In ‘World Rat Day,’ poet J. Patrick Lewis invites youthful smiles—and flights of imagination

Cover World Rat Day by J Patrick Lewis and Anna RaffJ. Patrick Lewis already is inside countless homes, coast to coast, inviting children and their parents to read aloud from books like last year’s wonderful National Geographic Book of Animal Poetry: 200 Poems with Photographs That Squeak, Soar, and Roar! That big, fun, colorful volume won all kinds of honors, including nearly unanimous 5-star praise on Amazon in reader reviews.

If you don’t have that particular book on your shelf, then perhaps you’ve got one of Lewis’s other 80-plus books! Lewis’s various titles have been released by more than a dozen major publishing houses. In 2011, the Poetry Foundation named Lewis its third U.S. Children’s Poet Laureate. In other words: You’re placing yourself in masterful hands when you buy, enjoy—or give away one of his books.

This year, Lewis is back with a fanciful volume that grabs hold of the calendar—specifically the holidays that chart our progress through the year—and encourages his readers to think fancifully about the way we mark time. He calls it: World Rat Day: Poems About Real Holidays You’ve Never Heard Of.

The title poem in J. Patrick Lewis's new book for children, illustrated by Anna Raff.

The title poem in J. Patrick Lewis’s new book for children, illustrated by Anna Raff.

Given his career-long fascination with the natural world, most of the holidays he marks with playful poems—and colorful illustrations by Anna Raff—have to do with living creatures. His style of poetry toys with words, with the shape of his lines on the page—providing lots of fun for young readers and their parents. Envision a cross between Lewis Caroll, ee cummings and Ogden Nash.

Lewis claims that all of the holidays in his new book are real, although you’ll have to look far and wide to find the groups that “officially declared” some of these holidays. And, no, this book does not include a page of web links or other information about these festivals that he and Raff celebrate. But that’s hardly the point.

The real point is seeing our planet in a new way—and remembering the living creatures that make it such a marvelous place in which to live.

Lewis’s shortest poem is just six words in a single line for the mid-summer Ohio Sheep Day:

No one will ever forget Ewe.”

And, if you welcome this book into your home, your children will never forget your gift.

Review by ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm

Francis: Poverty, rebuilding, animals & Interfaith Hero STORY of St. Francis and the Sultan of Egypt is retold in the book Interfaith Heroes. Click the book cover to learn more about that book.By THOMAS J. REESE, SJ

In picking the name Francis, the new pope sent his first message to the world, but what is that message? Four possibilities come to mind, and perhaps they are all true.

FIRST—A LIFE OF POVERTY: St Francis of Assisi was known for his life of poverty. Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio was also known and respected for refusing to live in the archbishop’s palace in Buenos Aires. Rather, he lived in a simple apartment where he cooked his own meals. He also put aside the chauffeur driven limousine and rode the bus to work. Will Pope Francis try to bring a simpler life style to the papal court? Is this a man who will be comfortable in silks and furs?

Here is a quote from him that should worry the papal court:

The cardinalate is a service is, it is not an award to be bragged about. Vanity, showing off, is an attitude that reduces spirituality to a worldly thing, which is the worst sin that could be committed in the Church…. An example I often use to illustrate the reality of vanity, is this: look at the peacock; it’s beautiful if you look at it from the front. But if you look at it from behind, you discover the truth… Whoever gives in to such self-absorbed vanity has huge misery hiding inside them.

SECOND—‘REBUILD MY CHURCH’: Early in his career, St. Francis heard a message from God: “Rebuild my church.” At first he thought God meant the building in the forest near where he was living. Only later did he realize that it was the institutional church, which was in disrepair, that he was to rebuild. With all the problems facing the church—sexual abuse crisis, declining membership in Europe and the Americas, and a Vatican Curia in need of reform—this name may point toward an ecclesial agenda.

THIRD—LOVE OF ANIMALS: Francis was also famous for his love of animals and nature. With the environmental catastrophe of climate change facing the world, his choice of name could point to an aggressive and prophetic stance on environmental issues. This is certainly one of the greatest challenges of the 21st Century, and it would be great to have the pope be a real leader on environmental issues.

FOURTH—INTERFAITH HERO: Francis was known for his peaceful and positive attitude toward Islam. He was no crusader when his time was marked by war between Christendom and Islam. Rather he walked through the battlefield unarmed to meet with the Sultan, who was so impressed that he listened to him and sent him back unharmed. At a time when peaceful relations between Muslims and Christians are again necessary for the good of the world, he could be sending a message not only to Christians, but also to Muslims.

There is another Francis that the new pope is connected to because of his Jesuit roots: St. Francis Xavier. This Francis was known for his missionary zeal. There is much talk in the church about evangelization because of the church’s losses in Europe and the Americas. Xavier was a man who did it. And he died on an island off the coast of China, which today is seen as a field ripe for the harvest.


This column is used by permission from Father Thomas Reese, the author of several essential books about the structure and influence of the Roman Catholic Church. His most important book, right now, is Inside the Vatican: The Politics and Organization of the Catholic Church,published by Harvard University Press. For decades, Father Reese has been one of the leading American experts on the Catholic church, quoted in newspaper, magazines and TV news stories. Father Reese also has organized an extensive index to Papal Transition stories, hosted by America magazine online.

Bestiare: Spiritual meditation in a gaze between species THE COVER to visit the DVD’s Amazon page.WATCHING ANIMALS

That six-word sentence captures Bestiaire, this unique wordless documentary by Canadian filmmaker Denis Côté that has garnered rave reviews from critics. The Hollywood Reporter calls this film “compelling contemplation of the subjective gaze, applied to both humans and animals.”

The New York Times has recommended the film more than once. The Times’ Dennis Lim described the movie this way: “Named for the medieval bestiary, an illustrated compendium of animal fables, it is itself a kind of picture book come to life, not to mention a work of unexpected poetry and philosophical richness.”

The Times’ Manohla Dargis strongly recommended the film, which she described as: “Beautifully shot in digital, with steady framing and long shots that never overstay their welcome, it instead offers up image after image of animals—animals eating, grazing, walking, standing, staring and, at times, panicking.” She concluded that this film is “essential viewing.”

No, don’t worry. This is not a shocking animal-rights propaganda piece in which we confront shocking images before it’s finished. And, no, this was not photographed in a multi-million-dollar exploration of the entie planet—the stuff of those eye-popping high-definition nature documentaries from the BBC and other networks. Denis Côté shot some of his material in an art class as people sketched animals. He shot a bit of taxidermy. Mostly, he shot footage in a wildlife park—a small zoo—in Canada.

Now, if that description makes you suddenly turn away from this, dismissing it as an arty documentary made on the cheap … well, you haven’t quietly watched the 72 minutes of Bestiare.

As we view, we are watching animals watching us watching animals. That’s the spiritual treasure of this film—yes, spiritual treasure. Watch it with a group of friends, then sit back for a moment in silence before you talk about it. You’ve never watched anything quite like this.

Nor have these animals watched—you.

This film recently was released by the KimStim Collection of Zeitgeist films on DVD.


Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Lenten Journey 5: In death … is life.

This entry is part 4 of 8 in the series Lenten Journeys

FOR LENT 2013, ReadTheSpirit has two offerings for you:

1.) DAVID CRUMM’S ‘Our Lent’ Thousands of readers have enjoyed the day-by-day book of inspiring stories, Our Lent: Things We Carry.

2.) LENTEN JOURNEY The Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt, author of Ian Fleming’s Seven Deadlier Sins & Guide for Caregivers is publishing a new Lenten series:
Part 1: Introduction and ‘Deep Calls to Deep’

Part 2: ‘Rituals & Practices (and Flowing Water)’

Part 3: Surprised? Or, is this an invitation to a blessing?
Part 4: Legacy of imperfection and grace.

5: In death … is life.

By the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Pratt

THIS MORNING I WITNESSED IT—and I cannot keep it to myself. As often as we may see this in the natural world, the experience is riveting. Some truths we do not face easily.

Something must die for us to live.

That’s a fact. An axiom. A truth of nature: In death is life. This process unfolds all around us all the time, as simple as arising each day and eating breakfast—even our cereal was once a green and thriving plant.

So, there I stand, looking out the window, pondering the new day, enjoying a squirrel grazing beneath our feeders. Plumping himself against the winter chill; munching on grains as I had. Chickadees, Sparrows, Cardinals, Wrens peck at these kernels of life that we provide in our backyard buffet. As they crowd our feeders, they scatter an overflow on the squirrel’s head. Even a Downy Woodpcker’s sweet suet bits cascade over this fortunate grazer. Bounty showering all around him, he munches in fat contentment.

Then, a flash.

The birds explode from the feeders—gone—which is what I chiefly notice, at first. Until I realize the squirrel is gone as well. Where? I did see it unfold, I realize. The hawk shot down with talons and beak poised for the strike.

Now, I see that hawk lifting him almost softly—softly to my eyes. The squirrel utters one, short, sharp, final squeak. Soaring to a broad tree limb—50 feet above the fray. I witness a meal that will steel this regal hawk against the winter chill.

The danger past, the other birds return to the feeders one by one. Soon that colorful community is restored. But I cannot turn my eyes from the tree branch. I cannot help but watch—like catching a glimpse in my mind’s eye of myself in a coffin.

We say: In death is life. We know it. But, this is a hard truth, isn’t it? I sit down and jot this prayer, which I share with you today:

O Lord, I eat flesh and I eat grains.
All die that I may live.
This is not a prayer of guilty confession;
I pray in humble thanksgiving today.
Grant me awareness to undergird my choices:
Turn my competition and violence,
Toward stewardship and compassion,
Toward justice, kindness, mercy
And thanks for the promise of life.


Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

This column also has been posted to the website of the Day1 radio network.

Jacob Needleman on rediscovering our world first image of the Earth from outer space, taken by a camera-equipped rocket fired in 1946.From his home in the San Francisco Bay area, Jacob Needleman still teaches, writes and, when he sits back on a quiet night to contemplate our world—he still enjoys looking up at the stars and waaaay back into his own origins. Looking to the stars? Recalling our origins? Does it sound like something out of a superhero comic book? In his newest book, Jacob Needleman says these forms of reflection are distinctively human. In a healthy way, they can reconnect us with the vast story of the Earth, so that we can recognize our role in our planet’s unfolding drama. Read Part 1 of our coverage for a more complete overview of Needleman’s new book, An Unknown World.
Today, ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talks with the author in …

ON AN UNKNOWN WORLD THE COVER TO VISIT THE BOOK’S AMAZON PAGE.DAVID: As I read your latest work along with the other urgent voices we are hearing around the world today, I think of your book as an answer to writers like Yale’s James Gustave Speth who is calling for “a new narrative” that reawakens a global appreciation of the Earth.

JACOB: Yes, I’m glad if readers find that kind of vision and promise in my book. I agree that we do need a new narrative about our world, our species, ourselves—if we are to survive. I’m very glad to think of this book in that way.

DAVID: As we will point out in the first part of our coverage, Speth certainly isn’t alone. There are a surprising number of secular writers who want to form collegial relationships with religious communities. Writers like Speth and E.O. Wilson are not talking about making a sudden conversion. But, they are talking in a refreshing way about sharing a vision of the Earth between science and religion.

JACOB: I see this, too. You’re describing what really is a widespread hunger among scientists, young people and so many others. People may not want to call it “religion” or “spirituality,” but there certainly is a hunger for meaning in life.

DAVID: I’m surprised, too, at how many of these recent writers who we might call scientific skeptics also direct their readers back to childhood—to remember what first got them excited about the Earth. OUR AWARENESS OF OURSELVES: In 1948, our snapshot of our world expanded! From single grainy images, scientists assembled this panorama of a broader section of our globe.


JACOB: To go back to childhood is the same thing as reaching back for something we are born with and something we grow up containing. Plato would describe it as an element in ourselves that we are born with. It’s an inner need to open to something higher and greater than ourselves.

Plato referred to this as Eros, but he wasn’t using the term with a sexual meaning. It’s an inner need to open to something higher and greater than ourselves. Yes, one element of what Plato was describing is our love of knowledge and wisdom—but he also was describing our inner need to open ourselves to something higher and greater than ourselves. It’s that part of Plato’s Eros that has been repressed by secularism and scientism, and notice that I’m using that second term with “ism” attached to it. Since the time of Plato, we have known that humans have a need to be aware of something greater than ourselves. It’s an absolutely essential element of who we are—and it cannot be repressed without further damaging our future. To go back to childhood goes back to a time in life when that aspect of Platonic Eros was alive and influencing us, our thoughts, our hopes, our dreams. That’s where we can join with great scientists, with searching philosophers, with religious seekers and with so many young people today. When we reach toward that point of sharing this larger need, then hope opens up for us.

DAVID: You see this as especially compelling for college-age students, right?

JACOB: Oh, yes. For example, I taught a course on Ralph Waldo Emerson and, in this digital age, I wondered: Would any students be interested? I was surprised that the students were absolutely enthralled with Emerson! So, I asked them: “Why do you like this so much?” One student said: “It brought me hope.” And other students agreed with that first student.

These are questions we all want to answer: What is our hope? How do we find it? Emerson recognized that these questions touch on something that we have largely hidden from ourselves. Many people now have forgotten these questions. Emerson knew that we needed to ask them, again. BOOK-SIZE GLIMPSE OF THE WORLD FOR KIDS: In his new book, Jacob Needleman writes about The Stars for Sam, a popular science book for young readers that forever shaped his own life.DAVID: When readers open your book, you take them right back to your childhood. So, give us a little explanation. Where did you grow up? Who was this young friend you describe in the book?

JACOB: The setting is Philadelphia, where I lived from about age 7 to 12 or 13. I open the book in the lower-middle-class neighborhood where we lived. We had difficulties making ends meet. I was already deeply interested in astronomy; I had such a sense of wonder about the world, the planets, the stars, the universe. I met my friend when I was about 10 or 11 and he was a little older than me. I give him the name Elias in the book, which wasn’t his real name. But we really would sit together on a low stone wall along a neighbor’s yard, just as I describe it. We would talk about the life, living things and the whole universe. He was a close friend and we met all the time to talk about these things. Then, he died of leukemia when he was about 14 or so. I was about 13 at the time. This was a great blow to me.

DAVID: In your new book, you also tell us about a children’s picture book that forever shaped your life: The Stars for Sam. I’ve got a copy of a 1960s edition of the book, which originally was published back in the 1930s. It’s a straight-up scientific picture book for kids. It’s not fiction, not fanciful at all. What’s so important about witnessing scientific wonders?

JACOB NEEDLEMAN: HUMAN LIGHT ECLIPSING THE LIGHT OF OUR STARS EYE-POPPING GLIMPSE OF THE EARTH. Finally, in 1972, Apollo 17 was in position to capture an image of our planet that stretched from North to South Pole. “The Blue Marble,” the popular title for this historic photo, revolutionized our awareness of the planet.JACOB: We have lost the cosmic dimension to our lives. We need to reach out and explore. It’s absolutely essential. You know that in most cities, we can no longer see the stars at night. The light humans make today has eclipsed the light of our stars and—right there—we’ve described the problem we face. Even the light of human reason, which is a wonderful light in itself, has eclipsed the greater questions we need to explore.

I remember going to a big NASA night launch at a time when about a thousand reporters were covering the event. I could hear reporters sounding skeptical as they talked about all the dollars we were spending on this big project, when there were so many other needs in the world.

Right there, across the big lagoon from us, was this rocket about 30 stories high. The lights were shining on it like a massive spiritual symbol. The countdown was going on and I could hear Walter Cronkite’s voice talking about the launch. Everyone was talking around me; people were laughing; the countdown continued. Then we got to 10, 9, 8—and in the final seconds we suddenly saw these huge, brilliant orange flames all around the base of the rocket. So gorgeous! And, I realized that there was not a single sound. You know, at first, the light comes across the lagoon and reaches our eyes before the sound arrives. When the sound came across the lagoon, we felt a rumbling that was the deepest and most beautiful sound any of us had ever heard. It went right through the body. It affected the heart. One would have followed that sound anywhere. This huge skyscraper of a rocket started rising. Our jaws were dropping!

This was a deeply spiritual event. We watched this rocket go up and up. It separated and it turned into what looked like a star. At the same moment, we all were aware that there were human beings, just like us, in the middle of that. Then, the rocket all but disappeared—yet the silence persisted where we stood. People were so touched with wonder at what we had just experienced together that there was little anyone could say. I do recall one of the most cynical reporters simply saying, “I had no idea it was like this.”

That night, people were so touched that they became normal again. Their better natures resurfaced. As they were preparing to leave, people stood quietly, talked softly, helped each other. There was no more wise cracking. People were gentle and civil. If there is a key to world peace, it starts with rediscovering our wonderment.


DAVID: One experience that everyone in their 40s or older can recall is our first glimpse of “The Blue Marble,” the famous first photo of Earth from outer space that showed the whole planet—pole to pole. That’s one potential asset we share, now, around the world. We are the first generations in world history to have seen our planet from a perspective outside the Earth.

JACOB: The appearance of the Blue Marble photo was such a huge event for most of us. I was younger than I am now, of course, and I can remember my response to it. At that point, we knew the scientific facts. Of course, we knew the world was round. We knew the shape of the continents. But a lot of the facts we know are not processed by the part of ourselves that connects with true meaning. Our standard of knowing is so literal that it precludes us from experiencing that deeper meaning, purpose and value. That’s why I write in this new book that scientism—and again I’m using that “ism” form of the word—can only tell us what is real. It can’t tell us the underlying meaning. That Blue Marble photograph broke through that barrier. I remember seeing it for the first time and it was like an ancient scripture suddenly revealed to the light of day again. People perceived that photo with both heart and mind.

JACOB NEEDELMAN: ‘The Earth is a sacred book.’

DAVID: So now we’re getting at the ultimate message of your new book: The Earth is more than a huge rock circling the sun. The Earth is sacred book in itself. What you you’re describing is not some kind of crazy DaVinci Code or National Treasure kind of conspiracy theory about global secrets. What you’re trying to explain is that science is an important way to “read” the Earth—but it’s a literal reading. We also need a spiritual reading of the Earth.

JACOB: You’re talking about the whole theme of the book. Everything I’ve been trying to understand about myself, to research as a scholar and to share with others is contained in that line: The Earth is a sacred book. When you really feel the deeper meanings of scriptures, you are stunned. You are in awe. You become quiet as this experience rolls through you. That’s what I just described on that night of the NASA launch. The answer to the many challenges we face in the world today is not to pour more agitated religious fervor or political ideology over our problems. Even strict scientism can’t uncover solutions. The answer lies in our search for meaning and the possibility that we just might come together in a community that is more civil and more benevolent because we share a sense of awe. And, in fact, this is an appeal that falls on the ears of so many people, especially young people, who feel this deep hunger for meaning rising within them. They’ve had enough horizontal distractions in our culture. They want vertical ideas—ideas that look toward higher purposes in life. If we could leave readers with one line, it would be: The Earth is a sacred book.

Care to read Part 1 of our coverage of An Unknown World? That first story also contains links to several other related books and ReadTheSpirit stories.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

Jacob Needleman rewakening the story of the Earth

Once upon a time, we all discovered the Earth. Perhaps, for you, it was your first glimpse of the Apollo 8 Earthrise photos (like the one above) in 1968 or the Apollo 17 Blue Marble photo in 1972. Perhaps, like Jacob Needelman—a widely revered pioneer in interfaith scholarship—it was through the black-and-white photos and inviting text of a W. Maxwell Reed young reader like The Stars for Sam.

But, somewhere—sometime—at some moment, you stopped in your tracks, your eyes grew wide and you realized that the Earth is something far larger than you ever dreamed.

And quite simply: That’s the big message! Ponder that idea, if you take away nothing else from our coverage this week of Jacob Needleman’s marvelous, magical—and absolutely urgent new book, An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth.

WHY IS HIS STORY—OUR STORY? CHILDREN’S BOOK FIRST AWAKENED YOUR WONDERMENT FOR THE EARTH? At top is The Stars for Sam in its 1960 revision for young readers. Jacob Needleman discovered the book in its original 1931 edition by popular children’s author W. Maxwell Reed. In 1960, Time-Life and Golden Books released the large-format full-color The Wonders of Life on Earth. In 1954, Walt Disney’s True-Life Adventure produced the Beaver Valley nature film that toured U.S. theaters and appeared as a picture-book for children. In 1957, Captain Kangaroo introduced millions of American children to giant pandas, a year before the London Zoo caused a sensation with the arrival of Chi-Chi and 15 years before Ling-Ling and Hsing-Hsing arrived in Washington D.C.At 77, Jacob Needleman’s life has spanned great events of the 20th century as a scholar of religion, a teacher of countless college students and the author of 16 books. His landmark book, as a pioneer in the serious study of world religions, was his 1970 best-seller The New Religions, now available in a recent Tarcher Cornerstone Edition.That book surprised readers with both an authoritative overview of global spiritual traditions and a report specifically on how these seemingly exotic faiths were unfolding on American shores. Later, millions of Americans got to know Needleman through his talks with Bill Moyers on public television.

In our 2010 interview with Needleman, he explained the vocational pull that has shaped his life—and the lives of all the Americans who have been influenced by his insights. He said:
As I taught for many years in this area, I got more and more interested in religious thought. As my interest grew, I saw a dynamic convergence in the teachings of all the great traditions. There was a common, universal vision of the central questions, such as: What is humanity? And: What should we be doing with our lives? When new religious movements began entering into the San Francisco area in the 1960s, I decided I wanted to write not so much for the academic specialists but for the general public. I wanted to see how this convergence of humanity in the light of the world might provide answers for the problems we all face.

But, if you think of Jacob Needleman as “an author I once read back in the day,” then you’re missing the fresh and exhilarating books he is producing in his 70s. He’s still actively teaching students in the second decade of this new century. Our 2010 interview explored his recent book What Is God?In that book, he accomplished something that few other writers would even dare to attempt. He combined a memoir about his personal search for God with insights from a wide range of world religions.

And where did that book start? The same place he takes us in the opening scenes of his newest book An Unknown World: Notes on the Meaning of the Earth. He takes us back to childhood. But if you assume he is merely a wallowing in Norman Rockwell nostalgia, then you haven’t yet discovered Jacob Needleman’s writing.

In the opening pages, he and his young friend Elias, lit to sit and talk as children do on a convenient low stone wall in their neighborhood. Needleman writes: I tried to recollect the times the two of us had spent sitting on the stone wall—even when it was covered with ice, or while snow was falling. When it was raining heavily, however, we would go to the big house he lived in, where his beautiful Armenian mother would serve us delicious cakes and strangely fragrant teas.

Of course, this is our childhood, too—a friend, the changing seasons, a favorite place to sit, the sensations, the scents, the tastes. For you, perhaps it was girl who sat beside you on the playground each day at recess. Perhaps it was the boy who liked to roller blade with you after school. Maybe the scents and tastes that summon these memories weren’t fragrant tea and cakes. It might be the scent of a backyard barbecue or the taste of a root beer.

But, summon your memory with Jacob Needleman and the next place he’ll take you is—up into the stars.

WHY IS JACOB NEEDLEMAN’S MESSAGE SO URGENT NOW? THE COVER TO VISIT THE BOOK’S AMAZON PAGE.Come back later this week to meet Jacob Needleman in our new interview about the message he hopes to convey through his newest book, An Unknown World.

In addition to talking about memory and wonderment as touchstones in the pathway to reawakening the story of the Earth, we also talk about the compelling context of this new book.

In recent years, leading voices in the secular scientific world have turned to the realm of religion and asked: Is anyone aware of the major global crises we are facing? Does anyone from a faith perspective see a way to motivate people to help change the human trajectory toward ecological disaster?

Yale’s former dean of environmental sciences, James Gustave Speth, writing as a secular scientist made that exact appeal in his own passionate and prophetic book, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. Writing from the standpoint of natural selection, Speth argues that the limits of our instincts for survival may not extend beyond ourselves, our families and possibly our communities or nations. There’s no sense of any species-wide instinct for survival that might cause humans to tackle global problems—unless, Speth argues, religious leaders and teachers awaken a compelling planetary narrative. “The potential of faith communities is enormous,” Speth writes. He adds that we need “a new narrative that helps make sense of it all and provides a positive vision.”

E.O.Wilson, the famous biologist and secularist, makes the same appeal in The Creation: An Appeal to Save Life on Earth. He opens that personal, moving book with these words: “Dear Pastor: We have not met, yet I feel I know you well enough to call you friend. First of all, we grew up in the same faith. As a boy …”

In An Unknown World, Jacob Needleman answers them. He doesn’t address them by name, but he stretches across a wide range of religious traditions to offer that “new narration that helps make sense of it all,” that Speth was hoping to see. Like Wilson, he takes readers back to childhood wonderment and hope.

In our interview, Jacob Needleman says, in part: There is a widespread hunger among scientists, young people and so many others. People may not want to call it “religion” or “spirituality,” but there certainly is a hunger for meaning in life. To go back to childhood is the same thing as reaching back for something we are born with and something we grow up containing. Plato would describe it as an element in ourselves that we are born with. It’s an inner need to open to something higher and greater than ourselves.

Continue on to the ReadTheSpirit Interview with Jacob Needleman.

Please help us to reach a wider audience

We welcome your Emails at [email protected]
We’re also reachable on Twitter, Facebook, AmazonHuffington PostYouTube and other social-networking sites. 
You also can Subscribe to our articles via Email or RSS feed.
Plus, there’s a free Monday morning Planner newsletter you may enjoy.

Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.

James Gustave Speth’s America the Possible THE COVER TO VISIT THE BOOK’S AMAZON PAGE.If you want a hard-headed analysis of the global disaster that is looming—and possible pathways to cope with that challenge in sustainable ways—then you need to read books by the former head of Yale’s school of environmental studies James Gustave Speth.

Several years ago, we strongly recommended Speth’s prophetic, research-based manifesto, The Bridge at the Edge of the World: Capitalism, the Environment, and Crossing from Crisis to Sustainability. This week, we are reminding readers of that earlier book in our coverage of Jacob Needleman’s new book, An Unknown World.

There’s no coincidence that this is the same week we are receiving America the Possible: Manifesto for a New Economy. This is Speth’s newest book that repeats—and expands on—his appeal for a new progressive vision as well as a worldwide network to work for social, economic and environmental change. World events are moving so rapidly now that thinkers from realms of religion, like Jacob Needleman, and science, like Speth, are honing their messages into clarion calls that just might make a difference.

In his earlier book, Speth ended with some strong questions to teachers, religious leaders, social activists, scientists as well as anyone else who would listen and start thinking. Now, he is mapping out an even clearer appeal that he describes as a new progressive movement.

Toward the end, he writes: Throughout this book, I have made references to the various progressive communities. Note the plural. What does not exist yet, and what must now be built with urgency, is a unified progressive community. He explains in a clear-eyed way why most sympathetic men and women seem determined to construct barriers that so far are hobbling any hope for a unified movement.

Who can help? As he argued in his earlier book, Speth says that we need a deep, widespread and sustained effort to form and share “a different story.” One key source for that new story is social movements. Speth writes: Social movements are all about consciousness raising, and if successful, they can help usher in a new consciousness. … The proliferation of protests in cities across our country in 2011 may have signaled its beginning.

But that’s not enough, Speth concludes. Writing as a secular scientist, he argues that we must engage the world’s religions, religious teachers and congregational leaders:

Mary Evelyn Tucker has noted that “no other group of institutions can wield the particular moral authority of the religions.” The potential of faith communities is enormous, and they are turning more attention to issues of social justice, peace and environment. … In his 2009 encyclical, Charity in Truth, Pope Benedict XVI called for a radical rethinking of economic life, the profit motive, and economic disparities. Spiritual awakening to new values and new consciousness can also derive from the arts, literature, philosophy, and science. Consider, for example, the long tradition of “reverence for life” stretching back to the Emperor Ashoka more than 2,200 years ago and forward to Albert Schweitzer, Aldo Leopold, Thomas Berry, E.O. Wilson, Terry Tempest Williams, and others. … Cultural transformation won’t be easy, but it’s not impossible either.

Speth ends his new book with poetry of Seamus Heaney:
History says, Don’t hope
On this side of the grave.
But then, once in a lifetime
The longed-for tidal wave
Of justice can rise up,
And hope and history rhyme.

Speth concludes: “Full of hope, it is time to rise up and make history.”

This new book is a great choice for individual reading. It’s also a terrific choice for small-group discussion both in congregations and in secular settings. Given Speth’s stature, the Yale University Press publishing imprint and the balanced sources from which this book draws, there is no religious-secular boundary here preventing America the Possible from being discussed in any setting where people gather.

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Originally published at, an online magazine covering religion and cultural diversity.