In his popular series of inspirational books, Scott Peck has observed that life is hard, life is complex and there are no easy answers. Nevertheless, it's the nature of human beings to search for answers when faced with tragedy, when the unthinkable suddenly happens. At such times, life seems to knock all the props out from under us. We may find all our old ways of coping or solving problems now woefully inadequate. And so begins a search for understanding, consolation, meaning, solace or simply a way to hang on and survive.
If anything good has come from the horrors of September 11, perhaps it's been our willingness to look for answers in new places. For many, it has meant reconnecting to a spiritual path long ago left behind. For others, a spiritual journey has just begun or perhaps taken on new meaning. Thus, the theme of spirituality is striking a welcome and reverberating cord in America today as we grapple with uncertain times. Here are five books from a variety of perspectives that illustrate the quest to find answers and comfort in faith.
Philip Yancey, author of 16 books, including Reaching for the Invisible God and The Jesus I Never Knew, grew up in a large southern Baptist church that he experienced as racist and legalistic. He freely acknowledges spending most of his life in "recovery from the church," yet theologically, he has survived, describing himself as someone with a "thirst for God, a reverence for the Bible, and a love for Jesus." Yancey explores spirituality from a unique perspective, providing a glimpse into the lives of 13 exceptional and inspiring individuals who have influenced the author in a profound way with unique spiritual qualities or attributes exemplified in their lives. Included are individuals with varied backgrounds and experiences, such as former Surgeon General Dr. Everett Koop and Martin Luther King Jr. Yancey discusses King's groundedness in the Christian gospel and Koop's ability to integrate his religious and professional life. These are people who have helped shaped Yancey's own faith, because, as he states, their lives "are indeed enhanced in every way by their faith. They have abundant life." The author attempts to tap "into that source of life" in the inspiring profiles, and the reader is uplifted and encouraged as well.
Learning to Fall: The Blessings of an Imperfect Life
Philip Simmons was diagnosed with ALS, or Lou Gehrig's disease, a fatal neurological disease with no treatment or cure, at age 35. In August 2000, the avid hiker and father of two self-published his surprisingly joyous memoir of learning to live richly through loss. The consciousness of his own mortality became the "best guide to being more fully alive," and his celebration of the "everyday" touched an emotional chord with readers who connected to his message that life isn't perfect, so stop trying to figure it out. The book attracted the attention of a major publisher and is now being released in hardcover.
Simmons' takes an "eclectic and inclusive" approach to his religious theories, finding inspiration in sources from Marcus Aurelius to Walt Whitman. A collection of 12 connected essays takes the reader through the seasons of New Hampshire as Simmons, now confined to a wheelchair, reflects with remarkable insight on the lessons he's learned from nature and his illness. His simple truth that life isn't a problem to be solved, but a mystery to be enjoyed and savored, will change the way you look at life and the ups and downs it brings. Letting go of the need to find a solution to every problem frees you to discover and appreciate the blessings of your own imperfect life.
Seven Prayers That Can Change Your Life
Dr. Leonard Felder is a psychologist who finds that integrating spiritually based interventions into therapy often enhances the healing process for his patients. In this book, he shares seven prayers founded in Jewish liturgy and makes them accessible for enhancing daily living. The prayers are targeted to common needs and problems we all face prayers to help unwind and find peace, heal the body and soul, and refocus when feeling stressed or distracted. As Felder notes, these ancient words are powerful and have enormous personal and spiritual relevance. Anyone interested in using spirituality in a practical way to promote quality of life will find this thoughtful book inspiring and beneficial. In fact, a structured approach utilizing formal prayers for specific needs or life situations might prove especially helpful for individuals with no specific religious background or grounding in a particular faith.
In the Secret Place of the Most High
Cynthia Heald, author of the best-selling Bible study Becoming a Woman of Excellence and books such as Becoming a Woman of Prayer and Abiding in Christ, is also a guest speaker at Women of Faith conferences nationwide and a frequent leader of women's retreats. Her latest book provides spiritual sustenance for the individual who may already have a relationship with the Lord, but who seeks to grow and deepen the level of intimacy in that relationship.
Included are 28 devotionals that explore phrases spoken directly by God the Father or Jesus. The use of God's own words as the theme for each chapter gives a sense of direct communication and conversation with God. The author's reference to Psalm 91:1, "He who dwells in the secret place of the Most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty," (NKJV) beautifully conveys the message that God desires a special closeness with His children and offers a special place of refuge and protection for those who seek Him.
How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life
If you're searching for a sense of peace and serenity, the Dalai Lama's new book will help you find "the way to a meaningful life."Founded on the principles of kindness and compassion, How to Practice gets specific about Buddhist practices, explaining in rich detail the lessons of morality and meditation. The Dalai Lama describes how to achieve mental peace and a more fulfilling life in distinct, easy-to-follow steps. He describes the three stages in a Buddhist's religious experience first developing morality, then practicing concentrated meditation and finally achieving wisdom breaking each section into concrete actions you can start making today. Chapters on "Focusing the Mind" and "Deity Yoga" are especially influential for beginners needing a non-threatening way to connect to spirituality. It's a challenging process to go beyond the "good intentions" of religion and actually incorporate them into daily life. The Dalai Lama provides an accessible, uplifting message on the journey down the path of enlightenment.
Karen Jenks is a wife, mother and nurse in Nashville.