But that, it turns out, is way too easy. That ignores the commitment that such activity can produce in the one praying and chanting. That ignores the community that such activity can build when prayers are done in the company of others. And that ignores the action that can result because of the commitment and renewed sense of community that grows from such seemingly passive activities.
At least that's what I came away thinking after reading my friend J. Philip Newell's soon-to-be-released new book, Praying With the Earth: A Prayer Book for Peace, and having a conversation about all of this with Philip on his visit to Kansas City this past week to lecture several different times at Nazarene Theological Seminary. (I'll give you a link to the audio tape of that conversation below. The top photo here today shows Philip and me talking at my house after dinner the other night.)
Philip (and his wife Ali) and my wife and I met more than 10 years ago at Ghost Ranch, the national Presbyterian conference center in northern New Mexico where I teach each summer and where Philip -- a pastor, author, teacher and poet -- also teaches and has done chaplaincy work. (For details on the writing class I'll teach there July 4-10 this year, look under the "Check this out" headline on the right side of this page.)
He's a wonderful thinker whose spiritual roots are in the Celtic tradition and who draws on that close-to-the-Earth approach to life to help him in his life and work. Reared in Canada, he makes his home now in Edinburgh, Scotland.
In his new book, he offers daily readings from the Hebrew Scriptures, from the words of Jesus in the Beatitudes and from the Qur'an, then offers daily prayers that open up their readers to a sense of oneness about the universe and its creator. It's lovely language and I hope groups in various faith traditions will use this book as a tool to move them toward a deeper commitment to work for peace in a world that desperately needs peace today. As Philip told me, the Christian household contains a storehouse not just of prayers and hopes but also practices of peace that are "waiting to be recovered."
As you may be able to tell from the cover depicted here, the book contains some lovely illustrations that add to the mood of the book. Indeed, as Philip says in the book, "The artwork used throughout this book comes from the Hebrew, Christian and Islamic worlds. . ." The book is due out in March but can be preordered on Amazon.com today.
We spoke at some length about such interfaith connections and how what we can learn from other traditions almost inevitably strengthens our commitment to our own faith. Philip is, as I say, a wise and articulate man and I hope you enjoy our conversation, which runs about 25 minutes. To hear it, click on this link: Download J.P.Newell
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HONORING JEWS MURDERED BY GERMANY
A new effort has begun to find the mass, unmarked graves of Jews murdered by special mobile killing squads, or Einsatzgruppen, before the Nazi-run gas chambers opened in World War II. The story of all these killings is hard to read but it's important and necessary history. The book to read is The Holocaust by Bullets.)
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THE BOOK CORNER
In the interfaith spirit in which J. Philip Newell works, today I also want to introduce you to four books from various traditions that you may find worth your while.
* The Tao of Success: The Five Ancient Rings of Destiny, by Derek Lin. Is the ancient spiritual path of the Tao in some way opposed to the idea of success -- whatever that means -- in life? Not at all, says this Taoist master. He offers stories and lessons drawn from Taoist teachings as a way to get readers to re-think what success might mean and how they might achieve it without caving in to the cultural pressures that often define success in destructive ways. In some ways this book represents a melding of the best of eastern and western thinking.
* In the Shadow of the Buddha: Secret Journeys, Sacred Histories and Spiritual Discovery in Tibet, by Matteo Pistono. This is the remarkable and engaging story of a man who first went to Tibet to study Buddhist ways and who became, eventually, a political activist who, as a journalist, seeks to tell the world of the pain and suffering the Tibetan people have suffered -- and continue to suffer -- at the hands of their Chinese overlords. This is a story not just of the Tibetan people and their oppressors but also of Buddhist leaders, such as the exiled Dalai Lama, who have worked on the international stage to tell the story of Tibet and to bring changes to and for their people. As a good companion book, I also recommend Surviving the Dragon, by Arjia Rinpoche, which I wrote about last year here after meeting Rinpoche in Indiana.
* American Veda: From Emerson and the Beatles to Yoga and Meditation, How Indian Spirituality Changed the West, by Philip Goldberg. How have the spiritual traditions of India influenced religious, social and cultural life in the United States? Let this author, director of outreach for SpiritualCitizens.net, count the ways. One need not begin just with the Beatles going to India to study Eastern thought, though in many ways that's when Americans began to sense that something was afoot in the transmission of knowledge and insight from East to West. One can -- as Goldberg does -- go back many years before that, to Emerson and others. This book is quite a comprehensive account of the back-and-forth influences between India and America, influnces that in 2009 led Newsweek magazine to run an essay called "We Are All Hindus Now." Well, no, we're not, but the influence of India and Hinduism is widespread in America and we'd do well to understand it. This is the book that will guide that journey.
* The Illustrated Rumi: A Treasury of Wisdom from the Poet of the Soul, a new translation by Philip Dunn, Manuela Dunn Mascetti and R.A. Nicholson. At the risk of inappropriately crossing faith traditions, I think of this lovely book as a monument to Sufi iconography. Sufism is Islam's mystical path, and the greatest Sufi voice is the 13th Century poet Jalalu'ddin Rumi, who, at last check, remains the best-selling poet in America. The book offers fresh looks at Rumi's moving poetry as it combines them with a remarkable selection of art that enhances the experience of reading Rumi. This is a coffee table book, yes, but one that should not -- and probably won't -- just sit on coffee tables. It begs to be lifted and read.