The radio program and podcast Speaking of Faith from American Public Media is one of my favourite podcasts. I am not even a believer in God, yet these programs feature magnificent people and are packed with wisdom and brilliance.
Below is a selection of some of my favourites:
The Spiritual Audacity of Abraham Joshua Heschel
Abraham Joshua Heschel insisted that the opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference. Born into an esteemed Hasidic family in Poland in 1907, he was a mystic who wrote transcendent, poetic words about God. At the same time, he marched alongside Martin Luther King Jr. and organized religious leadership against the war in Vietnam, embodying the social activism of the biblical prophets he studied. We explore Heschel’s teachings and his prophetic legacy — his "spiritual audacity" — for people in our time.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Forcibly exiled from his native country, Zen master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh recently visited Vietnam for the first time in nearly 40 years. In 2003, Speaking of Faith took a radio pilgrimage with the Buddhist monk at a Christian conference center in a lakeside setting of rural Wisconsin. Thich Nhat Hanh offers stark, gentle wisdom for living in a world of anger and violence. Here, he discusses the concepts of "engaged Buddhism," "being peace," and "mindfulness."
A History of Doubt
Poet and historian Jennifer Michael Hecht says that as a scholar she always noticed the "shadow history" of doubt out of the corner of her eye. She shows how non-belief, skepticism, and doubt have paralleled and at times shaped the world’s great religious and secular belief systems. She suggests that only in modern time has doubt been narrowly equated with a complete rejection of faith, or a broader sense of mystery.
Forty years ago in France, philosopher Jean Vanier founded an international movement, L’Arche. The L’Arche community in Clinton, Iowa is part of this movement — people of faith living and worshipping alongside developmentally handicapped adults. There are now over 120 L’Arche communities in 18 countries. The community in Clinton is one of the oldest and most rural of the 14 American communities.
Moral man and Immoral Society: Rediscovering Reinhold Niebuhr
We explore the ideas and present-day relevance of 20th century theologian Reinhold Niebuhr, an influential, boundary-crossing voice in American public life. Niebuhr created the term "Christian realism:" a middle path between religious idealism and arrogance. Exploring his wide appeal, three distinctive voices describe Niebuhr’s legacy and ask what insights he brings to the political and religious dynamics of the early 21st century.
The Ecstatic Faith of Rumi
The 13th-century Muslim mystic and poet Rumi has long shaped Muslims around the world and has now become popular in the West. Rumi created a new language of love within the Islamic mystical tradition of Sufism. We hear his poetry as we delve into his world and listen for its echoes in our own.
Whale Songs and Elephant Loves
Trained as a musician, acoustic biologist Katy Payne was first to discover that humpback whales compose ever-changing song to communicate, and first to understand that elephants communicate with one another across long distances by infrasound. We hear what she has learned about life in this world from two of its largest and most mysterious creatures.
Reflections of a British Muslim Extremist
British activist Ed Husain was seduced, at the age of 16, by revolutionary Islamist ideals that flourished at the heart of educated British culture. Yet he later shrank back from radicalism after coming close to a murder and watching people he loved become suicide bombers. He dug deeper into Islamic spirituality, and now offers a fresh and daring perspective on the way forward.
Joe Carter and the Legacy of the African-American Spritual
The spiritual is celebrated in American culture and beyond. It is the source from which gospel, jazz, blues, and hip-hop evolved. It was born in the American South, created by slaves, bards whose names history never recorded. The organizing concept of this music is not the melody of Europe, but the rhythm of Africa. And the theology conveyed in these songs is a potent mix of African spirituality, Hebrew narrative, Christian doctrine, and an extreme experience of human suffering.
We celebrate the life of Joe Carter, who explored the meaning of the Negro spiritual in word and song — through its hidden meanings, as well as its beauty, lament, and hope.
The Inner Landscape of Beauty
John O’Donohue was an Irish poet and philosopher beloved for his book Anam Cara — Gaelic for "soul friend" — and for his insistence on beauty as a human calling and a defining aspect of God. Before his untimely death this year, he spoke with Krista in our studios. And so this hour has become a remembrance of him. But John O’Donohue had a very Celtic, lifelong fascination with what he called "the invisible world." And he would also surely see this also as a serendipitous continuation of his life’s work — of bringing ancient Celtic wisdom to modern confusions and longings.