Concluding the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette's annual list of faith-based books are titles including a reader suggestion and a pick from our Sunday Style editor, Ellis Widner, each with the hope that readers may find sources of comfort, solace or inspiration for themselves or others during 2020.
Welcoming the Unwelcome: Wholehearted Living in a Brokenhearted World (Shambhala, $16.95)
It's been a tough year for us all.
For me, with pandemic realities and stresses mixing with grieving and being alone, it has been especially so.
Zoom sessions with my spiritual teacher and fellow students have been pivotal in my ongoing healing and survival. So is meditation, as I try to awaken to the bigger picture to help others.
There is a special place in my survival tool kit for Pema Chodron.
Just the titles of her books can shake you from the ever-present danger of self-absorption to the exclusion of others: "When Things Fall Apart," "The Places That Scare You," "Comfortable With Uncertainty" and her latest, "Welcoming the Unwelcome."
American-born Chodron, a Buddhist nun, was married and is a mother and grandmother. After a divorce and her own life's falling apart, she began studies with a Tibetan Buddhist lama, Trungpa Rinpoche.
Her writing is direct and informed by her life's experiences. As we deal with pain, reading short passages may be all we can manage. In her books, Chodron's simple nuggets of wisdom can be just a few paragraphs or several pages.
"Welcoming the Unwelcome," her first book in seven years, has advice to help us navigate a polarized world, to recognize our own and others' basic goodness and how to have compassion for all.
She writes: "Trungpa Rinpoche said that the way to arouse bodhicitta [compassion for all] was to 'begin with a broken heart.' Protecting ourselves from pain -- our own and that of others -- has never worked. Everybody wants to be free from their suffering, but the majority of us go about it in ways that only make things worse."
My experiences underscore the truth of this.
And: "... if we gradually increase our capacity to be present with our pain and the sufferings of the world, we will surprise ourselves with our growing sense of courage. In our practice of cultivating a broken heart, we can incrementally build the strength and skill to handle more and more."
Chodron's books are accessible and universal; I've given copies of "When Things Fall Apart" to friends when they faced the loss of a loved one or other struggles.
Tough year? Yes, but I see blessings amid it all and I remain hopeful.
-- Ellis Widner, Arkansas Democrat-Gazette
A Nazareth Manifesto: Being With God by Samuel Wells (Wiley, $36.25)
I began reading this book as part of my Advent discipline. We Episcopalians recognize Advent, the four Sundays before Christmas, as a time of preparation and reflection, in anticipation of the Coming of the Christ Child. We sing "O Come, O Come, Emmanuel."
In this book, Wells gives a thorough, thoughtful examination of what Emmanuel "God-Is-[With]-Us" really means. He uses scripture and his own sermons and stories to relate what Christian witness and mission can mean in today's ever-changing world.
Be prepared to reconsider how you look at doing things "for" others. Following the examples of Jesus' own life, Wells shifts the focus from doing for others to being with others. Wells examines theology, social justice, and suffering through this lens.
The book is right at 300 pages and gets a little "dense" in places, but it is well worth the effort to stick with it. I started this book as an Advent study, but I feel certain I will return to it again and again for inspiration.
-- Rev. Peggy Cromwell, associate priest at St. Peter's Episcopal Church, Conway
His Truth Is Marching On: John Lewis and the Power of Hope by Jon Meacham (Random House, $30)
Years before civil rights icon and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) led the first of three marches from Selma to Montgomery across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in 1965, he preached to chickens in the yard of his boyhood in Pike County, Ala.; a refusal to eat the chicken his mother killed for dinner was considered one of Lewis' earliest acts of nonviolent protest.
Meacham describes Lewis, who died in July at the age of 80, as "a preacher and a prophet, a man of faith and action," whose dedication to civil rights and advocacy was inextricably linked to his lifelong dedication to God.
The volume is a detailed narrative of Lewis' path through boyhood; seminary in Nashville, Tenn.; as a Freedom Rider; and eventual chairman of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee. It leaves us without details of the statesman's decades of service as an Atlanta congressman -- ending with the 1968 assassination of Robert F. Kennedy -- but not without an afterword written by Lewis.