Viewed through this adjusted lens,
    the Icons from Sinai begin to speak to
    the heart of the visitor. The first section
    of the exhibit displays the icons as holy
    objects. Almost all icons are left
    unsigned, because icons are never
    about the artist, but the holy. The
    anonymity of the works frees viewers
    to focus on the images themselves.
    Most are laden with gold, which in
    the language of icons symbolizes
    condensed light, and their
    colors are rich and jewel-toned.

    The second section examines the role
    of the icon in prayer and liturgical rites.
    It includes a hammered silver chalice
    inscribed with “Thine own of thine own
    we offer Thee, O Lord.” Dating from
    527-565, it causes one to ponder how
    many thousands of the faithful have
    touched its rim to their lips and sipped
    the Holy Eucharist.

    The exhibition closes with a
    look at St. Catherine’s Monastery
    as the pilgrimage site it has been for
    Christians, Jews and Muslims for well
    over a millennium.

    Book Reviews:
    --The Victory of Reason     --American Mania                    
    --American Gospel             --Suma the Elephant

    Book Review by Rabbi Larry Goldmark
    Temple Beth Ohr, La Mirada, CA

    American Mania
    By Dr. Peter C. Whybrow

    Reprinted with permission

           Recently I read a fascinating book entitled,
    “American Mania: When More is Not Enough”
    by Dr. Peter C. Whybrow, the director of the
    Neuro-psychiatric Institute at UCLA. The book
    is an account of the stress, overwork and
    rampant dissatisfaction permeating modern
    America. Dr. Whybrow brings fresh insights from
    the fields of psychiatry, anthropology, economics,
    neurobiology and genetics to give the reader an
    understanding of why the increasing unraveling
    of our familial and social networks is making us sick.
           Of the many topics that Dr. Whybrow addres-
    ses in his book, I would like to deal with...
    (continued on page 2)

    Book Review by Kathryn Ganino

    American Gospel:  God, the
    Founding Fathers, and the Making
    of a Nation
    By Jon Meacham
    Random House, 2006     
    American Gospel is a narrative essay about
    a country, our country, with dreams and hope
    for religious freedom in a "reasonable society."
    But these dreams were only going to be fulfilled
    through continuous religious debates.
    Newsweek's managing editor, author Jon
    Meacham hopes that after reading American
    Gospel, people can understand how our found-
    ing fathers continually sought to talk about God
    and politics without descending into discord
    and division.
    (continued on Page 2)

The Religion Network

    Book Review by Lisa Bowman

    The Victory of Reason:
    How Christianity Led to
    Freedom, Capitalism,
    and Western Civilization

    by Rodney Stark
    Random House 2005

    “Faith in reason is the most significant feature of
    Western Civilization.”

    So writes Rodney Stark on page 105 of The Victory
    of Reason. His assertion is much less startling than
    his thesis of the mainspring source of that era's faith
    in reason: the pre-Protestant Reformation Church.
    The fact that the concept seems revolutionary can be
    attributed to the manner in which the years between
    the fall of Rome and until about the 15th century in
    Europe consistently have been portrayed over the
    past several hundred years. Consider the fact that
    the historic period frequently is referred to as the
    Dark Ages, and that the period immediately following
    is called the Renaissance, or rebirth. The imagery
    couldn’t be clearer. But Stark charges head-first into
    exploding this myth:

    “The idea that Europe fell into the Dark Ages is a
    hoax originated by antireligious, and bitterly anti-
    Catholic, eighteenth-century intellectuals who were...  
    (continued on page 2)
Media Reviews

    Museum Exhibition Review: Icons from Sinai

    Website Review by Patty Johnson

    Monastic Interreligious Dialogue:

    Those looking for further evidence of inter-
    religious dialogue and the fruits of that dialogue
    would do well to explore this site:
    Sponsored by North American Benedictine
    and Cistercian Monasteries of Men and Women,
    it includes recent news stories and upcoming
    events relating to interreligious dialogue.
    Contrasted with The Religion Network, it lacks a
    more accessible approach to spiritual writings,
    daily prayer and the contributions of local faith

    The strength of the Monastic Interreligious
    Dialogue site is its comprehensive links, which
    include a brief description of each site. Also
    to be applauded is the Bulletin archive which
    includes full text articles detailing interreligious
    events and reviews of interreligious texts. Though
    the focus is heavily on Catholic monastic dialogue
    with contemplatives of other faith traditions there is
    a wealth of information and experience which comes
    from a lengthy and ongoing tradition of listening
    and shared prayer.

    Website Review

                                                           Book Review by Lisa Bowman

                                                           Suma the Elephant
                                           By Gary Shoup
                                           Artwork by Nan Rae
                                        Garden Fleetwood Press, 2006

    The elephant has long captured man’s imagination. Massive and intelligent animals, throughout
    history elephants have been admired not only for their ivory tusks, but for their power and majesty.
    Small wonder that in Suma the Elephant, author Gary Shoup has selected a baby elephant as the
    protagonist in his parable of metaphoric imprisonment. The contrast of this mighty animal existing in
    a state of helplessness is dramatic.

    Suma, a name Shoup derives from the Latin “summa,” meaning “highest” or “greatest,” is taken from
    her parents by a band of monkeys that holds her captive by tying her leg to a tree with a string. How
    the monkeys proceed to imprison Suma for years despite the fact that she can easily break free is a
    monumental life lesson.

    Shoup, a first-time novelist, writes a graceful tale that delicately explores man’s tendency toward
    emotional self-imprisonment. The string that chains Suma to her captors neatly parallels the emotional
    strings of intimidation with which we entangle ourselves. Even when Suma’s tormentors are physically
    gone, the memory of their mocking laughter continues to shackle her. So utterly trapped is she that
    when other elephants pass by and show her potential freedom, she remains frozen in the wistful dream-
    ing of what she already possesses.

    Shoup writes confidently, unafraid to leave his message in the spaces between the words. His dialogue
    is minimalist and he shuns visual descriptions. Ultimately this style is precisely what lifts the slim volume
    beyond the realm of children’s literature. Shoup allows the reader to fill in the blanks with additional
    meaning from his or her own life experience.  

    Likewise, internationally-renowned artist Nan Rae has elected not to pictorially delineate any of the
    story’s characters with her accompanying illustrations. Instead, Rae deftly creates an ambient mood
    utilizing the Chinese Brush painting for which she is so well-known. Rae’s oriental visuals lend the book
    the lyric meditation of a haiku poem. Her motifs suggest and amplify rather than illustrate the text. As a
    result, we are drawn into Suma’s world as she sees it and not as if we are on the perimeter watching her.

    Usually an inspirational book such as this rewards the reader with the catharsis of a triumphant ending.
    Indeed, about half-way through the tale, the reader expects the moment of freedom to occur with each
    turn of the page and begins mentally to plead with Suma to break free. But how Shoup eventually
    concludes the parable leaves the reader staring at his own face in the literary mirror. Will we break
    the strings that bind us?

    Readers with a religious bent quickly will assign much spiritual meaning to the story of Suma. Secular
    readers will find psychological references. Parents will want to read it to their children. Children will root
    for Suma and receive the message on a subtle level. But regardless of one’s mindset, this is a jewel of
    a book that’s meant to be shared.

      Film Review by Lisa Bowman

      Conversations With God

    In the 1990's, Neale Donald Walsch’s marriage
    was over and he was living hand to mouth trying to
    support his children. Then a car accident left him
    with a broken neck. Unable to work, Walsch sank
    into homelessness, ultimately feeding himself by
    collecting recyclable cans for five cents apiece. He
    struggled to claw his way out of a dumpster-centered
    life. Until one day he heard a voice in his head, a
    Voice answering his soul-gnawing questions about
    life. He began to write.

    Conversations with God became a series of three
    books, selling almost seven million copies and
    translated into 34 languages. Today Walsch is on a
    mission to share what he calls the New Spirituality.
    While many will remain unconvinced there’s anything
    missing in the old Spirituality, Walsch’s inspiring
    personal story and his message of love are a
    beautifully-told tale in The Spiritual Cinema Circle’s
    movie by the same name as the book.

    The film, Conversations with God, begins with the
    moment in which Walsch first hears the Voice. In
    the ensuing flash forwards we see him as he is today,
    a successful author and inspirational speaker. But
    the beating heart of “Conversations with God” really
    is the story of his plunge to homelessness. And it is
    this part of the story that succeeds best on all levels.
    Canadian actor Henry Czerny (Clear and Present
    Danger; Pink Panther) offers an authentic,
    emotionally organic, gut-wrenching portrayal of the
    down and out Walsch. While living in a tented “city”
    his character develops friendships with other
    homeless men, notably Abdul Salaam El Razzac as
    Chef, Jerry McGill as Oscar and Bruce Page as
    Fitch. Their sad little circle lends honest dignity to
    grit and humiliation. How differently a friendship is
    forged between those who are discarded by society.
    Their interaction rings true here without heavy
    handedness, thus avoiding the pitfall of the obvious
    message and the sledgehammer approach. Such
    restraint is often lacking in “message” films. But it
    works here with great impact. (Hopefully other
    inspirational film makers will take note.)

    Even after Walsch becomes successful, great pains
    are taken to show us his many personal “warts.” His
    continuing human frailties, his occasional uncertainty
    and his wry bewilderment at the turn his life has
    taken help keep the film anchored, lest it float into
    the Saccharine Sea.

    Production values are strong, and the on location
    shooting in Oregon is effectively utilized. We watch
    the seasons change, smell the fresh air. We feel
    how chilled-to-the-bone Walsch gets in the drench-
    ing rain with nowhere to go, and feel the warmth
    when the sun comes out. Director Stephen Simon
    keeps the camera work straightforward, focusing
    on the story. But he also lays back here and there
    for some of those lingering, philosophical shots of
    nature’s beauty that remind us this is a film about
    spirituality. And so it is. “Conversations with God”
    uplifts, inspires and lends hope. There’s not a car
    chase to be found, but this film can move you
    without one.

    Simon, who also produced “Conversations,” co-
    founded The Spiritual Cinema Circle with Gay and
    Kathlyn Hendricks. The Circle is actually a monthly
    DVD subscription service that distributes spiritually-
    oriented DVDs in more than 70 countries. With their
    success in that business, they have branched out
    into actually making inspiring films, of which
    “Conversations” is their first. It’s a terrific break out
    of the chute for them.
Henry Czerny portrays the
author Neale Donald Walsch.
Available on DVD.

    CD Reviews:

     Film Review:
-     -Conversations With God         

    To appreciate the significance of this exhibit, a
    glance back in history is necessary.

    St. Catherine’s is the world’s oldest continuously
    operating Christian monastery, monks having
    resided at the base of Mt. Hebron since the 3rd
    century. The monastery’s land is both hallowed
    and historic. It is said the monastery sits on the
    very spot at which Moses spoke to God before
    the Burning Bush. Indeed, when the Spanish nun
    Egeria visited Sinai in the fourth century, she
    described the Burning Bush as flourishing right
    in front of the monastery. The bush still
    grows in the garden. And above St.
    Catherine’s is the place where Moses received
    God’s Ten Commandments for the Israelites.

    The buildings of the current monastery were
    commissioned by the Byzantine emperor Justinian,
    who ruled from 527-565. Today, over 1400 years
    later, the monks of St. Catherine’s are giving
    Americans an intimate glimpse at these religious

    Icons are as central to Eastern Orthodox
    Christian worship as they are misunder-
    stood by most everyone else. Icons are
    not religious paintings the manner of
    European Renaissance religious paint-
    ings. They do not intend to evoke emo-
    tional reaction. Instead, they utilize
    color, proportion and gesture which are
    “read” by the viewer and incorporated
    into prayer. Icons are deeply and intensely
    prayer-centered, striving to bring Jesus,
    Mary, or the saints into the personal
    space of the viewer, as opposed to the
    viewer into an illusionistic space. Eikons,
    Greek for “image,” are not created to be
    worshipped in and of themselves; though
    critics historically have charged such. The
    icon artist paints in a state of prayerful-
    ness; that his work might inspire the
    viewer towards the spiritual nature his
    image represents. His sacred intent
    aspires to eternity, not history nor fame.

Holy Image, Hallowed Ground:
Icons from Sinai
Until March 4, 2007
at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles

    CD Review by Lisa Bowman


    Amick Byram is an accomplished recording artist
    whose voice is perhaps more familiar than his
    face, handsome though it may be. A veteran of
    hundreds of commercials, Broadway cast albums
    and movie soundtracks, one of Byram’s more
    notable film credits is singing the role of (actor
    Val Kilmer’s) Moses in Dreamworks’ animated
    film, “The Prince of Egypt.” Some of his other
    many film credits include “Shrek,” “Aladdin,”
    “Beauty and the Beast,” “Mulan” and “The Matrix.”
    On the stage, Byram’s slew of high-end musical
    theatre appearances includes Broadway
    productions of “Phantom of the Opera” and “Les
    Miserables,” as well as starring opposite Glenn
    Close in “Sunset Boulevard.” Finally, Trekkers
    undoubtedly will recognize him as Ian Troi, father of
    Counselor Troi on television’s “Star Trek, The Next

    All of which is to say...  
Back to the top of the page
At the Getty Museum
Photo by Chuck Bowman
Monks from St. Catherine's Monastery in Egypt
came to Los Angeles to bless the exhibit.

    Holy Image, Hallowed Ground:
    Icons from Sinai
    At the Getty Museum, Los Angeles
    In Constantinople, around the year 726,
    Byzantine emperor Leo II removed a
    well-loved image of Jesus from one of
    the palace gates, sparking a local riot.
    Thus began a violent chapter of debate
    in the history of the Eastern Orthodox
    Christian Church. Leo III went on to
    declare all religious image veneration
    “a craft of idolatry.” Over the next 100
    years, the “iconoclasts,” as they were
    known, set about destroying religious
    icons and relics; even burning monas-
    teries and torturing monks in the
    process. Thousands of priceless works
    of art were lost forever.

    Luckily, tucked away in the remote
    shadows of Egypt’s Mt. Sinai, the
    Holy Monastery of St. Catherine
    lay quietly untouched. As a result,
    today it houses the most extensive
    collection of religious icons in the
    world, some 2000 of them, dating
    back to the sixth century. Very
    rarely have these fragile egg tem-
    pura paintings left the desert. In
    1997, a scant 10 icons and some
    manuscripts were exhibited in the
    New York Metropolitan Museum’s
    “The Glory of Byzantium.” But now
    through March 4th, an astonishing 43
    icons from St. Catherine’s Monastery,
    along with six manuscripts and four
    liturgical items are on display in the
    gloriously rich exhibit, Icons from Sinai
    at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los
    Angeles; an event made possible only
    because of recent conservation
    technology enabling the icons to be
    protected from changes in humidity
    and temperature.
Holy Monastery of St. Catherine at Mount Sinai
Icon of St. Peter
(5th-7th century)
Photo by Chuck Bowman
Banner  of St. Theodosia,
iconophile and martyr,
in the lobby of the Getty Museum
Hagiologian Calendar (11th century)
Intended for private use, this calendar depicts all the
saints and events of the Byzantine religious year.
St. Catherine: A Spanish icon
commissioned and gifted to St.
Catherine's Monastery  (1387)