Idol Chatter

The new book documenting Mother Teresa’s lifelong struggle with her faith is either a testimony to the power of belief or a fascinating portrait of self-denial. What is faith and how does it behave in the world? Here are my five favorite books by modern women on faith:
5. Here If You Need Me by Kate Braestrup. Braestrup is a chaplain to the Maine Warden Service—think wilderness cops tracking the lost, dead, and looney in the Maine outback. Ordained a Unitarian-Universalist, Braestrup’s faith is based on her need to “show up, shut up and be” for her wardens and the public. Cosmic faith eludes her—she has severe doubts about the life eternal—but she’s convincing about the redeeming miracle of the here and now.
4. Small Wonder by Barbara Kingsolver. The author of the best-selling “Poisonwood Bible” began this book as a response to 9/11, but the essays here are full of everything that big, loud, and fractionalizing event wasn’t: small moments about nature and childhood that reflect the meaning of the world.

3. Practicing Resurrection by Nora Gallagher. Gallagher’s memoir of her yearlong process of discernment in the Episcopal church, in which candidates for the priesthood train, pray, and put their decision to the test. She overcomes her husband’s resistance and the daunting commitment of the priests she meets, but ultimately the book has more to say about the lay person’s faithful acceptance than the priest’s passion.
2. Faith by Sharon Salzberg. The Buddhist teacher approaches faith not as submission to a larger force, but escaping what inhibits our sense of peace. Her insights are no less valuable to followers of any tradition–chiefly the revelation that the most authentic faith co-exists with fear and doubt.
1. The Other Side of War by Zainab Salbi. Salbi’s father was Saddam Hussein’s pilot. (Her previous book, “Between Two Worlds” is a memoir of the oppression of even the favored inside Iraq.) Today, Salbi runs Women for Women International, a nonprofit that helps women revive areas destroyed by war. Her latest book is a collection of letters from those she’s helped, forming a narrative about survival requiring faith in oneself and in community as a way to faith in something greater.

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