poor, so she goes door to door. … Finally a rabbi does take pity on her and gives her work in his kitchen, but the cook who runs the kitchen hates her.”
Then, as in many folk tales, Raisel meets a mysterious character who grants her wishes — in this case, to attend a fancy party.
“Instead of her beauty, what I like about the story is that she stands out because she knows these wonderful riddles,” Oppenheimer said. “The lesson is that learning is something that’s more valuable than gold. It’s something that you can never lose.”
When the prince goes looking for the star of the party, “instead of a glass slipper, he’s looking for a girl with this knowledge of riddles,” he said. “That’s become one of my daughter’s favorite books right now.”
After these recommendations, I checked out “Raisel’s Riddle” myself — and I agree with the Oppenheimer family that it’s a delight, whether you’re a child, an adult, Jewish or not.
I think many of you will enjoy these recommendations, too, which is why we’re highlighting them today. In an ongoing way — we want to hear from you about books — and movies and other media — with spiritual themes that you enjoy.
If you’ve got a great suggestion, we’ll feature your recommendation — and your comments as well.
Please tell us what you think. Share any ideas or suggestions! Click Here to email me, David Crumm, or leave a Comment for our readers on our site.