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A closer, faster, walk with thee

Publishers and pastors are offering bits of spiritual inspiration for busy Americans on their one-minute search for faith.

January 07, 2009|Duke Helfand

So you're racing through another jam-packed day, late picking up the kids from basketball practice because you got stuck at the office. You still have to pay the bills, walk the dog and perhaps grab cold pizza before collapsing into bed.

When do you ever find time for God?

One publisher has the answer: "The One Minute Bible, Day by Day," whose brief readings promise to inspire your "daily walk with the Lord."

Or check out "5 Minute Theologian: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time."

Because man does not live by bread alone -- and might be tempted to eat on the run -- there's "Aunt Susie's 10-Minute Bible Dinners: Bringing God Into Your Life One Dish at a Time."

The American style of worship, like everything else in people's overloaded lives, is speeding up.

This hurried search for the Almighty partly explains the rise of a niche industry of books, DVDs, podcasts, text messages and e-mail blasts that distill the essentials of faith, from creation to the crucifixion.

The materials offer bite-sized spiritual morsels that can be digested in minutes, or even seconds, on the daily commute, aboard airplanes or at the dinner table. As "7 Minutes With God" advises: "Take 7 minutes each day to: build your faith in God, grow closer to the Father, make progress in your spiritual life."

And what about your over-programmed 10-year-old? Again, religious publishers have an answer: "The Kid Who Would Be King: One Minute Bible Stories About Kids."

"The audience is definitely anyone who's interested in a ready-made, quick little devotion they can do every day," said Tim Jordan, an editor at B&H Publishing Group in Nashville, which produces the "The One Minute Bible."

"It's not meant to replace the Bible," Jordan added. "It's meant to whet your appetite."

Publishers aren't the only ones adjusting to the time pressures on modern religious life. Rabbis and ministers, aware that worship is just another weekend option for many people, are shortening their sermons and taking other steps to entice parishioners.

"What's the scarcest commodity in American life?" asks the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. "How do we invite people to connect their life of faith with their life at the soccer practice or in the coffee shop or at the pub or waiting in line for something? I think that's the biggest challenge the church is beginning to recognize."

Traditionalists say quick-hit spirituality can be useful, but that it's no substitute for true learning or involvement in a religious community. Even some of the die-hard faithful, however, see the prophetic writing on the wall.

Leith Anderson leads a 2,900-member church in suburban Minneapolis and is president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals. He also produces a daily radio segment -- "Faith Minute" -- that is heard throughout the Midwest.

"It's preaching to people who have never been in the choir," Anderson said.

For those who are short on time, alternatives abound. A stroll through the gift shop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles reveals the options.

That's where Leticia Najera spent a recent lunch break, leafing through a 4-by-6-inch black booklet titled "Bible Day by Day." Its preface declared: "This is a pocket meditation book for busy people."

Najera, 55, was delighted by the brief reflections on quotations from Proverbs, Luke and other biblical books. She bought a copy of the $7.95 devotional to use over dinner with her four grandchildren at home in Whittier, and planned to buy extras for friends.

A devout woman, Najera also bought a copy of "Healing Prayers for Every Day," a companion booklet she hoped would provide spiritual uplift in her busy workday as a therapeutic behavioral specialist for children.

Leafing through it, she landed on Page 67, a reflection for April 27, that read: "We endure many heartaches and pains during our lives because of those we love."

Najera clutched the devotional. "Gosh, this is a message for me," she said, explaining that she was struggling to help her grandson cope with the death of an elderly relative.

Enthusiasts such as Najera account for a loyal, if modest, market niche. Even as traditional worship attendance languishes, an appetite for spirituality has created new opportunities for alternative forms of religious communication, publishers say. Podcasts and other electronic adaptations are leading the way.

"If you know how to reach readers of religious materials, you are onto something, because they are devoted," said Marcia Z. Nelson, religion book reviews editor for Publishers Weekly. "Devotionals and prayer books are perennial sellers."

And they're fueling interest in traditional religious texts, publishers say.

The Christian Booksellers Assn. says that eight to 10 of the nation's 50 top-selling Christian books are devotionals or other texts that provide daily spiritual guidance.

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