The Best Spiritual Book of the Year

Beliefnet's pick for the best spiritual book of the year, plus our annual list of top contenders.

 
Christ the Lord Christ the Lord: Out of Egypt
by Anne Rice

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The former vampire novelist's latest book garnered as much attention this year for its author as for its subject. But readers familiar with Rice's oeuvre as well as new devotees will be absorbed by her depiction of the life of Jesus at age seven. Her novel begins as Jesus' family leaves Egypt and returns to Nazareth, and traces a year in the life of the young Jesus as he slowly learns about his unusual origins and begins to experience his unique powers. Rice's meticulously researched book paints a vivid portrait of life in first-century Palestine. In an author's note that's almost as gripping as the book itself, Rice shares her recent return to her childhood Catholic faith and explains the historical sources she consulted when writing the book. Christians already familiar with narratives about Jesus's life will find Rice's version moving and revealing, while non-Christians curious about this pivotal religious personality will enjoy experiencing the young Jesus as a literary character. For its creativity, its unique spin on one of the world's most important religious figures, and for its impact on Christians and other readers, "Christ the Lord" is Beliefnet's 2005 Book of the Year.


Our Book of the Year finalists:
God's Politics God's Politics
by Jim Wallis

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In this landmark book published in the wake of the religiously charged 2004 presidential election, Wallis criticizes both the religious right and the secular left. Wallis, editor-in-chief of the progressive Christian magazine Sojourner's and founder of the anti-poverty organization Call to Renewal, explains how the political left can better relate to religious people and why important political issues like poverty, race, the environment, and war should be discussed in religious terms. Wallis seeks to recapture the "moral values" conversation from the religious right but throughout the book roots his claims about the war in Iraq, the Middle East peace process, and even the national budget in Christian theology.
Jewish With Feeling Jewish with Feeling
by Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi

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Reb Zalman, as the founding father of the Jewish Renewal movement is known, offers this compact and humor-inflected guide to meaningful Jewish practice. Drawing on his own vast store of Jewish learning and his broad experience with other religions, Reb Zalman helps Jews who think they want a watered-down version of Judaism connect with the deep treasures of their tradition, from observing the Sabbath in a creative and personal way to expanding individual concepts of God. His book opens a variety of doors for non-observant Jews to "get their feet wet" spiritually. He's not shy about criticizing American Jewish synagogue culture for its narrow perspectives on everything from music in the liturgy to participatory worship. In an era when Jews are all Jews by choice, as Reb Zalman says, this volume offers a compelling answer to the 21st-century question, "Why be Jewish?"
Velvet Elvis Velvet Elvis
by Rob Bell

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Bell, pastor of the 10,000-member Mars Hill megachurch in Grand Rapids, Michigan, offers a fresh take on contemporary Christian faith in this bold and candid book. Comparing contemporary Christian culture to a velvet painting of Elvis that he owns--it's earnest but kitschy, an emblem of another era--Bell explains that God is constantly renewing his own creation, and Christians must do the same with their faith. Bell's faith is orthodox, but he wants Christians to abandon the baggage their religion has become burdened with, specifically the idea that belief in Jesus is nothing more than a ticket into heaven. Bell's book will help Christians ask questions, wrestle with God, and understand the "big Jesus," Bell's idea that Jesus is the foundation of all reality.
Why Do I Love These People? Why Do I Love These People?
by Po Bronson

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As he did in the best-selling "What Should I Do With My Life?" author Bronson traveled the U.S. and some of Europe collecting stories of all types of ordinary people. This time he focuses on families, sharing their inspiring tales of how they have been broken apart and pieced back together. Bronson explores how our concept of family is changing and why family bonds are still necessary. The 19 stories that Bronson, a magnificent story-teller, recounts in his book will inspire any reader who wonders why marriages fail, what to do when family members fail to relate to each other, why they can't let go of past wrongs, and much more. Every story shows the strength and resilience of everyday people creating emotionally satisfying lives.
Any Bitter Thing Any Bitter Thing
by Monica Wood

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This beautifully written novel tells the story of Lizzy Mitchell, who, at age 2, was sent to live with her uncle Mike, a parish priest in Maine, when her parents were killed in a plane crash. As a child, Lizzy lives an idyllic life: She is doted on by her uncle, she has a surrogate family next door, and she loves participating in church life. But her utopia is destroyed when Father Mike is accused of molesting her and sent away to a recovery center for troubled priests. In telling the story from the points of view of both Lizzy--as a child and as an adult recovering from a near-fatal accident--and of Father Mike, Wood deals movingly with the larger themes of faith, loss, trust, fatherhood, and renewal.
Joseph Smith Joseph Smith: Rough Stone Rolling
by Richard Lyman Bushman

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Published to coincide with the 200th anniversary of Joseph Smith's birth, this biography sketches a compelling and detailed portrait of the Mormon prophet. Bushman, a historian and a practicing Mormon, fairly illustrates how Smith, who grew up in a poor family in upstate New York, became what the author describes as "the closest American has come to producing a biblical-style prophet." The author focuses on Smith's religious thought, but he also delves into the Mormon founder's personality and shows how his determination helped him gain legions of followers. Bushman does not shy away from Smith's flaws, or from controversial subjects like polygamous marriage or Smith's imperial hopes. The result is a picture of a man who is incredibly accomplished and powerful, but still eminently human.
Minaret Minaret
by Leila Aboulela

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In Aboulela's touching novel, main character Najwa's life is shattered when her family is forced to flee its home in Sudan after a mid-1980s political coup. She goes from living the life of a wealthy, Westernized teenager to that of a poor, single maid in London. But in the process, Najwa undergoes a major faith transformation, giving up her miniskirts and evenings at night-clubs for hijab (the Muslim women's head covering) and women's Qur'an classes at her local mosque. Aboulela's novel is primarily a story about faith, but it's also a heartfelt love story: it is both Najwa's return to faith and her secret love affair with her employer's younger, more religious brother, that alter her life and help her find peace.
Field Notes Field Notes on the Compassionate Life
by Marc Ian Barasch

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Barasch takes readers on a journey through compassion, exploring how this virtue is revealed both in everyday life and in extraordinary moments. Kindness, he argues, is not just a moral imperative but also "a prescription for authentic joy." He looks at compassion as it relates to health, interviews a man who donated a kidney to a stranger, and considers how compassion could solve the Middle East crisis. Though Barasch's focus is Buddhism, he discusses the importance of love and kindness in all major religions. Through anecdotes, history lessons, stories of 9/11 survivors, and experiences with compassionate children, Barasch helps readers understand how a kinder, less self-centered life is a happier and more fulfilling life.
The Translucent Revolution The Translucent Revolution
by Arjuna Ardagh

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Spiritual thinker Ardagh proposes that the people who are most at peace with themselves and with the world aren't the spiritual ascetics who remove themselves from the modern world. Instead they're "translucents," people who undergo a spiritual awakening but remain involved in everyday life. Translucents often have a sudden instance of spiritual clarity that changes their lives. Ardagh explores how ordinary people can open themselves up to translucence, how to recognize translucent moments, and what to do with this new sense of reality once one finds it--both in one's personal life and in the surrounding world. The book is sprinkled with snippets from interviews Ardagh has conducted with many of the country's most renowned spiritual gurus, from Byron Katie to Jon Kabat-Zinn to Eckhardt Tolle, all sharing their moments of translucence.

_Related Features
  • Read an Excerpt from the Book of the Year
  • This Season's Best Spiritual Gifts
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