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Spiritual Journeys

SUNDAY BRUNCH | BOOK SHELF

December 28, 1997|MARY ROURKE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In "Gifts of the Spirit: Living the Wisdom of the Great Religious Traditions" (Harper San Francisco, 271 pages, $35.50), Philip Zaleski and Paul Kaufman use stories and photographs to show how the major religions of the world call attention to what is sacred in everyday life.

Chapters on subjects as basic as "Waking Up" and "Being with Others" offer close looks at ways of bringing spiritual awareness to ordinary events. On the topic of eating, for instance, there are details of how Zen monks prayerfully prepare and eat their meals, and examples of how Hindus give thanks at the table.

More than a look at religious history and tradition, the book is a practical guide for anyone wishing to broaden his or her spiritual practice.

"Wise Women," edited by Susan Cahill (Norton, 395 pages, $15), is a sampler of spiritual writings by or about women, from ancient through modern times.

From the third century BC comes a hymn of praise to the Goddess Ishtar of Babylonia, a powerhouse who could heal as well as destroy. An imaginary transcript from the trial of Joan of Arc and excerpts from the writings of Catherine of Siena make the book's section on medieval times stand out.

From the 19th century, poetry by Elizabeth Barrett Browning and the Muslim teacher Qurrat al-Ayn shows that romantic love can have a spark of the divine. ("I who looked for only God, found thee!" wrote Browning in "Sonnets from the Portuguese.")

A section on Sojourner Truth, a runaway slave turned abolitionist in the Civil War era, gives the details of her religious conversion. It started with a vision, as real to her as anything she had ever seen, and a reminder to modern readers that visions and miracles have a place in every era.

In "The Experience of God," edited by Jonathan Robinson (Hay House, 239 pages, $12.95), 40 people look for ways to deepen their relationships with the divine.

The range of contributors is broad: Singers Kenny Loggins and Pat Boone, best-selling authors Scott Peck and Deepak Chopra, actor LaVar Burton of "Star Trek: The Next Generation" and gymnast Dan Millman are among them. Each comments on a range of questions, such as "What does God feel like?"

"God feels calm," says Loggins. "God feels like a voice that is strong and clear," says Burton. "It comes through especially when I put myself in a quiet place and ask an important question."

Question: What cuts you off from God?

"The real troublemakers are anger, jealousy, impatience and hatred," answers the Dalai Lama. "With them, problems cannot be solved."

What are some helpful beliefs?

"God and compassion are one and the same," said the late Mother Teresa.

"I believe it's quite possible to achieve success in any field," says Boone, "by employing the right approach to prayer."

* Mary Rourke reviews books about faith and spirituality every four weeks. Next week: Cathy Curtis on art books.

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