At our best, that’s what we produce at ReadTheSpirit.
Already, we are drawing readers from around the world into an ongoing conversation about spiritual resources — books, movies, music, poetry and other media — that inspire us and help us to build stronger communities.
Fortunately, today, we ARE at our best — because we’ve got a great story to share with you about fresh, surprising, spiritual voices coming to us from corners of the world that we frequently overlook.
But, FIRST, you’ll want to know this: In this busy holiday week, we’ve cooked up a Feast of Spiritual Surprises for you!
Here’s our Preview of Coming Attractions:
Tuesday, we’ve got holiday “gifts”! We’re giving our readers access to a wonderful Thanksgiving Song — free to download and play wherever you wish — and a special new Thanksgiving prayer that we invite you to share with family and friends this week.
Wednesday, do not miss our special story on “Forgiveness.” It’s a Conversation With an internationally renowned filmmaker whose new documentary, “The Power of Forgiveness,” is touring the U.S. — and may help move us closer to peace.
Thursday is a Holiday for our American readers! So, we’ve got something really fun: A Thanksgiving Quiz — perfect to print out on Thanksgiving morning and share with dinner guests later in the day!
And, Friday — we’re sharing more terrific holiday books that you, our readers, have been nominating over the past week or so!
NOW, BACK TO TODAY’s STORY, which starts with a few lines of poetry by Ibtisam Barakat, a Palestinian-American writer whose story is so delightful that you’ll want to meet her through the new memoir, “Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood.” (Click on the cover above to buy a copy.)
She opens her book with these lines:
“To Alef, the letter
that begins the alphabets
of both Arabic and Hebrew —
two Semitic languages,
sisters for centuries.
May we find the language
that takes us
to the only home there is —
one another’s hearts.”
The spiritual connection that we are making today with the Middle East — and other lands as well — was touched off a week ago by a request from educator Gail Katz, who is one of
Michigan’s leading experts on cross-cultural educational programs for
students in public schools. She is assembling a recommended-reading
list for Middle School students in a nationally recognized program that
Gail supervises, called “Religious Diversity Journeys.”
One week ago, Gail asked our ReadTheSpirit audience to nominate books for young readers about the lives of religious and cultural minorities. And, over the past week, you responded with a global array of recommendations.
The brightest gem that came our way was suggested in an email from Miriam Wills in Philaldelphia, a parent of three who said she discovered “Tasting the Sky: A Palestinian Childhood,” Barakat’s book-length memoir, through her daughter who brought it home as part of a high school class.
“I picked it up and couldn’t put it down,” Wills wrote. “I’ve heard similar stories from relatives, but this writer wove them all together in a complete way. Like giving us a whole world. And I was surprised that it was done without bitterness. There could have been a lot of that, but that’s not how I felt as I read this. I don’t know if it’s intended for adults, but I’m in my 40s and I love this book!”
With an endorsement like that, I had to find a copy of the book, read it myself — and I’m thrilled to report it was the highlight of my reading over the weekend.
What’s it like? Well, think of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s memoirs, if Laura’s life had been “The Little House on a Rocky Hill,” followed by adventures in Jordan, Jerusalem and Jericho.
In her childhood memoir, Barakat vividly summons the colors, tastes and textures of life in a Palestinian family living in one of the traditional small homes that dot the region with a carefully tended garden, a few animals — but no electricity in the 1960s.
Here’s a passage in which she, as a little girl, explores a rural field with her family:
“Father led us to a sunflower field with stalks taller than my brothers and me, even taller than him. I disappeared under a yellow sky of petals and discs.”
Barakat’s eyes are the laser beams of childhood. She sees everything — and seems to remember it all. So, a moment after she describes the beauty of the yellow canopy, she explains that her family stumbles across a rusted soldier’s helmet. She never tells us whose helmet it was — because, for her and her father, it was just a generic soldier’s helmet, an unusual object that this little girl would never forget, because its rusted shape was pierced with a bullet hole.
Together, her family decides to bury the helmet and says “a blessing for the soul that might have been lost from the bullet.”
What is astonishing in this memoir is the tightrope that Barakat flawlessly walks from cover to cover. She takes us through vivid family tales of her siblings’ favorite candy treats, the stitching of a precious new school uniform, an unfortunate and humiliating fistfight on a playground — and the story of a goat that the children befriend until they are heartbroken to learn that their pet will become the main dish at a family reunion.
She also takes us through the flight of refugees, including her family’s flight during the 1967 War, through the eyes of a child.
We learn about Muslim family traditions and the common ingredients of religious wisdom that Mothers and Fathers pass along to their children in the rhythm of their daily conversations. That includes Barakat’s mother, who in the midst of one terrifying experience, wants her children to remember, “There is still good in the world” — a line she likes to repeat.
But Barakat never tumbles from the tightrope of a child’s open-eyed observation of the world. There’s never a false note, never a passage in which she suddenly starts preaching political doctrine. Even when the children encounter Israeli soldiers near their home, the entire scene is carefully observed. She reports the children’s strange wonderment — not political propaganda.
The honesty of the account is refreshing and inspiring.
Where Barakat does tip her hand — and I applaud her for doing this — is in a five-page section at the end of the book, headlined: “To Learn More.”
In these pages, she suggests other books, movies and international groups, including the book “Peace Begins Here” by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk who is internationally famous for his work in promoting peace. (In fact, if you’re interested in his work — don’t miss our story on Wednesday, because Thich Nhat Hanh’s Plum Village in France is featured prominently in the “Forgiveness” film that we’ll tell you about that day.)
Barakat also recommends that people check out Seeds of Peace — another renowned part of the global peace movement. Check out their Web site by clicking here, if you’d like to read more about Seeds. I’m familiar with the group and highly recommend Seeds of Peace, as well — seconding Barakat’s endorsement of the group.
Please, CLICK ON either book cover today to read our review — and buy a copy, if you wish. Anything you purchase through our ReadTheSpirit bookstore is priced at Amazon’s normally discounted prices — but a small portion of each purchase price comes back to us to help support our work.
THANK YOU, readers, for your great recommendations this week! I’m reading as fast as I can and tracking down your suggested spiritual resources — so we can share the best recommendations with our readers.
If you care about books for young readers, along with Gail Katz and her network of educators — then stay tuned to this site, because we’ve got at least a half dozen more gems to recommend in this category in coming weeks.
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and you’ll find a Comment link at the end of this article. Or, you can Click Here to email me, David Crumm.