Selections from the Spiritual Masters

"The soul must pass through the dark night of the senses because all the passions it feels for created things are pure darkness in God's eyes," wrote the Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross in the late 16th century. In Ascent of Mount Carmel: John of the Cross, John discusses the soul's need to pass through spiritual darkness before union with the divine can be possible. In a beautiful text that has been "edited and mildly modernized" by Henry Carrigan Jr., John offers an early treatise on his spiritual poetry, outlining themes that he fleshed out more fully in his more famous later work, Dark Night of the Soul.(Paraclete, $14.95 paper 162p ISBN 1-55725-306-4; Oct.)

Orbis adds to its Modern Spiritual Masters series with Mohandas Gandhi: Essential Writings, edited and introduced by John Dear. Dear, who writes that Gandhi's example "challenges us to become prophets and apostles of nonviolence," organizes the short selections thematically, arranging them around issues such as nonviolent resistance, the discipline of prayer and fasting, the search for God and the pursuit of truth. Dear has chosen accessible, passionate excerpts from Gandhi's writings, resulting in a valuable compendium for students and spiritual devotees. ($15 paper 192p ISBN 1-57075-432-2; Sept.)

Readers looking for a short introduction to Thomas Merton's writings will benefit greatly from Seeds, a collection of brief excerpts from America's most famous 20th-century monk. Merton discusses the usual topics of prayer, silence, contemplation and solitude, but he also sounds off on politics, social justice, foreign policy, technology, materialism and his growing affinity for Zen Buddhism. (Shambhala, $13.95 paper 192p ISBN 1-57062-930-7; Oct.)

Protestants in America

Oxford's Religion in American Life series brought together top-flight scholars in various disciplines to write short, visually interesting, and well-researched books for the YA market. But why hide one's light under a bushel? Recently, Oxford has been repackaging these same books as grown-up paperbacks, moving the illustrations to an eight-page tip-in and bringing the price below $10. Wheaton College historian Mark Noll offers the latest installment in this Religion in America series, entitled The Work We Have to Do: A History of Protestants in America. This huge topic is covered deftly by Noll, who begins with introductory chapters on who Protestants are and where they come from and then traces their fragmented history through four centuries and dozens of denominations. To aid on this score, Noll includes a very helpful appendix that groups the various Protestant denominations into historical families. ($9.95 paper 192p ISBN 0-19-515497-5; Aug.)

Unceasing Prayer

What does it mean to "pray unceasingly," as Paul encourages Christians to do in the New Testament Book of 1 Thessalonians? In Unceasing Prayer: A Beginner's Guide, Debra Farrington urges readers to imagine that "unceasing prayer" is more accessible than they might think — that it can, in fact, be accomplished while "doing the dishes, feeding the cat, working at your desk, making love, or helping the kids with their homework." Farrington offers a book of "short Scripture-prayers" to invite readers to pray and acknowledge God's presence throughout the day. There are Bible verses for jogging, for taking a shower, for moments of anger, for expressing thankfulness at a happy family gathering. This is, quite simply, a beautiful and elegant book. (Paraclete, $9.95 paper 148p ISBN 1-55725-304-8; Sept.)