"You get older and realize there are no answers, just stories. And how we love them."
— Garrison Keillor
"Tell me a story." It's the request of young and old alike. The word itself reverberates in our consciousness and we are transported to the times when as children we've listened intented to fairy tales and tall tales, as teenagers we've gone along on a quest or a romantic adventure, and as adults, we've marveled at the way things were in the past or just might be in the future. Stories have been the air that we breathed and the ground upon which we have walked.
Our culture puts before us an amazing array of stories via television shows, films, books, plays, and even poetry. We can pick and choose those we want to take seriously and those we wish to discard. Perhaps we want a story that perfectly fits our situation. Or we want a story to take us to a place we have never been to before.
We've been lovers of brief but poignant spiritual stories for years. We have now chosen 16 of our favorite collections of them to recommend to you. With each review we've included a sample story.
The stories in these books come from many religion traditions including Judaism, Sufism, Zen Buddhism, Native American spirituality, African and Asian religions. There are teaching stories, wisdom stories, and stories of spirit to spice up your own speeches, articles, sermons, or conversations. Many of the tales have been passed down through the generations yet still carry within them universal truths and evergreen applications to contemporary challenges. Take them to heart, and they will be good medicine for you.
"The stories people tell have a way
of taking care of them. If stories come to you,
care for them. And learn to give them away
where they are needed. Sometimes a person
needs a story more than food to stay alive."
— Badger in Crow and Weasel by Barry Lopez
Candles in the Dark: A Treasury of the World's Most Inspiring Parables by Todd Outcalt is a fine collection of parables and stories from many of the world's religions.
• Read a story about a mouse family that tries to find a wife for their beautiful mouse son.
Catch the Whisper of the Wind: Inspirational Stories and Proverbs from Native Americans by Cheewa James relates Native American wisdom and inspiration in stories and quotations.
• Read a story about the Blackfoot Indian leader Crowfoot sharing with his family his answer to the question "What is life?"
Forty Stories to Stir the Soul by Joan Chittister presents teaching stories from the world's religions and commentaries on their messages.
• Read a story about a monastery renowned for its hospitality and an angel's visit.
The Heart of the Enlightened: A Book of Story Meditations by Anthony de Mello offers 250 stories from many religions and cultures that convey spiritual lessons.
• Read a story of how the Buddha was once threatened by a bandit.
The Hundred Tales of Wisdom by Idries Shah is a collection of teaching stories, anecdotes, and narratives about Rumi, the thirteenth century poet and Sufi seer.
• Read a story about Rumi's many ways to practice courtesy.
Jewish Tales of Mystic Joy by Yitzak Buxbaum shares wonderful stories about ecstatic devotion to God expressed through singing, dancing, and even somersaults.
• Read a story of how a rabbi used humor to save a drowning man.
Keepers of the Story: Oral Traditions in Religion by Megan McKenna and Tony Cowan presents tales that take us to the deep places inside where the soul comes alive.
• Read a story by Tony Cowan about a young girl who longed to see God.
Native American Stories of the Sacred: Annotated and Explained by Evan T. Pritchard gives insights into the relevance of Native American spirituality to the challenges facing us in our private and public lives.
• Read a story about the Elements request of the Chief of Sky Spirits.
Once Upon a Time in Africa: Stories of Widsom & Joy by Joseph G. Healey offers many short gems on family, community, joy, and the ancestors.
• Read a story about a little East African boy who went on a journey to meet God.
Once Upon a Time in Asia: Stories of Harmony & Peace by James H. Kroeger and Eugene F. Thalman is a wonderful collection of stories from the cultures and peoples of Asia from China to East Timor, to the mostly Christian Philippines to Buddhist Thailand and beyond.
• Read a story by Father Richard T. Ouellette about the hospitality of a family he stayed with in Bangladesh.
One Hundred Wisdom Stories From Around the World by Margaret Silf is a wonderful collection filled with glints of truth about God, human nature, and the mysteries of life.
• Read a story from James N. McCutcheon about a judge's verdict for a woman who was caught stealing bread during the Great Depression.
Soul Food: Stories to Nourish the Spirit and the Heart by Jack Kornfield and Christina Feldman is an inspiring and enlightening collection of teaching stories from many spiritual traditions.
• Read a story about a gardener whose garden is overrun by dandelions.
Spiritual Literacy: Reading the Sacred in Everyday Life by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat is a collection of 650 readings, including many stories, that illustrate a spiritual way of seeing and knowing our world.
• Read a story about how you can tell when the night has ended and day has begun.
Welcome to the Wisdom of the World and Its Meaning for You by Joan Chittister serves up wisdom literature from all the world's religions on the spiritual challenges of life.
• Read a story about how an old man confronted by obstacle after obstacle remains calm and peaceful.
Zen Flesh, Zen Bones: A Collection of Zen and Pre-Zen Writings by Paul Reps and Nyogen Senzaki is a timeless classic filled with deep reserves of wit and wisdom.
• Read a story about the Zen approach to dealing with an "ungovernable temper."