The Barbara Mahany interview on ‘Slowing Time’

Cover Slowing Time by Barbara Mahany

Click this cover to visit the book’s Amazon page.

IN THE DEAD of winter across the Northern Hemisphere, where can we hope to find a pathway to spiritual renewal? Those of us in the northern states, overwhelmed by ice and snow, wish we could hibernate! Who would dare to venture outdoors for inspiration?

Barbara Mahany, that’s who.

After decades of writing for the Chicago Tribune, she now is sharing her wonderfully engaging insights with the rest of us in Slowing Time: Seeing the Sacred Outside Your Kitchen Door. As we have often found at ReadTheSpirit magazine, veteran journalists understand their relationship with readers and have polish their craft until their writing feels like a conversation with a good friend. Just think of Judith Valente, Cathleen Falsani, David Briggs, Ken Chitwood, Suzy Farbman, Bobbie Lewis, Lynne Meredith Golodner—and that’s just to name a few.

If you are already a fan of any of the writers we’ve just listed, then don’t wait—click on one of the links to Slowing Time and order a copy right now. You’re going to love it!

Baby Boomers who fondly recall groundbreaking books like The Whole Earth Catalog—or anyone who likes to leaf through the pages of an Old Farmer’s Almanac will find a kindred spirit in Barbara’s paperback, which is packed with short pieces in a range of genres and formats. At a couple of points, she even tosses in favorite recipes! As you’re reading other passages, you’ll enjoy Barbara’s “field notes,” which run along the edges of many pages. Readers who can recall Whole Earth or are familiar with the Talmud may recognize this pre-Internet form of packing commentary on top of commentary as the pages turn.

The overall effect is a book you want to tuck in your purse or pocket, briefcase or shoulder bag. Keep a copy on the table where you enjoy your breakfast or morning coffee. Or, better yet, place your copy on a window-sill or near a doorway where you can read a bit before stepping outside.

Outside!?!

Yes, indeed. The book opens with these lines from poet Mary Oliver …

It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch

a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway

into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.

ReadTheSpirit Editor David Crumm talked with Barbara Mahany. Here are ….

HIGHLIGHTS OF OUR INTERVIEW
WITH BARBARA MAHANY
ON ‘SLOWING TIME’

DAVID: As a good journalist who understands the diversity of your readers, you include lots of surprising details in these pages. Your book encourages readers to rethink the way they approach the four seasons, beginning with winter, and you start with a reference to Tu Bi’Shvat (or Tu B’Shevat, spellings vary). Most Americans are Christian, but our online magazine covers this ancient Jewish holiday each year in our Holidays & Festivals department. And, this year FeedTheSpirit columnist Bobbie Lewis also has a fascinating piece on the “New Year of the Trees.”

In an opening page of your book, you introduce your section of “Winter” reflections like this: “In the Hebrew calendar, it won’t be long till Tu B’Shevat, the Jewish new year of the trees, when, in mid-winter in Israel, the almond tree awakes from its winter’s slumber, and 16th-century Jewish mystics taught that we elevate ourselves by partaking of seven new-year fruits. If eaten with holy intention, we’re told, sparks of light hidden inside the fruits’ soft flesh will be broken open and freed to float to heaven, completing the circle of life’s renewal.”

Barbara Mahany

Barbara Mahany

BARBARA: I’m so glad you noticed that and asked about it! Let me explain. I’m a deeply spiritual liberal Catholic and my husband is Jewish. Over the years, we’ve learned a lot from each other. One thing I’ve learned from Judaism is to appreciate the wonderful encouragement to eat new foods with each new season. As you’re preparing these foods and eating them—you are marking the sacred time and you’re thinking about spiritual wisdom. Think about pomegranates. As you’re chopping up your pomegranate to get at the seeds, you’re taught to think about the number of mitzvot, commandments we’re supposed to remember and carry out. The number of seeds in the pomegranate is supposed to remind us of the number of mitzvot.

DAVID: On one page of your book, you tell us about this kind of ancient tradition—then, on the next page, you’re explaining ways that readers could appreciate “the amplitude” of a winter storm. Then, flip a page and you’re reminding us that, as we look out the window or take a wintry walk outside, we could look for the flashing red of a cardinal. And I can testify to the fact that we’ve had several cardinals, this winter, at our backyard bird feeders. You just have to pay attention.

So, I have to ask you: For many years, you tackled tough assignments for the Chicago Tibune. Given your position and your body of work at the Tribune, you rank among the country’s top journalists. In 2013, you were part of the prestigious Harvard-Nieman journalism fellowship with your husband, architecture writer Blair Kamin. He was the fellow and, under the Nieman rules, you fully participated as well. Here’s the question: Given those decades of work in one of the world’s toughest newsrooms, wasn’t it a challenge to write about ways to discover spirituality in one’s back yard?

‘Who’d dare to chart the spiritual landscape …’

BARBARA: Yes. The Nieman Storyboard editor asked me to write about the challenges and rewards of a journalist trying to write about spirituality. It was a really tough assignment!

DAVID: We’ll add a link to that Nieman column you wrote. Here’s the part I like best from your essay: “The burning question for a journalist who’d dare to chart the spiritual landscape is how, using the tools of the craft, do you toughen the fibers, sharpen the edges, of a subject that, by definition, is formless? How do you put hard-chiseled words to believing, indeterminate act that it is?”

I’d describe this challenge another way: In your new book you’ve got an eye for what journalists often call “telling details.” I’ve heard lots of top journalists talk about this principle. I once interviewed Gay Talese about his influence in the 1960s over the movement we called The New Journalism—in magazine pieces he wrote like “Frank Sinatra Has a Cold” for Esquire. Talese told me it was all about understanding “telling details”—writing about that precise thing, perhaps even a color or aroma or small object, that tells us a great deal about an experience.

The highest praise I can give your book is that it’s packed with telling details. I can still recall your description of watching a cardinal with your son, weeks after I finished reading that little story in this book.

BARBARA: You’re right. If you’re going to write about spirituality, you have to find the telling details.

It was scary for someone who has been pounding away in the newsroom for a long time to approach a subject like this. I was always known as a writer who had my heart on my sleeve—so it was scary for me to have both heart and soul on my sleeve—to stand up in front of people and say: This is what I believe. To say: I do believe in the ineffable and some really hard-to-describe things.

And, as you say, one of the challenges for a writer, when writing about spirituality, is to fall into soft, gauzy language. As a journalist, I feel that when you step into the landscape of the spiritual, you actually have to raise the bar of your craft. You have to sharpen your language in such a way that it can hold the reader’s attention—and yet can startle the reader as well.

The final challenge was not to flinch. You have to have the courage to go down this pathway and step beyond what you have written before. And you must do this with a discipline that is completely, absolutely the truth. If you’re going to dare to step out there and say, “This is what I believe,” then you have to take this to its very essence.

In this kind of writing, we’re giving voice to our deepest whispers.

‘Meditations spring from absolute ordinariness’

DAVID: And yet, your starting point on nearly every page is the everyday, commonplace stuff of home. You see, and invite us to see with you, the amazing connections that can arise from things on a kitchen counter or a bedroom window.

BARBARA: It’s a very fine needle to thread and I learned to do this through years of writing columns for The Tribune.

I am rooted in everyday experiences. In the story you referred to from this book, I was getting one of my sons out of bed, when the little guy reached for binoculars and we began looking out the window at a cardinal. That’s a very common story—a mother getting her child out of bed—but that story opens up to so much more as the dots connect.

My stories begin in bedrooms, on kitchen counters, in dining rooms. It’s plain talk. It’s everyday talk. I write from the homefront. These are meditations that spring from the absolute ordinariness of our lives.

DAVID: The material in this book feels perfect for a retreat. I hope that some of our readers might be inspired by this interview to go to your website, Barbara, and contact you about leading a retreat.

BARBARA: I would love to do that, if people inquire about it. There are so many different kinds of things in this book from recipes and reflections to field notes and lots of different elements that invite readers to participate and share their own thoughts. I’m trying to help people open up all of their channels—full mind, body and spiritual immersion in the sacred. And I’m saying that you don’t have to do this by trekking off to the Himalayas. It’s all right where you find yourself.

‘Little epiphanies all day long’

DAVID: Another comparison I would make is: The Old Farmers Almanac. Of course, your book isn’t exactly an almanac with all the stuff you’d find in Old Farmers. But there is a day-by-day invitation to discovery as we interact with the natural world around us.

BARBARA: I’m rejoicing. Yes, I love things like the Farmers Almanac. That really touches the epicenter of my world of joy. I was raised by a Mom who quite a nature lover. We can still see it if we pull out the movies she shot on our old Kodak movie camera when we were kids. She’d take some pictures of us outdoors, then you can see it as she suddenly moves the camera up into a tree and captures images of an indigo bunting she’s suddenly spotted. I want people to be open to those kinds of daily discoveries. I love knowing which fish are active in the streams right now, which mushrooms are sprouting. That’s why I added the seasonal field notes running along the pages.

Many Jewish books are designed like that—strips that add text to text. These remind us that life itself is made up of layer upon layer of experience.

DAVID: As I’m talking with you about this, I’m reminded of a story we published the first week of January. I wrote about a surprising note that was sent to me by the Buddhist writer Geri Larkin. In the end, Geri’s point was: “Pay attention!”

BARBARA: Yes, we can have these little epiphanies all day long. It’s like God taps you on the shoulder when you least expect it. If you’ve got your eyes open and your soul open, you’ll know it when you see it!

I agree: Pay attention!

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an on line magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Author InterviewsGreat With GroupsNatural World

Immersed in the spirit of tashlikh as a family

As part of our coverage of the Jewish High Holidays, ReadTheSpirit magazine welcomes author Lynne Meredith Golodner, writing about her own contemporary experience with tashlikh.

Throwing Away Mistakes:
It’s that time of year

By LYNNE MEREDITH GOLODNER

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe will walk through the cascading hills of Cranbrook’s grounds, between and among the tree-shaded trails. The kids will climb into the arms of a steady old tree, balance in the fork of branches, jump down without fear. We will debate whether to take the path that leads to a carefully scripted line of boulders, where they can dance and skip from rock to rock, or take the other path, the back way, and end up at a grand finale of stones.

At some point in the middle of this autumn hike, my four children, husband and I will pause beside the water. Most years, it’s the drumming river next to the Japanese gardens, but last year we sat on a platform beside the still and silent pond. Either way, we’ll open the bag of old bread and crumble pieces into crumbs to disseminate over the water’s surface, letting the current take last year’s choices and regrets away forever, making room for this year’s clean slate.

This is the tradition I’ve built with my family in the spirit of tashlikh, the Jewish practice on Rosh Hashanah, or sometime between the Jewish New Year and Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, 10 days later. Tashlikh is the ritual of throwing away our sins so that we may start anew, start fresh, in the dawning of a new year.

It’s a cleansing, so to speak, of the soul.

When I became a single mother of three young children in 2008, I began my journey toward personalizing my spiritual pursuits. I grew up as a secular Reform Jew, doing my duty–services twice a year, where my sister and I camped out in the synagogue bathroom and commented on other people’s outfits. Bored by the observances, we muscled through until the time when we were set free into the parking lot and onward to home, to imbibe chicken soup and matzoh balls and revel in the day off from school.

In young adulthood, I chose Orthodoxy, my form of rebellion. I spent a decade in the ritualistic rigidity of very traditional Judaism, learning the roots of my heritage, observing as much as I could stomach. I sat in long services on two days of Rosh Hashanah, trying not to fidget from the not-knowing, the lack-of-understanding. My rabbi had compassion; he encouraged me to attend a learner’s service, admitting that the high holy day observances are heavy, too much for someone not raised in the culture of immersion.

I dreaded the 25-hour fast day of Yom Kippur, though I did it, muscling through in the way that I did as a child in my liberal synagogue. Either way, I didn’t find my place in my religion until I set myself free from an unhappy marriage at the age of 37. It was then that I felt brave enough, confident enough, strong enough, to create my own rituals, and involve my children in tangible observance of our long tradition.

The first time I took the kids to Cranbrook for tashlikh, I made a conscious choice not to use the word “sin,” which is the common construction for this practice. The bread crumbs symbolize our sins, which we cast off for the moving waters to carry away from us. And then we are free, free from sin, a clean canvas with which to start a new year, in hopefully better spirits and character than the one just ended.

I didn’t want to teach my children that our religion is a punishing one. I wanted them to embrace themselves in success and in failure, and the word sin has such a harsh connotation. So I used the word “choice,” asking the then 2-, 4- and 6-year-old sweet ones what choices they would like to make in the coming year.

“I will be nicer to my brother,” said one of my children.

“I will listen to Mommy more,” said another.

“I will read more books,” said the third one.

And I joined them, admitting my own human-ness in front of these precious souls.

“I will try not to yell,” I said. It was hard being a single mother; I was easily excitable in those early years trying to figure it out for myself. I threw that regret into the waters and watched the bread crumb dissolve into nothingness.

After the bread supply was depleted and I had just a plastic bag left to carry home, we continued on our journey. The Pewabic tiled fountain under leafy pine and maple. The cairn beside the swampy pond. Overgrown shrubbery nearly obscuring the narrow path toward the majestic old house with its fountains and gardens.

We dipped into the Greek amphitheater and the children ran up and down the rows of seats, called with echoing voices from the open stage. We were free in the forest, reveling in our connection and in the freedom to be reborn after making mistakes, grateful for second chances.

My children are older now and I am thankfully calmer. We still do our tashlikh routine, a favorite of mine at least, with each passing year. We go to synagogue to mark the significance of the holiday season with community, but it isn’t until we get out in the open air and sunshine that we feel energized to start anew.

I have two middle-schoolers who roll their eyes at me even as they snuggle in close. I have a third-grader and a fifth-grader, too. All are wrapped in their version of good and bad, their understanding of the way our world rejuvenates itself.

I still use the word “choice,” preferring its participatory connotation over the finger-wagging “sin.” As we stroll along the pine-scented trails, I listen more than I talk, letting them take the stage, letting them share their revelations of what it is to live a good life, what it is to release regret into the warm hug of the generous world.

Lynne Meredith Golodner is author of eight books including The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads. She owns a public relations company called Your People LLC, guiding spiritually-focused businesses and nonprofits in storytelling and relationships to build their reach, and blogs daily at www.lynnegolodner.com. She lives with her husband and four children in Huntington Woods, Michigan.

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Categories: Jewish

Dare to Downsize Christmas: Recovering its tenderness and hope

A NOTE FROM EDITOR DAVID CRUMM: The moment we read that Pope Francis ordered the Vatican staff to downsize St. Peter’s Nativity Scene, we knew that this prophetic pontiff was onto something!

Then, we read Francis’s recent Christmas message about recovering the “tenderness and hope” in this holiday season—and we knew we needed to publish a column about how to grab hold of the monstrous Ghost of America’s Christmas Present—and wrestle it back toward Francis’s kind of Christmas. In fact, the pope didn’t spend all that much time talking about Christmas in his message, which was published in an Italian newspaper—because he urgently wanted to talk about the plight of the world’s poor families. Now, that’s a pope!

THEN, we discovered Cindy LaFerle’s Downsizing Christmas, which includes a tip that sounds like what Francis must have told the Vatican staff this year about downsizing the Vatican’s huge Nativity Scene. The staff presumably was startled, but Francis must have told them something like: “I can decorate the way I want, and stuff the rest in the attic.” So, here is—with her permission—a Christmas gem of a column by Cindy LaFerle …

Downsizing Christmas

By CINDY LaFERLE

“We feel steamrolled by the sheer force of family tradition. The key is to take some control over the holidays, instead of letting them control you. … Most people have less than perfect holiday gatherings—they have family tension, melancholy, and dry turkey too.” From WEB MD

Artwork by Cindy LaFerle. (Used with permission.)

Artwork by Cindy LaFerle.

Christmas is my least favorite holiday, and I’m no longer ashamed to admit it.

In newspapers across the country and in blogs throughout cyberspace, scores of fellow grinches are expressing their Yuletide angst. And you know there’s something to it when health and medical Web sites like WebMD publish serious articles on how to survive this stressful season.

My annual winter holiday dread has little to do with religion. In fact, at this point in time, Christmas itself has little to do with religion. Christmas has become a performance art; a commercially manufactured event designed to benefit our nation’s retailers. Even worse, it’s a form of emotional blackmail—cleverly repackaged with Martha Stewart trimmings.

Originally a pre-Christian Roman celebration known as Saturnalia, December 25th was converted to Jesus’s birthday celebration by the Roman Catholic Church. What started out as a rowdy solstice festival involving the lighting of torches, drinking to excess, and doing all manner of wild things to chase away winter’s darkness has slowly evolved into a rowdy Christian festival involving the lighting of torches, drinking to excess, and doing all manner of wild things to chase away winter’s darkness.

So there you have it. Just don’t accuse people like me of being sacrilegious for wishing the holiday would melt away quietly with the weekend snowfall. Regardless, as Garrison Keillor once said, Christmas is “compulsory, like a thunderstorm, and we all get through it together.”

Meanwhile, here’s what I’ve come to believe about Christmas—plus how I’ve learned to cope with it and (sort of) enjoy it:

Giving to a favorite charity always restores my drooping holiday spirit. When the bah-humbugs start biting, there are two antidotes: (1) Roll up my sleeves and help someone who needs me. (2) Pull out the checkbook and make a donation to a good cause.

I remind myself that it’s not my job as a woman (or a family member) to make Christmas merry for everyone. Seriously, we all must STOP relying on women—usually the elderly—to keep cranking the Christmas Machine for us. Either we all contribute to the festivities—in any way we can—or settle for the holiday we get. Unless you’re still in college, you’re too old to hold your mom, your grandma, or your aunts totally responsible for your holiday happiness.

I resist the pressure to bake and I’ve stopped feeling guilty about it. I love to cook, but I’m not a baker. This is the secret to holiday weight loss. I even purchase pre-made pie crust for our Christmas morning quiche, and nobody seems to mind. My lack of participation in the annual cookie exchange doesn’t mean I don’t admire everyone’s Yuletide talents. Just not my thing.

When Christmas makes me sad or angry, I remember I’m not alone. I’ve grown more sensitive to the fact that many people are grieving losses (including death, health crises, and divorce) during the holidays. With its glaring focus on family unity, Christmas illuminates all the vacancies at the holiday table as well as any emotional distance that separates us from extended family. Talking with my friends, I’ve learned that almost everyone is facing some sort of holiday change and trying to make the best of it. Nobody’s having loads more fun than anyone else.

I can decorate the way I want, and stuff the rest in the attic. Every year, Doug banks our fireplace mantel with evergreens, pheasant feathers, twigs, and twinkle lights. It’s a set-designer’s fantasy that delights everyone who sees it—especially me. That tradition is a keeper. But over the years I’ve pared down to a few sentimental treasures, including a sterling silver bell (dated 1985) that was given to us by a dear friend when our son Nate was born. In recent years, Doug and I have lost interest in putting up a Christmas tree—which baffles some holiday visitors. We reserve the right to change our minds in the future.

I do something ordinary, with people I know and love. Forced merriment is not my idea of a good time. So I have to question the need to cram our calendars with “special events” between December and January. Why not spread the love throughout the year? Likewise, I enjoy giving gifts—but not under pressure and not all at once. What touches me more are the simple, reliable, consistent efforts made all year ’round. I’m nourished by un-fussy gatherings with dear ones who don’t expect me to turn myself into a pretzel just because it’s Christmas.

I’ve lowered my expectations and welcomed the new. Nobody will ever throw a Christmas party like my Scottish immigrant grandparents did when I was a kid. But I usually encounter a dash of their old-country energy and gregarious spirit at the Christmas Eve open house hosted by my son’s Croatian mother-in-law every year. Following my grandparents’ example, I try to bring some Celtic cheer (and a bottle of Bailey’s) to every party I attend. That said, I also privately acknowledge the times I feel mournful or alone — even in a big roomful of partying people.

I’ve accepted the fact that I’ve finally grown up. I cannot return to the home of my childhood Christmases (the house was sold years ago). My beloved father has been dead for more than 20 years, and my mother’s dementia has progressed to the point where she doesn’t know it’s Christmas. My son Nate is 28 years old now, and married to a woman we all adore. As much as I love to recall the memory of Nate’s first train set chugging around the tree when he was small, our family’s early traditions and special moments cannot be recreated or reenacted. And that’s the way life is supposed to work—every month, every day, of each beautiful year we’re given.

We grow, we change, we evolve, we endure, we move on. Glory be.

CARE TO READ MORE?

Visit Cindy LaFerle’s website: Cindy is a mutiply talented communicator, working both in words and the arts. The photo illustration with this column was assembled by Cindy. You’ll enjoy her regular columns at www.LaFerle.com. You’ll also enjoy her book, Writing Home: Collected Essays and Newspaper Columns.

For more on Pope Francis: Read Holidays columnist Stephanie Fenton’s fascinating overview story about Christmas, which includes two news items about Pope Francis.

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Categories: Uncategorized

Prayer from Abraham Lincoln for Thanksgiving

LINCOLN scholar Duncan Newcomer has contributed many of the fascinating materials indexed in our Abraham Lincoln Resource Page. Drawing on Lincoln’s own words, from various texts, Newcomer has assembled this special prayer, perfect for use at Thanksgiving—the national holiday our 16th president established. Of course, you are free to widely share this prayer. Click the blue-“f” Facebook button, or the envelope-shaped email icon, or print this page and pass it around.

Inside the Lincoln Memorial Washington DCPrayer from Lincoln
at Thanksgiving

So, we must think anew,
And act anew.
We must disenthrall ourselves.
We are not enemies,
But friends.
We must not be enemies.
We cannot separate.
There is no line, straight or crooked,
Upon which to divide.
We cannot escape history.
No personal significance, or insignificance,
Can spare one or another of us.

The mystic chords of memory
Will yet swell the chorus of union
To every living heart
And hearthstone,
And again touch
The better angels of our nature.

 

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Categories: Great With GroupsHolidays

VeggieTales reminds kids of Chrisian reason for the season

VeggieTales Merry Larry Christmas video

FROM TOP: The DVD cover. Second, a scene from the new movie showing the Narrator mopping up at the mall as he talks with viewers. Third, the real Silas Merritt “Uncle Si” Robertson.

Either you’re a VeggieTales family—or you’re not. That’s certainly true, after more than 40 original Veggie Tales videos and a host of other TV shows featuring these big-eyed, big-hearted vegetables. This year, VeggieTales is celebrating the 20th anniversary of its first direct-to-DVD film, Where’s God When I’m S-Scared?

Most families know what to expect: Lots of colorful vegetables bouncing around on their rear ends (everyone knows that vegetables don’t have legs!), singing silly songs in high-pitched voices (hey, millions love it when the Muppets do it, right?)—and drawing biblical lessons at every turn of the plot (they’re such universal Christian lessons that it’s hard to imagine any denominational friction).

What’s new in the 43rd VeggieTales?

The producers have convinced the bearded old “Si” from the super popular Duck Dynasty TV series to appear as the on-screen Narrator in VeggieTales: Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas. Overall, he’s an odd casting choice—certainly not as memorable as Burl Ives as the Snowman/Narrator in the original TV special, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.

The bearded Narrator aside, Merry Larry and the True Light of Christmas is a pitch-perfect slice of VeggieTales silliness. Sure, the jokes are puns worthy of groans—the Veggies themselves are in on the joke. After about the third “turnip” joke in this new movie, even the turnips are groaning. Sure, the songs verge on nonsensical, but they’re called Silly Songs.

In this new tale, the conflict turns on which is more important for Christmas: Glitzy lights at a shopping mall—or the love of God as shown in Jesus’ birth? It’s hardly a “spoiler” to tell you: Jesus wins.

One of the sung refains starts:

“Oh, Christmas shines most bright and true.
“When you give the love God gave to you.”

The Silly Song in the middle of the video is about Larry managing to completely cover himself in Christmas wrapping paper. The refrain:

“Somehow when I was packin’
“I got caught up in all the wrappin’”

No, it’s neither Cole Porter nor Elton John—but I defy you not to start tapping your toe halfway through the Silly Song.

Have you got children—or an entire family—on your holiday gift list that would enjoy such high-spirited, goofy fun? Click on the image with today’s story and visit the movie’s Amazon page.

REVIEWED BY ReadTheSpirit EDITOR DAVID CRUMM.

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Categories: BibleChildren and FamiliesMovies and TV

The Art of Spiritual Living never looked so inviting

SkyLight Paths Publishing The Art of Spiritual Living Series

Click on any of the covers shown with this column to visit the SkyLight Paths webpage for these books.

 

By READ THE SPIRIT EDITOR
DAVID CRUMM

Sacred Art of Lovingkindness by Rami Shapiro SkyLight PathsAmericans are soaked in religion, compared with the rest of the world’s peoples. Based on the World Values Survey, we rank with Pakistan and Iran in the intensity of faith. Yet, in sharp contrast with other religiously saturated cultures, Americans also feel an overwhelming desire to express ourselves. On that scale, we rank with those outspoken Scandinavians!

We demand faith on our own terms. That’s true whether you choose to be a lock-step fundamentalist or a free spirit.

We’re unique in the world for our intense mix of desires. New religious movements rank among America’s most valuable exports. A century ago, a shockingly mixed bag of men and women met in what the Los Angels Times called a “tumble down shack” on Azusa Street. Their Pentecostal celebration eventually blew the top off traditional worship around the world.

In the 1930s, Bill W and Dr. Bob were religious innovators in launching the world’s first lay-led spiritual movement with an interfaith definition of God as a “higher power.” The list could run on and on—from Shakers in the 1700s to Joseph Smith in the 1800s. After World War II, the spiritual floodgates broke wide open. Dr. Norman Vincent Peale and his Guideposts took the world by storm, Bishop Fulton Sheen became a 1950s TV star with Life Is Worth Living and, by 1965, millions of Americans heard The Gospel According to Peanuts.

In the new millennium, the matriarch of serious American religion writing, Phyllis Tickle, launched a mighty effort to tug wayward Americans back to ancient spiritual disciplines—such as praying at the Christian Divine Hours with a series of weighty new books. Eventually, Phyllis convinced the evangelical publishing house Thomas Nelson to produce eight volumes on Christian disciplines. She assembled a Who’s Who of authors to tackle topics including prayer, sabbath, tithing and fasting. All of Phyllis’s books are terrific. All are substantial offerings for Christians who are ready to dive deep. In other words, she and her co-authors left lots of room in the spiritual marketplace.

We restless Americans always are itching to discover the next spiritual shore. This has fueled a host of religious fads—and it’s not worth dragging those out of blessed obscurity by naming them. Suffice it to say that the late George Gallup Jr. surely is nodding his head somewhere, repeating his motto: “Faith in America is miles wide—and a quarter inch deep.”

That’s why the ambitious project undertaken by Stuart Matlins and his talented crew at SkyLight Paths Publishing is such a milestone. These books are authoritative—and wildly compelling. Yes, they take us deep, but each one is an exciting invitation to dip one’s toe into these waters for the first time. Christians are welcome, but so is anyone of any faith.

Over the past seven years, SkyLight has sent into the world a small library, each volume following SkyLight’s core principle:

“Through spirituality, our religious beliefs are increasingly becoming a part of our lives—rather than apart from our lives. While many of us may be more interested than ever in spiritual growth, we may be less firmly planted in traditional religion. Yet, we do want to deepen our relationship to the sacred, to learn from our own as well as from other faith traditions, and to practice in new ways.”

STARTING WITH A CHARACTER OF KINDNESS

Cover Thanking and Blessing the Sacred Art Jay Marshall SkyLight PathsClick on any of the book covers shown with this column today to visit the SkyLight Paths overview page for the series. From that online gateway, you can explore the full range. In 2006, this series debuted with an especially keen choice: Rami Shapiro’s The Sacred Art of Lovingkindness. One team of sociologists poring over the World Values Survey crunched the global numbers to identify the core character strength of each nation. The scholars found that America is unique in the world with a core character strength of “kindness.” So, the SkyLight series began with a perfect topic. As a nation, we see ourselves as kind; the anxiety we feel is largely due to our current lack of kindness. You may want to start your pilgrimage through this series with Shapiro’s book, which strikes at the heart of our spiritual quest as a people.

You will find many disciplines that cut across the major world religions:

  • Pilgrimage—The Sacred Art: Journey to the Center of the Heart;
  • The Sacred Art of Chant: Preparing to Practice;
  • Giving—The Sacred Art: Creating a Lifestyle of Generosity;
  • The Sacred Art of Forgiveness: Forgiving Ourselves and Others through God’s Grace;
  • Thanking & Blessing—The Sacred Art: Spiritual Vitality through Gratefulness;
  • Decision Making & Spiritual Discernment: The Sacred Art of Finding Your Way;
  • Hospitality—The Sacred Art: Discovering the Hidden Spiritual Power of Invitation and Welcome
  • The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice
  • Lectio Divina—The Sacred Art: Transforming Words & Images into Heart-Centered Prayer

In choosing from that list for your first small-group discussion in your congregation, you’re likely to pass muster with pastors and lay leaders who serve as gatekeepers in almost any mainline denomination—Protestant or Catholic. Start with those and you’ll be well on your way toward a couple of years of lively small-group experiences. Some communities may want to challenge themselves to organize a congregation-wide “read” of a book.

And a special note for clergy who are reading this column: You’ll be marking pages, mumbling, “Yeah, that’ll preach!”

THEN, FIND FRIENDS … AND GO SKIING

Once you get this series in the door, the results will be obvious. If properly organized, your group will grow; people will talk about what they are exploring over coffee or an evening meal; you’ll want more and more.

The secret of growth in many big churches lies in unlocking parishioners’ affinities. One classic megachurch example is a group of guys (and often some gals) who love fixing cars—but nothing else motivates them to get off the couch. So, the church invites them to form a prayer-and-service group to spiritually support each other week by week. Then, in many big churches, these “car nuts” provide free service for older parishioners, single parents, poor families—and suddenly these folks who never set foot in a house of worship are highly engaged. No, Stuart and his SkyLight crew have not yet found an author to produce The Spiritual Art of Car Care. But, there certainly is room in the market for such a book, given that the classic in this tiny niche of motor-oil spirituality, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, is approaching its 40th anniversary in 2014. The time is right.

SkyLight already is summoning many affinity groups. Among them:

Cover Spiritual Adventures in the Snow by Marcia McFee and Karen Foster SkyLight PathsFly-Fishing—The Sacred Art: Casting a Fly as a Spiritual Practice; Running—The Sacred Art: Preparing to Practice; and Spiritual Adventures in the Snow: Skiing & Snowboarding as Renewal for Your Soul. These are terrific choices to grab and go with friends from your community. Among this trio, I highly recommend the winter-themed book right now. It’s packed with all kinds of engaging material: spiritual reflections, stories by “real people,” practical ideas. You’ll love the section in which “exuberant novice” Ann Lamott describes the spiritual high of skiing (and falling).

Writing—The Sacred Art: Beyond the Page to Spiritual Practice and Haiku—The Sacred Art: A Spiritual Practice in Three Lines. Two volumes in the series are geared toward the writers in your community. I especially recommend the Haiku book. When I have been invited to teach journalism courses, over the years, I begin with a Haiku exercise. Journalists who feel overwhelmed with a major news event find that, first, turning a big story into a Haiku quickly clarifies the challenge.

Everyday Herbs in Spiritual Life: A Guide to Many Practices. This global exploration of herbal themes, projects and even a few recipes taps into the always strong pull of nature in our spiritual journeys—and the growing interest in rediscovering the food practices that connect with our spiritual and cultural traditions. The text is fascinating, but you’ll especially enjoy the dozens of detailed herbal projects.

Recovery—The Sacred Art: The Twelve Steps as Spiritual Practice. The SkyLight series wisely acknowledges the enormous debt we all share to the courageous circle of friends who, amid great personal anguish, hammered out the principles of 12-step programs. This is truly deep wisdom.

About an hour west of the SkyLight team’s headquarters in Woodstock, Vermont, is the hamlet of East Dorset where Bill Wilson was born in his family’s tavern and inn. Today, it is an international shrine and pilgrims’ sobriety tokens often are left on Bill W’s humble gravestone. Clearly, the SkyLight team has taken Bill W’s spiritual genius to heart. At the end of every book in this series, readers find this note:

SkyLight Paths sees both believers and seekers as a community that increasingly transcends traditional boundaries of religion and denomination—people wanting to learn more from each other, walking together, finding the way.

Go on. Buy a book. Jump in.

Wherever they are hovering with their higher power these days, George Gallup Jr. and Bill W will smile down upon you.

DAVID CRUMM is the Editor of www.ReadTheSpirit.com online magazine and publishing house. For 40 years as a journalist, David has covered the impact of religion and cross-cultural issues around the world.

MORE ABOUT THIS SPECIAL COVER STORY
ON ‘THE ART OF SPIRITUAL LIVING

This Cover Story is Special: Throughout 2013, dozens of leading authors and media producers who care about America’s religious diversity are jointly raising awareness of the best in current publishing. In this Cover Story, as Editor of ReadTheSpirit, I’m at the center of this coordinated national effort. Collectively, we’re shining our spotlight on this very important series of books that are coming from SkyLight Paths Publishing in Vermont.

I researched and wrote this cover story, “The Art of Spiritual Living never looked so inviting.” Then, this same cover story that I wrote also is being published by our California-based friends at The Interfaith Observer magazine. (You may want to check out their October issue, which includes a version of this same story.)

Why are we doing this? Those of us who devote our lives to the best in spiritual and cross-cultural writing—and that includes the folks who work at the Interfaith Observer and SkyLight Paths—realize that there is a real danger that important voices (authors, artists, publishers) could fall silent as traditional media networks crumble. We want to be part of the rebuilding of inspiring, authoritative networks promoting healthy approaches to faith and diversity. We are working hard, together, to keep these important voices raised.

What can you do? Read today’s cover story. Tell friends. Share the news on Facebook. Choose a new book that interests you—and buy it. (And, in addition to SkyLight Path’s webpage for the books, above, we also recommend that you check out our own ReadTheSpirit Bookstore.)

Together, we can make a huge difference.

(Published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, spirituality, values and interfaith and cross-cultural issues.)

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Categories: Great With GroupsNatural World

Season of Gratitude celebrates 150th anniversary of Lincoln’s Thanksgiving declaration: Please, come to this table with us!

Season of Gratitude IFLC logo

Click this logo for Season of Gratitude to visit the main IFLC resource page that explains how to organize a local event. (NOTE: That IFLC page opens with news of the IFLC’s signature Season of Gratitude event, a banquet. Then, scroll down to find additional small-group resources you are free to use wherever you call “home” across the U.S. or around the world.)

On this anniversary of Abraham Lincoln’s enactment of what is now our annual Thanksgiving holiday, many of us feel it is time to redefine the holiday to ensure that all Americans can be thankful for the diversity of peoples who are now united on these shores. Under the phrase, Season of Gratitude, and the logo of a beautiful autumn tree, we are calling for Americans to talk about our gratitude for such a diverse nation.

Lincoln pointed us in this direction when he defined a new kind of American Thanksgiving “in the midst of a civil war of unequaled magnitude and severity.” The idea of branding a national holiday was audacious for an embattled president presiding over just half of a war-torn nation. This was long before modern media would allow Norman Rockwell to redefine Thanksgiving in 1943. (That’s when his painting of a turkey dinner, Freedom from Want, was splashed across the Saturday Evening Post in the midst of another great war.)

Lincoln did a remarkable job 150 years ago! In his final years, Lincoln’s vision of America was prophetic—his words honed to a razor’s edge. By November 1863, Lincoln’s thinking about our nation was like a diamond, compressed into the 270 words of the Gettysburg Address. A month before that battlefield speech, in October 1863, we can see that he was reaching that point of clarity when he issued his landmark Thanksgiving proclamation. Lincoln and his Secretary of State Seward took almost 500 words to describe their unique calling to “the whole American People.” Thanksgiving could begin the reformation of a compassionate union with special care for the nation’s most vulnerable.

SEASON OF GRATITUDE is a pioneering invitation to grassroots communities everywhere—to congregations, book clubs, schools, libraries and civic organizations. While it’s true that Americans fondly remember the Pilgrims and Indians gathering around a table, the annual holiday we now celebrate only began in 1863. In November, Americans will hear a lot about the 150th anniversary of this beloved holiday. From network TV to local newspapers and websites, everybody is going to be buzzing about this sesquicentennial.

SEASON OF GRATITUDE:
YOU ARE WELCOME AT THE TABLE

This idea arose in a regional interfaith council that is rapidly becoming a leader in innovative programming to unite healthy, diverse communities. In the Alban Institute’s Congregations magazine, Martin Davis profiles the InterFaith Leadership Council of Metropolitan Detroit (IFLC) and concludes: “The IFLC blends and shapes the variety of religious life in ways that move everyone forward with integrity, and a commitment to respecting and listening to others. It’s what the beloved community is all about.”

CLICK ON THE TREE LOGO to visit the IFLC’s resource page for Season of Gratitude. When you visit that page, you will find the program described for the IFLC’s regional audience in southeast Michigan.

NOW, WE WELCOME YOU: In partnership with ReadTheSpirit online magazine, the IFLC is extending this idea to you—and to everyone nationwide. Please, go to the IFLC website and download the three Guides that outline events you are welcome to host. There are two basic approaches to organizing your local group: Host a Salon or discussion group; or host a community Meal or food-related event. The IFLC also provides a free, downloadable Discussion Guide to Lincoln’s inspiring Thanksgiving Declaration 150 years ago.

SEASON OF GRATITUDE:
WHY WELCOME GUESTS TO THIS TABLE?

FIRST, THIS GREAT IDEA IS—FREE: First and foremost, this is a wonderful resource provided free of charge. If you have been looking for a fresh idea to energize your community, here are resources already developed for you.

YOU CAN SHINE A SPOTLIGHT ON YOUR COMMUNITY: If you organize an event along the guidelines provided by the IFLC, you will shine a spotlight on your community. In Michigan, where the IFLC is based, the IFLC will add your community’s event to a list of regional events the IFLC will be promoting throughout the autumn season. Elsewhere in the U.S., ReadTheSpirit magazine will include your event in our ongoing coverage. That’s a rare and valuable invitation! You’re performing a good deed in organizing a welcoming Season of Gratitude event in your community, plus you’re bringing attention to your group and—most importantly—your participation along with many others will be a sign of hope, hospitality and kindness in a time when diversity often is associated with conflict in news headlines.

Email us with news about your plans: ReadTheSpirit@gmail.com

SEASON OF GRATITUDE:
READ THE SPIRIT RESOURCES

Click on the cover to learn more about this book that combines inspiring stories with wonderful traditional recipes.

Click on the cover to learn more about this book that combines inspiring stories with wonderful traditional recipes.

LATEST NEWS AND RESOURCES
ON LINCOLN’S 150TH ANNIVERSARIES
:
Visit our easy-to-use Abraham Lincoln Resource Page to find dozens of online columns and resources. We will keep that Resource Page throughout the coming year as more Lincoln-anniversary events unfold.

THE FLAVORS OF FAITH:
This June 2013 book, The Flavors of Faith: Holy Breads, has been identified by the Season of Gratitude organizing team as a recommended resource for communities who want to host food-related events this fall. The book shares inspiring stories about breads that define and unify many of the world’s religious cultures, including American Indians, Christians, Jews and Muslims. Each chapter includes authentic recipes you can bake yourself—or with friends. Your community could organize a weekly series, inviting participants to divide up baking these breads and leading the weekly discussion about the related stories.

BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS and FRIENDSHIP & FAITH: Visit our ReadTheSpirit Bookstore for many more resources your group may want to read, enjoy and discuss this fall. More new books will be added this summer and autumn. Right now, ideal choices for Season of Gratitude include Daniel Buttry’s Blessed Are the Peacemakers, and the WISDOM women’s guide to making new friends Friendship & Faith.

(Originally published at www.ReadTheSpirit.com, an online magazine covering religion, values and cross-cultural issues.)

 

 

Comments: (1)
Categories: HolidaysPeacemaking