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NEWS FEATURE: A Bibliophile’s Bounty: A Holiday Religion Books Roundup

c. 2000 Religion News Service (UNDATED) Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the end of Ramadan or some other religious holiday, publishers have been busy producing a bounty of books that make great gifts _ for others or even yourself. One of the biggest and boldest offerings is “Faces of Christianity: A Photographic Journey” (Abrams, $60), […]

c. 2000 Religion News Service

(UNDATED) Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the end of Ramadan or some other religious holiday, publishers have been busy producing a bounty of books that make great gifts _ for others or even yourself.

One of the biggest and boldest offerings is “Faces of Christianity: A Photographic Journey” (Abrams, $60), which features nearly 300 stunning black-and-white photos taken by Abbas, an acclaimed photojournalist who uses just one name, in South Africa, Northern Ireland and more than a dozen other counties. All reveal the myriad ways Christians honor their faith.

Jews have developed their rich traditions over thousands of years, so it’s understandable when outsiders or those returning to the faith experience confusion. But Rabbi Abraham Witty and his wife, Rachel, do a laudable job of explaining in their exhaustive but accessible guide, “Exploring Jewish Tradition: A Transliterated Guide to Everyday Practice and Observance” (Doubleday, $27.50).

Muslim poet Rumi, who lived during the 13th century, was a devotee of Islam’s mystical Sufi tradition. Dozens of his poems and parables are gloriously displayed in the lavishly illustrated new book “The Illustrated Rumi: A Treasury of Wisdom from the Poet of the Soul” (HarperSanFrancisco, $29.95).

People who detected plentiful Hindu elements in the popular golf film “The Legend of Bagger Vance” (with Matt Damon playing R. Junuh, based on the character Arjuna in “The Bhagavad Gita,” and Will Smith serving as an incarnation of a deity the “Gita” calls “bhagavan”) can get the whole story by reading “Gita on the Green: The Mystical Tradition Behind `Bagger Vance”’ (Continuum, $18.95).

Orville Schell’s “Virtual Tibet: Searching for Shangri-La From the Himalayas to Hollywood” (Metropolitan/Holt, $26) explores the West’s ongoing fascination with this Eastern land and its esoteric brand of Buddhism.

“Carl Jung: Wounded Healer of the Soul” (Parabola, $39.95/$24.95 paperback) is a sumptuous tribute to the pioneering thinker who bridged the worlds of theology and therapy. The book features some of Jung’s little-known letters and paintings and numerous illustrations by others.

Three new books examine the spiritual leanings of popular musicians.

“The Beatles, the Bible and Bodega Bay” (Broadman & Holman, $24.99) is a meandering memoir by Ken Mansfield, an American who worked with the Fab Four. Guy O’Seary’s “Jews Who Rock” (St. Martin’s, $12.95) gives brief sketches of 100 artists. And “Arlo, Alice and Anglicans” (Berkshire House, $16.95) follows Arlo Guthrie’s ongoing spiritual pilgrimage.

“The Best Spiritual Writing 2000” (HarperSanFrancisco, $16), a multifaith anthology making its third annual appearance, features stellar articles from a variety of traditions. This volume’s success has inspired the inaugural edition of “The Best Christian Writing 2000” ($15).

Christian books are the most plentiful at this time of the year, and Neil MacGregor’s “Seeing Salvation: Images of Christ in Art” (Yale, $35) is one of the most beautiful. MacGregor, director of London’s National Gallery, has gathered portraits of all aspects of Christ’s life created over the past two millenniums by some of the world’s greatest artists.

Art of a different kind is found in the 35th anniversary edition of Robert L. Short’s “The Gospel According to Peanuts” (Westminster John Knox, $14.95), which was scheduled for release even before popular cartoonist Charles Schulz’s death earlier this year. Some may scoff at Short’s argument that “Peanuts” comic strips are theologically significant, but it’s an argument that has already sold 10 million copies of the book.

Two recent books explore two distinct ways of creating sacred space. “Architecture of Silence: Cistercian Abbeys of France” (Abrams, $60) overflows with majestic black-and-white photos of medieval buildings that display timeless minimalism, while “Wooden Churches: A Celebration” (Algonquin, $18.95) honors humbler houses of worship. This intriguing volume features images and words by a variety of contributors and an introduction by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Rick Bragg (who speaks for many when he writes, “Only city people think a church has to be an architectural wonder to be worthy”).

Every December brings a flood of Christmas-themed books and recordings, some of them worthy of the holiday they honor and others seemingly cobbled together to make a quick buck. But two new offerings are worth reading.

Walter Wangerin is one of the most celebrated living Christian writers, and his collection of stories and carols, “In the Days of the Angels” (WaterBrook, $13.95), is full of moving, memorable moments. “Christmas Abundance: A Simple Guide to Discovering the True Meaning of Christmas” (Thomas Nelson, $15.99) employs stories, songs, recipes and directions for craft projects to help readers cut through the clutter to the heart of the holiday.

And two new musical collections promise to provide a soundtrack to the season.

“Child of the Promise” (Sparrow) is Michael and Stormie Omartian’s modern-day answer to Handel’s “Messiah.” Featuring a diverse list of singers (Michael Crawford, Donna Summer, Amy Grant, Richard Marx, Michael W. Smith), the musical celebrates the birth of Christ by following the biblical record, starting with Old Testament prophecies and concluding with Mary and Joseph’s song of joy. (“Child of Promise” is currently concluding a 20-city performance tour.)

“One Silent Night” (Myrrh) features 11 Christian female recording artists _ including Grant, Crystal Lewis, Jaci Velasquez _ performing traditional carols and new holiday numbers.

DEA END RABEY