Penn Gillette's forthcoming atheist screed, GOD, NO! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales, may be a late entry in the does-He-or doesn't-He-exist debate, but it's sure to be freshly funny. Playing counterpoint to the magician-comedian is an author who's entertaining enough to have earned a trip to The Colbert Report. Jim Martin, a Jesuit priest, wears his faith lightly in Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life. The book may well continue Martin's top-selling streak and earn him a return engagement with Colbert; maybe Comedy Central can offer him his own show.
Humor aside, the biliousness and nonstop nattering of contemporary cultural discourse can be countered with another tool that religion has honed long and well: silence. The relief and restoration afforded by silent prayer and Sabbath observance can be better understood in Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer by Richard Foster and The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath by Sen. Joe Lieberman. Foster is a longtime advocate of the spiritual disciplines that refresh the soul and cultivate the temperament, including the discipline of holding one's tongue. Lieberman as a politician has come under fire for various stances, but his religious commitment as an observant Jew has been steady and authentic.
Sabbath rest can be a provider of comfort, and the subject of comfort will be more fully explored in Comfort: An Atlas for the Body and Soul by Brett C. Hoover. Hoover is a Catholic priest who cofounded the Web site Busted Halo, an online magazine for spiritual seekers. The book promises a holistic and lyrical look at this basic human necessity.
The picture of the traditional monastic cell as a place where silence reigns is invoked with eye-opening irony by A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk by W. Paul Jones. Jones was the spiritual adviser to convicted multiple murderer Clayton Fountain, who killed four people while he was in prison. Fountain's five-year-long religious conversion led him to become a Trappist monk. Cynics might well scoff, but Christianity is filled with powerful conversion experiences—St. Paul, anyone?
Conversion is dramatic, but consistency has its virtues, and the great Christian evangelist Billy Graham has been preaching publicly for decades. Past the age of 90, he lifts his voice once more to reflect on what comes next in Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well. Whatever Graham has to say at this point is the product of a long and faithful life, and what some anticipate as undiscovered country, he regards as home.
Also promising seasoned reflection is Healing the Heart of Democracy by Parker Palmer. Palmer's work is primarily in education and leadership, but his thinking about vocation is broad and deep enough to produce such contemporary spiritual classics as Let Your Life Speak. The introspective author brings a well-honed lens to a subject deeply in need of renewal, good sense, and a dose of the reflective and engaged silence that Palmer, a Quaker, is very good at.
Religion books aren't necessarily prized for their writing quality, but A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny by Amy Julia Becker is a happy exception. A title that deserves study and attention for the empirical evidence it offers is Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests by Stephen J. Rossetti. For 13 years Rossetti headed Saint Luke Institute, where priests involved in sex abuse have been sent. Eye-opening, anyone?
PW's Top 10 Religion
GOD, NO!: Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales
Penn Jillette. Simon & Schuster, Aug.
Between Heaven and Mirth: Why Joy, Humor, and Laughter Are at the Heart of the Spiritual Life
James Martin. HarperOne, Oct.
Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer
Richard J. Foster. IVP, Sept.
The Gift of Rest: Rediscovering the Beauty of the Sabbath
Sen. Joe Lieberman. Howard, Aug.
An Atlas for the Body and Soul
Brett C. Hoover. Riverhead, Nov.
A Different Kind of Cell: The Story of a Murderer Who Became a Monk
W. Paul Jones. Wm. B. Eerdmans. Sept.
Nearing Home: Life, Faith, and Finishing Well
Billy Graham. Thomas Nelson, Oct.
Healing the Heart of Democracy
Parker Palmer. Jossey-Bass, Sept.
A Good and Perfect Gift: Faith, Expectations, and a Little Girl Named Penny
Amy Julia Becker. Bethany House, Sept.
Why Priests Are Happy: A Study of the Psychological and Spiritual Health of Priests
Stephen J. Rossetti. Ave Maria, Oct.