"Wrestling with God" book with Barbara Falconer Newhall

Wrestling with God: Stories of Doubt and Faith

"Any seeker of any faith will be blessed to read the words of this fine author and observer."

Publishers Weekly, starred review

Click to learn more about "Wrestling with God"

The Writing Room: Composer John Adams — There’s No One Right Way to Be Creative

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

Musically sophisticated readers will appreciate composer John Adams ‘ memoir, Hallelujah Junction: Composing an American Life, for its technical discussions of twentieth and twenty-first century Western music, but I’m liking Hallelujah Junction for its fine writing and its insights into the creative life and the creative process. [Read more…]


My Rocky Spiritual Journey: Sister Barbara Hazzard — How to Pray Without Words

Buddhist prayer flags, Sikkim

Buddhist prayer flags, Sikkim

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

“Meditation, sitting in silence, is a prayer of faith. You totally let go of being in charge, which is different from what most prayer is about, because as long as we use words, we are in control. Most of us as Christians have been trained that prayer is talking to God. We feel the responsibility to do something, to be active when we pray, but in meditation, you enter it with the idea that you will let the Spirit transform you. You don’t talk, you listen.”

— Sister Barbara Hazzard, Roman Catholic.

What is prayer anyway? I haven’t a clue. These days, when I go to pray, I often  find I haven’t a thing to say to God. Every tradition I’ve come in contact with in all my years as a religion reporter and writer recommends — no, insists upon — prayer. Yet right now I don’t know how to do it. I don’t even know why to do it.

That’s the reason I find this passage from the interview I conducted with Sister Barbara so compelling. (The interview was for the book I’m working on, Wrestlling With God: True Stories of Religion and Spirituality in America.) Sister Barbara has had a lot of experience with prayer. A Benedictine monk,  Sister Barbara is the founder of Hesed, an urban, non-resident Benedictine community in Oakland, California, which  teaches and practices Christian meditation.

Rome's Pantheon: A pagan, then Christian, place of prayer

Rome’s Pantheon: A pagan, then Christian, place of prayer

What I’m hearing when I reread these words of hers is that there are many ways to approach — to be open to? —  the sacred.

I  meet twice a month with a small group that calls itself EFM Lite. Most of us are graduates of a program called Education for Ministry, or EFM, which is a  four-year Christian theological education-at-a-distance program, involving mostly lay people, sponsored by the School of Theology at the University of the South.

Our group has been reading Kathleen Norris’  book, Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith this past year. Now we’re ready to move on — to the topic of prayer. Each of us will lead an evening’s exploration of some sort of prayer (prayer in the very broadest sense of the word), and provide a short reading for the group to read ahead of time.

I don’t know where to start. Help!  I need suggestions and resources.  What is prayer anyway? Why do it? And how do you pray — with words, or like Sister Barbara, without words?


A Case of the Human Condition: How Selective Service Made a Man of My Son — Without Even Trying

Cover of 1998 US Selective Service draft registration pamphlet.

Selective Service notice — I left it at the post office.

By Barbara Falconer Newhall

It was a colorful pamphlet, standing at crisp attention in its rack in the post office lobby. “MEN 18-25 YEARS,” it read. “You can handle this. REGISTER. It’s quick. It’s easy. It’s the law.”

I was busy. Christmas was a week away and our annual holiday letter needed mailing. But the block-lettered words, “MEN 18-25 YEARS,” stopped me in my tracks. In two weeks my son Peter would be eighteen. [Read more…]