A Literary Spirit

Purchase As Far as the Heart Can See from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
As Far as the Heart Can See
By Mark Nepo
Review: Like most talented authors who finally hit the mainstream with a bestselling book, Mark Nepo (who has been writing for decades) is now finally “on the map” after writing the blockbuster hit, The Book of Awakening.  It opened my eyes to his extraordinary gifts as a writer and storyteller, and I was eager to read his latest book, As Far as the Heart Can See.

Nepo uses a similar format to his last book–but rather than short entries for each day of the year, this book is comprised of short (spiritual) stories.  What differentiates the book from the many short story collections out there is the time and thought he has given to how readers can use each story to inspire deeper insight and awareness.

Each story ends with a series of Journal Questions, Table Questions and A Meditation.  In my reading of the book, I used the Meditations when I was reading alone and the Table Questions when I was with one or two friends.

The stories themselves are an interesting collection of new and re-told stories that read like fables.  They are short, dense and rich with meaning.  With fall coming, the book seems like a good one to have in the house for the long winter nights when you want to do something more than watch a DVD or read a fictional novel.

Recommended for: This book will be a wonderful gift for families looking for ways to enliven the dinner table discussion or for couples or groups who want to explore spiritual topics through conversation.



Purchase The Book of Awakening from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
The Book of Awakening [New edition]
By Mark Nepo
Review: There are few spiritual books that have the capacity to deeply delight the spiritual seeker.  Although there are many wonderful spiritual writers in America, it is a rare moment when I open a new spiritual title and cannot put it down.  Mark Nepo’s The Book of Awakening is the best spiritual book I’ve read in a long, long time.There are many surprises inside.  First, it is structured as a day book–with an entry for each day of the year.  I usually read spiritual books cover to cover–so I wasn’t sure how I would use this book.  Should I read just one passage each day? Or should I just read it from start to finish?
At first, I tried to limit myself to one entry per day, but found that this was impossible.  So I read and read until I  was too tired to read anymore.

Nepo’s passages are pure poetry (he is a poet!) and shine uncommon light onto common spiritual concepts such as pausing, looking within and allowing nature to heal us.  For example, he writes:

“[April 22 on the topic of the abundance of everyday]: Time and again, we are asked to outlast what we want and hope for, in order to see what’s there.  It is enough.

“[May 5] But the water, the glorious water everywhere, has taught me that we are more than what we reflect or love. This is the work of compassion: to embrace everything clearly without imposing who we are and without losing who we are.

Recommended for: This book is recommended for absolutely everyone.  This is a must-have book.  Buy two or three at a time since you will definitely want to keep one for yourself and give the others away to loved ones.



Purchase Adam & Eve’s First Sunset from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
Adam & Eve’s First Sunset
Written By Sandy Eisenberg Sasso                       Illustrated by Joani Keller Rothenberg
Review:  Often spiritual children’s books can be a bit heavy-handed—with spiritual or moral lessons overshadowing the narrative arc of the story.  Adam and Eve’s First Sunset strikes a delightful balance between spirit and story.

The story begins with a sunset.  As Adam and Eve watch their only source of light disappear, they panic.  They coax the sun to return.  They order it to stop its descent.  They mourn the loss of light.  But it is only when they let go—and fall asleep—do they learn to trust the natural cycles of the earth.  When they awaken, the sun is there, in all its glory.

The illustrations in this full-sized book are marvelous—whimsical, colorful and rich with emotion.  Just as illustrations ought to bring a story to life, Rothenberg’s artful imagery conjure up a bountiful world worth trusting.

Recommended for: This book is a wonderful gift for parents of any faith with children under the age of 8.  For Christians parents, this book is a must-read as this particular re-interpretation of Adam and Eve provides many important moral lessons for today’s children.

Purchase Like a Tree from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
Like A Tree: How Trees, Women and Tree People Can Save the Planet
by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD
Review:At the beginning of the book, Shinoda Bolen says that you can describe people in one of two ways: as a “Tree Person,” or “Not a Tree Person.”  The individuals who lobbied to cut down a beloved pine tree in front of her house were “Not Tree People” but inspired her to connect with her own love and awe of trees.The book is rich with surprising facts, culturally relevant tree stories and the natural histories of many different species of trees.  The result is a fine read—a book that ought to be required reading for any adolescent or adult.  It is easy to comprehend and light enough to be read on the beach or before bed.  But despite it’s light touch, the weighty message of heeding our responsibility to plant and protect trees touched my heart.I liked the way the Bolen included a women’s perspective on eco-spirituality in her book.  Women, she explains, are the quintessential tree lovers and tree protectors on our planet.  The message resonated deeply with me–as I’ve sought and found quiet comfort from trees for most of my life and feel strongly moved to protect them.

However, as a lifelong “Tree Person,” I have to admit that I was too distracted to finish the book. You see, I read it in my backyard, in the midst of many hundred-year-old trees, and eventually succumbed to gazing at the trees rather than the words on the page!

Recommended For: I recommend this book for absolutely everyone at some point in their lives.  It’s a particularly good read before a visit to a cottage, a hike or a camping trip.  But as I learned, it can also be thoroughly enjoyed in your own backyard!




Purchase Taking Our Places from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
Taking Our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up
by Norman Fischer

Review:Early in Norman Fischer’s book Taking our Places: The Buddhist Path to Truly Growing Up, the author describes a scene in which four teenaged boys gather in his office to discuss the meaning of growing up.  It is a scene that is sure to inspire longing amongst readers—after all, how many of us had the opportunity to dialogue with a trusted adult about how to grow into mature and loving individuals?  The teenaged boys are skeptical at first, but eventually, the importance of the task inspires their full commitment.Fischer uses this scene to open up a broader dialogue about maturity and taking one’s place in the world.  It is a topic that is, in my view, simultaneously appealing and repellant.  On the one hand, we never stop growing and maturing—so the book’s content is always relevant.  I could easily imagine reading this book every five years and gaining powerful insights with every reading.  But the flipside is that Fischer’s crisp and accurate descriptions of what it means to grow up—becoming responsible to others and to life, learning to love and developing true maturity—also raise important questions about the gaps in our own maturity.  The book invites us to ask ourselves, “Are we just full-sized human beings or have we truly grown up?”Although Fischer practices Zen Buddhism and relates many examples from his tradition in the book, there were many broadly relevant—and resonant—passages in the book for readers from all faith traditions.  His writing on the topic of responsibility is a great example.  While most of us feel that responsibility is mired in notions of being staid and boring, Fischer provides a fresh perspective on the virtues of taking full responsibility for ourselves and others.  He writes:

Responsibility, far from limiting or shutting down our lives, provides the potential for opening.  When we give ourselves to our situation, we’re letting go of preferences and habits and trusting what’s in front of us, with faith that it will provide the wisdom we need.  To truly be responsible is to recognize that reality is smarter than we are.”

Passages like this one make Fischer’s book one of my favorites of the year, and of the decade.  It’s book like these that offer a new and thoroughly spiritual understanding of what it means to mature, loving adults in the world.

Recommended for absolutely everyone, in particular, those facing a major life decision (career change, marriage, whether to have children) and want to tackle it with mindfulness.

Hampton Roads PublishingPurchase Crone’s Don’t Whine from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.
Crone’s Don’t Whine
by Jean Shinoda Bolen, MD
Review:  Shinoda Bolen is a titan in the world of women’s spirituality.  Her book Goddesses from Withinwas a must-read in the seventies when it was first published—and positively influenced an entire generation of women.Crone’s Don’t Whine is Bolen’s book about her observations of what older women need to do to become awaken their political and social consciousness, make peace with themselves and step into the role of wise, elder for the rest of society.  The premise of her book is: Don’t go to sleep in the last part of your life—instead use this time to fully wake up and to awaken the next generation.Bolen’s sense of spirit shines through on every page.  She advises readers not to whine—but to claim the true spirit of a crone—a strong, powerful bird that spreads wisdom.  She doesn’t pander to readers who might feel that the world is too complex or that it is too hard to incite change.  She advocates for us to get in touch with our life force and trust that it can create change. 


Recommended For: I recommend this book for women of all ages, with a focus on women in their forties, fifties, sixties and beyond.  It’s also a great book for women who are stuck–and need some tough love to help them get unstuck!



Hampton Roads Publishing

Purchase Women’s Spirituality: Power and Grace from the Beliefnet Shopping Mall.

Women’s Spirituality
by Mary Faulkner

Review: Trying to summarize the history of women and spirituality—in 307 pages—is a daunting task. Faulkner dives headfirst into the vast body of literature and thought surrounding this topic and does her best to summarize it. But the challenge of book’s like hers is that it’s difficult to decide what to include and what to leave out. Faulkner tries to squeeze everything in—which makes her voice sound like she’s out of breath.My favorite parts of the book included the initial chapter which defines women’s spirituality as less of a fixed theology than a living, growing movement to embody love and compassion. The feeling that women’s spirituality is fluid—and has the capacity to evolve and grow—resonated deeply with me.I also liked reading about the numerous contributors to women’s spiritual history—some are well known (Mary Magdalene, Starhawk) and others lesser known (NaNa Buluku, Hestes). But seeing all of these amazing women who contributed ideas, action and love to our movement was reaffirming.

Recommended For: I recommend this book for history buffs with a short attention span—since most topics are summarized in less than 10 pages. It could also be a great reference book for students of Women’s Studies, Religion and Theology.


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