The Spiritual Pilgrim

Here's what John Muir brought on his 1,000-mile trek from Indiana to the Gulf of Mexico: a comb, a brush, a towel, soap, a change of underclothing, five books, a plant press and a map. "Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness," he wrote. In Philip Harnden's quirky, reflective book Journeys of Simplicity: Traveling Light with Thomas Merton, Basho, Edward Abbey, Annie Dillard & Others, Harnden gives us the lists of objects that famous pilgrims took with them on their travels. Bilbo Baggins wouldn't have strayed from the Shire without his pipe and tobacco (though we learn that he forgot other necessities such as money, a hat and a walking stick). Most entertaining is the substantial list of items Henry David Thoreau brought with him on a 12-day canoe trip in Maine; ironically enough, the man who told others to "simplify, simplify" toted along 166 pounds of stuff. Harnden notes that the book's title is something of a double entendre: it helps us to imagine light, unencumbered journeying, but it also points to the divine Light that illuminates our trail. (SkyLight Paths, $16.95 128p ISBN 1-893361-76-4; Mar.)

Striking the Balance

"Overcoming anxiety is more than a possible dream; it is a central tenet of Christian spirituality," writes Gregory Popcak, a professional counselor. In God Help Me! This Stress Is Driving Me Crazy: Finding Balance Through God's Grace, Popcak draws on psychology and Roman Catholic tradition to help readers who are struggling with worry and pain. Popcak writes well and clearly, weaving his counselees' composite stories in with his own experiences (particularly gripping is the story of one annus horribilis when his family faced grave illness and terrible financial trouble). He provides concrete spiritual tools (e.g., using icons and medallions, or partaking of the sacraments of Eucharist, confession and anointing the sick) to remind readers of God's love for them and His power over their troubles. (Loyola, $14.95 paper 150p ISBN 0-8294-1788-5; Mar.)

"Jewish worry," particularly of the Jewish-mother variety, has been the butt of jokes for years. But worry is a serious issue, says Michele Klein in Not to Worry: Jewish Wisdom and Folklore. Klein, a self-described "secular Jew" and National Jewish Book Award winner (A Time to Be Born), wrote this book when her children were serving in the Israel Defense Forces. It covers all kinds of worrying, from minor fretting to ominous dread, and explores how Jews have historically coped with anxiety though prayer, meditation, laughter, music and even magic. Throughout, Klein is interested in what she calls "positive psychology"—what the experience of worry can teach us, and how it can propel us "toward meaningful, productive and fulfilling lives." (Jewish Publication Society, $35 300p ISBN 0-8276-0753-9; Mar.)

Christians in the Middle (East)

With the world's attention focused on ongoing conflicts in Israel, journalists, authors and scholars have examined the long-standing hostility between Jews and Muslims there. One group that is often omitted from the story, however, is the region's Christians, who constitute a historic minority not only in Israel but also in Lebanon, Egypt, Syria and other nations. In Who Are the Christians in the Middle East? Betty Jane and J. Martin Bailey explore the history of the region's various Christian groups, which include many different Orthodox, Catholic and Protestant traditions. This is a very practical reference book, with one section describing each denomination and another explaining the situation of Christians on a country-by-country basis. The format makes for some repetition of information, but the material is accessibly written and well researched. (Eerdmans, $20 paper 212p ISBN 0-8028-1020-9; Feb.)

When Westerners ask Palestinian Lutheran bishop Munib Younan when his family converted to Christianity, they are often surprised to learn that the conversion occurred many centuries ago. In Witnessing for Peace: In Jerusalem and the World, Younan shares many poignant stories from his ministry as the Bishop of Jerusalem of the Evangelical Lutheran Church. He opens with a memorable story about being the only Christian representative chosen to accompany Muslim leaders in a meeting with Pope John Paul II at the Dome of the Rock in 2000. Immediately after this wonderful moment of interfaith cooperation, Younan was accosted twice—first by a Muslim extremist man and then by a Jewish woman who spat on him—because of the cross he wore. This juxtaposition of mutual respect tempered with outbursts of hatred sets the stage for a heartfelt book that both explains the venerable tradition of Palestinian Christianity and issues a clarion call for peace in the Middle East. Younan's book is an important reminder that although Christians constitute less than 2% of Israel's population, their presence is a potentially significant determinant of the region's future. (Fortress, $16 paper 176p ISBN 0-8006-3598-1; Mar.)

B Is for Buddha

Have you confused karma with dharma? Amida with Gautama? The Five Desires with the Eightfold Path? Then Ronald Epstein's Buddhism A to Z can provide a little enlightenment. Geared for English-speaking Westerners who want to know more about Buddhism, this alphabetical dictionary covers everything from the role of an abbot to the contributions of Zen. The format is very user-friendly, with a dual-column layout, 100 illustrations, and explanatory quotes from Buddhist masters. (Buddhist Text Translation Society [1777 Murchison Dr., Burlingame, Calif. 94010; 707-468-9112], $21.95 360p ISBN 0-88139-353-3; Mar. 15)