*This week I will be posting each day about a book that stands out in my memory as having helped shape my thinking–specifically regarding my relationship with God. I will start with the first book that stands out in my memory and work my way up to more recent books, and for that reason they will be numbered in reverse order from 5 to 1. If you feel inclined to read them, you are, of course, free to read them in whatever order you see fit.
From time to time people who’ve read my blog have asked me for suggestions about what books I’d recommend they read. (I’m speaking about popular culture here, not Sacred texts like the Bible, Qur’an, Torah, etc. I think that goes without saying, doesn’t it?) This is always a tricky question to answer because everyone has a different journey experience, a different past, and different wants/needs for where they are going.
That being said, I can tell you which books really launched my awareness and shaped my thinking along the spiritual journey that is my life, as well as why and how they’ve shaped me:
4. The Faith Club: A Muslim, A Christian, A Jew — Three Women Search for Understanding by Ranya Idliby, Suzanne Oliver, and Priscilla Warner
If you’ve not heard about how this book came to be, that story is pretty interesting in and of itself. The idea for it began with the intention of being a children’s book to help kids better understand the similarities between religions (the Abrahamic traditions, specifically) after the events of September 11, 2001. But, when the woman who had the idea, Ranya Idliby, a Muslim, got together with the other two authors, a Christian and a Jew (hence the title), they quickly realized they had many of their own personal issues to face and overcome before they could write something to bring children together. To my knowledge their children’s book never did get written. They wrote this book instead.
This book had in it the beginnings of an answer for me to a life-long troubling question. I was born into what the Catholic Church of the 1960’s and 70’s (and still today, I believe) called a “mixed marriage.” This meant I was the product of a Catholic and a Protestant (Catholic mother, Protestant father in my case). Now, this certainly had some advantages, and my parents focused more on the beliefs they held in common rather than their differences, but still for much of my life I struggled with how to come to terms with the sometimes clashing differences in their two “religions.”
Having no real answers by the time I went off to college (still in Midwest Iowa), my world got a little bigger and I began to meet people from other cultures and truly from other religions– not just Christianity in its various denominations– and I began to really wonder, how do we all fit together?
Wanting to carry on the family tradition, I suppose, (well and also because he’s pretty great and I happened to fall in love with him), I entered into a “mixed marriage” of my own. Though, by this time we both had seen a larger world and, like my parents, chose to focus on the beliefs we held in common rather than those that may divide us. And that is a great recipe for success that still works for us today, by the way. But I still wondered how do we all fit? How can God be in “my” church and in “yours”…and also in the mosques and synagogues?
I’m reluctant to admit that even after reading about Elizabeth Gilbert (Eat, Pray, Love) taking her trip to Italy, India and Indonesia, I still was troubled with thoughts of her having a Guru after being raised Christian. Did you have to leave Christianity to find God? Would I have to leave the Church? Was God Christian? Was He/She NOT Christian? The thoughts were stifling. This book was the first time the door opened enough for me to get to see beyond the differences within our Christian denominations into the meat of the differences between these three Abrahamic religions–Islam, Christianity and Judaism.
But more importantly, it showed me what these three religions had in common.
And suddenly, the “mixed” marriage I’d been born into, and the increasingly “mixed” world I’d continued to explore, suddenly seemed less “mixed” and more “blended.”
I’ll admit that it was surprising and a bit troubling to me initially that it was the Christian woman who found herself struggling the most with her faith as their “Faith Club” continued to meet and question each other. It was the Muslim woman and the Jewish woman who grew deeper in their faiths from the beginning. Eventually this became more understandable for me as I realized that growing up in a predominantly Christian culture, it is difficult to really face challenges of our faith– especially when we spend so much time arguing with our own Christian brethren. In reality, I’ve come to understand that the greatest challenge is never to point out what is true in my faith and untrue in yours, but rather to ask, how does the Truth that I know reveal itself in the Truth that you know?
But now I’m just getting ahead of myself.
Yes, it was these three courageous women –a Muslim, a Christian, and a Jew–and their willingness to share their story and their struggles, that began to help me see this.
But it really wasn’t until I read the book I share tomorrow that I was able to see how holding opposites together is a sure way to reveal the Absolute Truth of God.