Soul Food: Books That Feed The Spirit

by Jas Faulkner 

Last week’s list was full of books to feed the body, so it makes sense that this week I would feature some gems that might feed the soul.  To be perfectly clear, I have no intention of trying to convert anyone. This list should certainly bear that out. There are a number of traditions represented here.  Frankly, I am sorry I couldn’t include more, but time, space, this being a holiday means this list will be shortish and hopefully sweet.

So, on to the list:



Finding Your Religion
Rev. Scotty McLennan
1996 Harper Collins

Fans of Doonesbury might remember Reverend Scotty, the campus chaplain who always tried too hard to connect with the denizens of Walden.   The inspiration for that character has written a book outlining why religion might not be such a bad thing.  While he does present psychological and social theories to back his position, he spends more time sharing anecdotes from people who have found themselves wandering through life, often trying different paths and traditions until they find the one that feels like home to them.

McLennan’s style is breezy and conversational, but unlike his comic strip counterpart, there is nothing forced or pandering in the delivery of his message.
Genesis as it is written
David Rosenberg  (ed)
1996 Harper San Francisco

This slim volume is arguably a literary midrash, a collection of retellings and explorations of themes and narratives from the book of Genesis. Contributors include Madison Smartt Bell, David Mamet, Kathleen Norris and seventeen other literary lights who give new meaning to some of the oldest stories on Earth.
From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response To The Attack On America
Collected by the Editors of Beliefnet for Rodale
2001 St. Martin’s Press/Rodale

The events of 9/11/2001 caused many to question their faith and to consider the role of religion as a force for both good and evil. That this book, compiled over a decade ago, is still relevant says a lot about what we have learned since then.  Not very much, it seems.  As atrocities flash on the tv and news of cruelty compounded by indifference fills our newsfeeds, this volume of sane, compassionate writing about the aspects of Man that merit some degree of hope.  The chorus of humanity represent an eclectic mix of faiths.  You’ll find entries by HH the Dalai Lama, Charles Colson, Rev. Desmond Tutu, Karen Armstrong. Imam Izak El-Mu’eed Pasha, Thich Naht Hanh, and Pope John Paul II just to name a few.
The Art of Happiness
His Holiness the Dalai Lama
1998 Riverhead/Penguin

The Dalai Lama weighs in on the nature and necessity of happiness.  While his experience and framework are couched in his Buddhist practice, he stresses the need to for everyone to find their own path and strive to be the best they can be at who they truly are.  This is a guidebook of sorts, but there is no regimen, no set of steps to follow.  It’s all about the change that comes when one inquires within.
Traveling Mercies
Anne Lamott
1999 Anchor Books

Lamott steps away from her usual roles as a story teller and hipster mom to write what would eventually be the first of three confessional books about her struggle to come to grips with what she finally recognises as her own spiritual nature. When she finds her religious him in a Christian congregation, it causes her to rethink many of her preconceptions about the faith and the people who share in communities of belief.
Be Here Now
Ram Dass
1978 Crown Publishing

Ram Dass’ psychoelic exploration of what it means to be conscious is a fun mishmash of religious imagery and mid-century counterculture.  Not for the timid or easily offended but for anyone who loves the sensibility and doesn’t mind the multi-page koan nature of this book, it can be a fun bit of brain candy.
The Spiral Dance
1989 Harperone

The late eighties saw a number of Pagan/Wiccan “cookbooks” hit the market. Many of them were fairly similar rehashes of the same basic information about the basics of earth-based religious practice.  Starhawk’s no-nonsense approach to presenting the basics of the Craft cut through much of the shiny pretty toy culture that kept so many other books from getting to far beneath the surface of what it means to be a witch.  her politically charged work has been updated over the years, but is still as relevant today as it was when it was first released.


Jewish Renewal
Michael Lerner
1994 Harper Perennial

Lerner, the founder of Tikkun, writes about the connection that Jews by heritage and/or declaration feel to their identity and why so many have moved away from the practise and community of religious Judaism.  He delves into the tradition of scholarship and contemplation that engages the mind and spirit  as an argument for a return to the oldest of the mosaic traditions.


Luisah Teish
1985 Harper and Row

Sometimes dismissed as a “Voodou Confessional” Teish’s record of her journey to Africanist traditions is a vivid, poetic study in what goes on in the heart and mind of a seeker.  Voodoo lite?  Possibly.  It may be the first and last book many read on the subject, but it is still a lovely introduction for the curious who will move on to weightier studies and nice introduction for those who are stopping in out of curiosity.


Original Blessing
Matthew Fox
1983 Bear and Company

As many Christian groups were beginning to feel the pinch as congregations continued to shrink, Fox, a former Roman Catholic monk, began to explore Christianity that moved beyond the confines of doctrine.  His liberated version of the gospel asked believers and others to consider a more joyful outlook on life, embracing the world instead of approaching it with fear and loathing.  The result scandalised the protestant denomination he had moved to and eventually he left mainstream Christianity altogether to form a newer, ecumenical group that sought contemporary ways to achieve religious ecstasy.  Original Blessing is the first and still the best of his own theological writing.  Anyone interested in Christian mysticism will also want to check out his works on Eckhart and Merton.

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