057: What You’re Reading, Hearing, Seeing!

    Thank you, readers! We plan our coverage based on your interests — and this entire week we’re focusing on spiritual themes that you’ve told us are important.
    In TODAY’s story, we’re reporting to our growing worldwide readership about some of the books, films and music that you have told us are truly inspiring.
    Then, come back Tuesday through Thursday for our first-ever coverage of a spiritual realm that a number of readers have urged us to explore: Zowee! It’s the rapidly rising realm of spirituality among super heroes, comic books and graphic novels! That three-day series of stories kicks off tomorrow with our weekly quiz.
    On Friday, we’ll wrap up the week with more of your favorite religiously themed Web sites. Yes, there’s still time to send in nominations for Friday’s story. (You can do that easily by leaving a comment or sending an email via links at the end of this story.)

    FIRST, just in the nick of time for Christmas, a special “Thanks!” goes to Patrick Ogle of Chicago for urging us to tell you about “Dark Noel,” one of the strangest and most awe-inspiring holiday music CDs that we’ve heard in years.
    “It is a very different angle on holiday and sacred music,” Patrick wrote. And that’s a perfect way to describe the appeal of this CD, produced by an independent music label known as Projekt.
    (With any of today’s recommendations — and all of our ReadTheSpirit articles — click on the titles or cover images to jump to our individual reviews. You also can purchase copies from Amazon directly through our site.)
    I wound up going to unusual lengths to review “Dark Noel.” That’s because this CD is a sampler of genres that are different from most of the music in my personal iTunes collection. For instance, I don’t carry many “darkwave”-genre tunes around with me.
    The photo at left is from a performance of the band Arcanta that produced the truly striking version of “Carol of the Bells” on the new CD that evokes medieval memories.
    So, I invited three college students to listen to tracks from the CD and their responses all were raves — sufficient praise for me to feel confident in my own recommendation of the CD.
    My favorite student reviews were: “Sweeeeeeet!” (that was a 1-word emailed review complete with 7 e’s) and “Weird! I LIKE it!” and finally, “I think my Mom will think she hates it until she hears it and then she’ll like it, too.”

    NEXT, a reader in the UK who signed his email, Edmund, nudged me politely toward including another holiday musical delight: “The Birth of Christ.” You might have seen this concert-on-film airing on PBS television stations or you may have seen the musical soundtrack on CD.
    My suggestion is that you buy the DVD to enjoy the full experience.
    “This was terribly good news, many of us feel,” Edmund wrote. “And I don’t see much in American media about this. … Perhaps you can put in just a word.”
    He was referring to the concert that was filmed at Christ Church Cathedral in Dublin where Protestant and Catholic choirs came together to perform a new choral work, “The Birth of Christ,” by American-born composer Andrew T. Miller.
    Want to know how serious an event this was? Well, it was hosted by Liam Neeson and, at least in the DVD version, Neeson appears on screen between movements to read from the Nativity narrative in Luke.

    STAYING with the medium of film and the idea of courageously exploring the darkness that is a part of “Winter Light,” I received an email from Emi Foulk, a freelance writer who recently earned her master’s degree in journalism from Columbia University in New York City.
    Emi suggested we tell people about one of the newer editions of Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s films.
    She wrote: “You might add Ingmar Bergman’s films, particularly his trilogy of ‘Through a Glass Darkly,’ ‘Winter Light’ and ‘The Silence,’ all available on DVD through Criterion, to a future spiritual cinema post. These aren’t recent, to be sure, and aren’t necessarily the easiest films to watch, but I found their approach to spirituality and God unique, harrowing and, above all, thought-provoking.
    “As you probably already know, Bergman was the son of a Lutheran minister and that greatly informs his film-making,” Emi wrote. “I find your interviews very interesting — too bad you can’t interview him!”
    That’s because Bergman died on June 30 this year and we launched this site in September. Nevertheless, what an amazing spirit he left us in his 62 films, including this trilogy that ranks among his most provocative reflections on faith.

    FINALLY, a physician, Dr. Joffer Hakim, was among a number of readers who have emailed since our September review of Imam Hassan Qazwini’s new book, “American Crescent,” to urge that we further recommend the book to readers.
    Well, we’ll do that today in Dr. Hakim’s own words: “If people are genuinely interested in understanding Islam and how a Muslim lives his life in this country, this is the book to read. The Islam depicted on television is as foreign to Muslims as it is to non-Muslims. Real Islam, as practiced by Imam Qazwini, is beautifully illustrated in his book. I recommend this book without reservation.”
    And, for a second time here at ReadTheSpirit, we do, too. We’re doing this because so many readers have urged us to do so.

    That should underscore that we really do mean it when we say: Please, tell us what you think. You can do so by leaving a Comment via the link at the end of this story on our Web site — or by Emailing me, David Crumm.
    See you tomorrow! And, until then: Zowee!!!

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