Finding Your Religion: When the Faith You Grew up with Has Lost Its Meaning

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"Starting with my own experiences in college in the 1960s and early 1970s, I have learned a great deal about how people lose and find their own religion. I've come to see it very much as an ongoing process that never stops. For many people, the faith they grew up with loses its meaning during adolescence. Others who never had any faith in childhood begin exploring religion for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood. I've come to realize that there are identifiable stages of spiritual development that people go through, no matter what

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Overview

"Starting with my own experiences in college in the 1960s and early 1970s, I have learned a great deal about how people lose and find their own religion. I've come to see it very much as an ongoing process that never stops. For many people, the faith they grew up with loses its meaning during adolescence. Others who never had any faith in childhood begin exploring religion for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood. I've come to realize that there are identifiable stages of spiritual development that people go through, no matter what their religious tradition is or isn't. Just as we grow emotionally and intellectually over the years, so we grow spiritually, if we allow ourselves.— from the book

Tufts University Chaplain Scotty McLennan (the inspiration for Doonesbury's Reverend Scot Sloan) offers an indispensable guidebook to those seeking a new spiritual path or wishing to reconnect to the religion of their youth. He reassures anyone at a spiritual crossroads—those who have become disillusioned with or even abandoned the religion of their youth—that finding a relevant and fulfilling spirituality is a process of understanding one's place in any of six universal stages of faith: Magic, Reality, Dependence, Independence, Interdependence, and Unity. He offers signposts and checklists for determining where readers are own their own spiritual journey, and for helping them grow and develop. By recognizing a progression of steps toward a faith of one's own choosing, McLennan explains, one can more fully open one's soul to its spiritual destiny.

Author Biography:

Scotty McLennan has been the Chaplain at Tufts University since 1984.He has been a lecturer at the Harvard Business School since 1988, and he frequently consults on the subject of business ethics with corporations. McLennan was the inspiration for the character of Reverend Scot Sloan in the Doonesbury comic strip. He lives in Milton, Massachusetts.

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Editorial Reviews

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The Spiritual Path Less Traveled

In an age when the average American can expect to change jobs, if not entire career tracks, at least five times over a lifetime, it should come as no surprise that we possess a similar range of freedom when it comes to our spiritual lives. From Roman Catholicism to Zen Buddhism, from Kabbalah to Sufism, American culture offers a panoply of religious traditions to sample.

Within the wide range of offerings upon which to feast our spirits, it's often a wise idea to find like-minded people to share our experiences with. Scotty McLennan's book explains both the pitfalls and the peaks of seeking an authentic and satisfying spiritual road. He envisions the quest as a mountain climb and himself as a guide along the way. Well accustomed to playing such a role as a university chaplain, McLennan shares the breadth of his extensive experience with the varied traditions of the world that have flourished in America.

Based upon the idea that like individual psychological development, spiritual development can be understood to pass through six different stages -- magic, reality, dependence, independence, interdependence, and unity -- Finding Your Religion shows how each stage influences and deepens religious experience, as well as reflects a different understanding of ultimate reality. These stages are best navigated, McLennan argues, within a community. Like a mountain climber seeking the safest conditions, the spiritual seeker will be best served in the company of others. Encouraging us to move beyond the stage of reading about religion to become active in our quests, McLennan proves a stable, trustworthy, and knowledgeable companion -- just the sort of guide you'd want with you once you've pitched your tent as darkness falls and the wind picks up off the side of the mountain, and you need someone to help you build a fire to stay warm through the night.

—Sara Laurent

Boston Magazine
This is very much a gentle, nondirective guide to the [spiritually] perplexed.
Cleveland Plain Dealer
McLennan offers wise commentary and anecdotes that gently guide the individual seeker toward finding a religious home.
Minneapolis Star Tribune
McLennan's style makes the book easy to read...McLennan offers a plan to renew or regain the spiritual dimension of your life.
Chicago Daily Southtown
McLennan...offers wise commentary and anecdotes that gently guide the individual seeker toward finding a religious home.
Garry Trudeau
When the faith of one's youth loses its meaning, there is no ingrained cultural habit of looking elsewhere. Indeed, in much of the world, where religious freedom is all but unknown, the strictures against straying make it unthinkable. But in millennial America, there are, to paraphrase Paul Tillich, many windows through which to see God at work. This book frees you to gaze through all of them, to drink in the light until you find the clarity that gives life meaning.
Lawrence Kushner
A religious seeker's bible. McLennan puts human faces on a spiritual search. Using the real-life stories of seekers—both their visions and follies—he offers us clever insight, sage counsel, and guidance for our own quest.
Arvind Sharma
In this book, Rev. McLennan is both philosopher and guide. If in your life you are at religious crossroads, this book will point you in the right direction. If you are at a spiritual turning point, this book will help you make the right turn.
William Sloane Coffin
If blind belief has driven you to blind disbelief, or if you feel your life is in spiritual disarray, or if you simply want to read something thoughtful and sensitive, try this book. Scotty McLennan is an experienced guide on a variety of paths leading to what we all need—a greater spiritual awareness.
Sylvia Boorstein
This book confirms the validity of the impulse to find a religious tradition that offers meaningful connection to one's life experience. The straightforward and candid descriptions of many people's spiritual searches provide guideposts for everyone for their own personal journey.
Harvey Cox
Unlike the scoffers of a few decades back, young people today form a generation of seekers. But the way they search often confuses and puzzles their friends and elders. McLennan draws on years of experience with young people to put real faces and real stories in the picture. No one who works with youth should miss this engaging book.
James Carroll
With compassion, wit and the wisdom of many years as a spiritual traveler, Rev. Scotty McLennan shows the way home. Finding Your Religion should find its way into the heart and soul of America.
Mohamed A. Mahmoud
Scotty McLennan invites us to confront the challenge of seeking a heightened state of awakening to the core of our spirituality.
Frederick Brussat
Finding Your Religion is tailor-made for college students and anyhone else who needs an orientation book to center their spiritual quest. McLennan's admirable mix of openness, imagination, and hospitatlity makes this a fine resource for seekers of all stripes.
Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
McLennan, the Tufts University Chaplain who inspired Doonesbury cartoonist Garry Trudeau's character Reverend Scotty Sloan, shares six steps of a spiritual journey. McLennan targets those who have left the tradition in which they were raised, or those who grew up without any religious background and are now open to a spiritual dimension in their lives. McLennan points out that most people don't get through all the steps and that, often, the steps can intertwine. He sees all religious journeys, be they Bah ' , Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, Christian or others, as starting with a beckoning of the "spiritual mountain." Readers take the first step by thinking about faith, by opening themselves to the possibilities. The next step is to choose a certain path religious leanings and start walking up the mountain. Readers are then encouraged to join fellow travelers of the same bent and, as they grow in that direction, to encompass journeys from other traditions to enrich their own direction. Prayer and meditation, the next step, help mature the inner being. Finally, McLennan speaks of suffering and rejoicing as two important components in any religion and personal spirituality. This is an entertaining, gentle and affirming book for anyone contemplating such a journey. Dec. Copyright 1999 Cahners Business Information.
Colin Campbell
Despite the fact that Finding Your Religion is an invitation to scale a craggy and perilous peak, you will close this book feeling cosseted, comforted, and eager to lace up your hiking boots.
Christian Science Monitor
Kirkus Reviews
For those who know they want a meaningful spiritual life, but don't know where to find one. McLennan, long-time chaplain at Tufts University and the inspiration for Doonesbury's Rev. Scotty Sloan, is ecumenical to a fault. No original metaphors here: McLennan sees himself as the mountain guide for lost trekkers—we're all trying to bushwhack our way to the top of the same mountain, but, as any good college chaplain knows, there are many paths up. In nine easy steps, McLennan can get you to the top. First, you must be open to spiritual development and change, recognizing that your journey is every bit as important as your destination. Once you have mastered openness, you can move on to thinking about religion—engaging critically rather than falling back on knee-jerk reactions ingrained in childhood. Next comes experiencing, the stage in which "new ways will emerge to see the sunrise, hear the birds sing, smell the flowers, taste food, and feel the wind in your face." Then, pick a religious path and, as the folks at Nike say, just do it: Read, worship, and eat your chosen religion. After you've partaken of gefilte fish and perused a few books by Lawrence Kushner, you're ready to talk with "fellow travelers," be they clergy or lay. Then move on to exploring other faiths, since learning about Ramadan can help you find keeping kosher more meaningful. The chapter on "Sitting" extols you to pray or meditate, and "Suffering" explores the role of religion during crisis. Finally, "Rejoicing" reminds us of the spiritual highs to be found in holiday feasts, sing-alongs, and weddings. Centuries hence, historians of late-20th-century America will finger this guide as evidence thatmillennial Americans were a spiritual people, but that theirs was a spirituality drenched in the easy, feel-good language of consumerism: Picking a religion is not so different from picking a new car. McLennan's is less an aid to hikers than a handbook for outlet-mall devotees.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780060653477
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 12/1/1999
  • Edition description: 1 ED
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 6.12 (w) x 9.25 (h) x 0.95 (d)

Meet the Author

Scotty McLennan has been the Chaplain at Tufts University since 1984. He has been a lecturer at the Harvard Business School since 1988, and he frequently consults on the subject of business ethics with corporations. McLennan was the inspiration for the character of Reverend Scot Sloan in the Doonesbury comic strip. He lives in Milton, Massachusetts.

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Read an Excerpt

The Mountain Beckons

The mountain beckons. This book is intended for personal exploration. It is full of stories of seekers on the spiritual mountain. My hope is that each and every one of these stories can be of assistance to you, because of the important discoveries these individuals have made about religion in their lives. I assume that you are no longer happy with the religion of your childhood, or never had one in the first place. This book does not offer answers. Instead, it offers a method of exploration, as the chapter titles suggest. The journey must be yours, but there is a lot of help available along the way from others who have found new meaning for their lives within the major religious traditions of the world.

I am a university chaplain. For the past sixteen years I've had the good fortune of getting to know students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local community people from a wide variety of backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians; Jews and Muslims and Bah´'ís; Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs; Taoists and Confucianists; Buddhists and Shintoists; Marxists and secular humanists; agnostics and atheists. I've celebrated with them and learned from them; taught, counseled, advised and been helped by them; sung and danced, laughed and cried, discussed and argued with them; solemnized their marriages, dedicated their children, and memorialized them after death.

My own denomination is Unitarian Universalist, but as the university chaplain at Tufts I have been responsible to the entire community. I served as an umbrella for all campus ministries and have tried to keep everyone talking to one another. I also taught and have beenavailable to anyone as a sounding board. My other professional experiences include practicing law for a decade before I came to Tufts, and moonlighting as a visiting lecturer on ethics for the past twelve years at the Harvard Business School.

Starting with my own experiences in college in the 1960s and divinity school in the early 1970s, I have teamed a great deal about how people lose and find their own religion. I've come to see it very much as an ongoing process that never stops. For many people, the faith they grew up with loses its meaning during adolescence. others who never had any faith in childhood begin exploring religion for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood. I've come to realize that there are identifiable stages of spiritual development that people go through, no matter what their religious tradition is or isn't. Just as we grow emotionally and intellectually over the years, so we grow spiritually, if we allow ourselves. In my experience, religious faith is not an "on-off " button. it naturally changes over time. The feeling of having arrived or of being sure almost never lasts, no matter how old we get. (That's what the chapter "Opening" is all about.)

So, discovering our religion should be an exciting, dynamic process that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives. At the half-century mark myself, I can personally vouch only for the decades through the forties. Yet, during some twenty-five years of ordained ministry, I've had the opportunity to know people well at all ages and stages.

I've come to feel like a kind of mountain guide. There is a spiritual mountain that all of us (or at least a lot of us) are trying to climb. There are many paths up that mountain -- many paths that can reach the top, although very few people actually get to the summit of this very high mountain. Those paths may be rough or smooth, steep or easy, boring or colorful, tiring or exhilarating. ng. Yet, they are all on the same spiritual mountain, and, ultimately, they all converge at the very top, as mystics of all religions have told us.

Most of us aren't mystics, though, and for us the point is to enjoy the journey -- to find fulfillment in our pilgrimage on the mountain itself rather than to miss everything along the way in pursuit of the summit. As I've heard from the great mystical guides, it can be very cold and breathtaking up there. Few people are able to stay there very long. In mountaineering language, it's the difference between trekking and peakbagging. Trekkers tend to experience a lot more of the flora and fauna. Peak-baggers report a glorious view.

I've spent a lot of time on the mountain under a wide variety of conditions. I know well-worn paths as well as hidden trails. I'm familiar with the flora and fauna. I've studied the mountain's history. I know streams and falls, cliffs and caves, passes and ridges, meadows and snowfields. I love the mountain. As a guide, though, I also want to be sensitive to different climbers' interests and abilities. That's what the next three chapters are all about. They will help the hesitant and the dubious to view the spiritual mountain from a distance, getting ready to pick a path and start walking. if this book is to do any good, it must support many different travelers at various stages of their journeys. And it will need to be a resource you can keep returning to as you explore different aspects of the mountain at different altitudes over time. Read each of the accounts of other people's experiences with that in mind. Savor their stories and store them in the back of your mind -- and deep in your soul -- for use as much in the future as in the present.

After the next chapter describes the stages of spiritual development, the "Thinking" chapter urges you to open your adult mind to religious inquiry -- to start thinking about religion. I report some insights from my spending more than twenty years in a "Jung Club." Religious myths and symbols from around the world have taken on new meaning for each member as we've seen them first as internal constructions of the human mind and then asked what relation, if any, they bear to external reality. I recount how one of our members became a Buddhist. I describe a trip of mine through the desert to Mount Sinai, where three major religious traditions hold that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Profound lessons were learned there by all of us travelers, whether we were modem secularists, Jews, Christians, or Muslims.

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First Chapter

The mountain beckons. This book is intended for personal exploration. It is full of stories of seekers on the spiritual mountain. My hope is that each and every one of these stories can be of assistance to you, because of the important discoveries these individuals have made about religion in their lives. I assume that you are no longer happy with the religion of your childhood, or never had one in the first place. This book does not offer answers. Instead, it offers a method of exploration, as the chapter titles suggest. The journey must be yours, but there is a lot of help available along the way from others who have found new meaning for their lives within the major religious traditions of the world.

I am a university chaplain. For the last fifteen years I've had the good fortune of getting to know students, faculty, staff, alumni, and local community people from a wide variety of backgrounds: Protestant, Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox Christians; Jews and Muslims and Baha'is; Hindus, Jains, and Sikhs; Taoists and Confucianists; Buddhists and Shintoists; Marxists and secular humanists; agnostics and atheists. I've celebrated with them and learned from them; taught, counseled, advised and been helped by them; sung and danced, laughed and cried, discussed and argued with them; solemnized their marriages, dedicated their children, and memorialized them after death.

My own denomination is Unitarian Universalist, but as the University Chaplain at Tufts I am responsible to the entire community. I serve as an umbrella for all campus ministries and try to keep everyone talking to one another. I also teach and am available to anyone as a sounding board. My other professional experiences include practicing law for a decade before I came to Tufts, and moonlighting as a visiting lecturer on ethics for the last ten years at the Harvard Business School.

Starting with my own experiences in college in the 1960s and divinity school in the early 1970s, I have learned a great deal about how people lose and find their own religion. I've come to see it very much as an ongoing process that never stops. For many people, the faith they grew up with loses its meaning during adolescence. Others who never had any faith in childhood begin exploring religion for the first time in adolescence or young adulthood. I've come to realize that there are identifiable stages of spiritual development that people go through, no matter what their religious tradition is or isn't. Just as we grow emotionally and intellectually over the years, so we grow spiritually, if we allow ourselves. In my experience, religious faith is not an "on-off" button. It naturally changes over time. The feeling of having arrived or of being sure almost never lasts, no matter how old we get. (That's what the chapter "Opening" is all about.)

So, discovering our religion should be an exciting, dynamic process that ebbs and flows with the seasons of our lives. At the half-century mark myself, I can personally vouch only for the decades through the forties. Yet, during some twenty-five years of ordained ministry, I've had the opportunity to know people well at all ages and stages.

I've come to feel like a kind of mountain guide. There is a spiritual mountain that all of us (or at least a lot of us) are trying to climb. There are many paths up that mountain -- many paths that can reach the top, although very few people actually get to the summit of this very high mountain. Those paths may be rough or smooth, steep or easy, boring or colorful, tiring or exhilarating. Yet, they are all on the same spiritual mountain, and ultimately, they all converge at the very top, as mystics of all religions have told us.

Most of us aren't mystics, though, and for us the point is to enjoy the journey -- to find fulfillment in our pilgrimage on the mountain itself -- rather than to miss everything along the way in pursuit of the summit. As I've heard from the great mystical guides, it can be very cold and breathtaking up there. Few people are able to stay there very long. In mountaineering language, it's the difference between trekking and peak-bagging. Trekkers tend to experience a lot more of the flora and fauna. Peak-baggers report a glorious view.

I've spent a lot of time on the mountain under a wide variety of conditions. I know well-worn paths as well as hidden trails. I'm familiar with the flora and fauna. I've studied the mountain's history. I know streams and falls, cliffs and caves, passes and ridges, meadows and snowfields. I love the mountain. As a guide, though, I also want to be sensitive to different climbers' interests and abilities. That's what the next three chapters are all about. They will help the hesitant and the dubious to view the spiritual mountain from a distance, getting ready to pick a path and start walking in the chapter entitled "Walking." If this book is to do any good, it must support many different travelers at various stages of their journeys. And it will need to be a resource you can keep returning to as you explore different aspects of the mountain at different altitudes over time. Read each of the accounts of other peoples' experiences with that in mind. Savor their stories and store them in the back of your mind -- and deep in your soul -- for use as much in the future as in the present.

After the next chapter describes the stages of spiritual development, the "Thinking" chapter urges you to open your adult mind to religious inquiry -- to start thinking about religion. I report some insights from my spending more than twenty years in a "Jung Club." Religious myths and symbols from around the world have taken on new meaning for each member as we've seen them first as internal constructions of the human mind and then asked what relation, if any, they bear to external reality. I recount how one of our members became a Buddhist. I describe a trip of mine through the desert to Mount Sinai, where three major religious traditions hold that Moses received the Ten Commandments from God. Profound lessons were learned there by all of us travelers, whether we were modern secularists, Jews, Christians, or Muslims.

The next chapter suggests that you begin experiencing -- opening your senses along with your mind as you begin your religious search. As you become more awake and alert to the environment around you -- to your own bodily sensations of sight, hearing, smell, taste, and feel -- you will also become more spiritually perceptive. New ways will emerge to see the sunrise, hear the birds sing, smell the flowers, taste food, and feel the wind in your face. In any case, you can't find your way if you are asleep.

What can a Russian atheist, for whom religion is "unintelligible," learn floating down a river on a boat at night with his eyes and ears open? Why do huge crowds gather in Japanese parks each evening during cherry blossom season to picnic and light colorful lanterns? How did Ralph Waldo Emerson challenge the "decaying church" and "wasting unbelief" of his day by his love of "the splendor of nature"?

The following chapter suggests that each reader now pick a religious path and start walking. Even if it turns out not to be the right way later on, you won't get anywhere spiritually without starting. Spiritual life of necessity requires exertion and effort. It withers on the couch and in the armchair. I understand how frightening and difficult it is for many people to commit themselves to a religious tradition before they think they've gathered enough experience and knowledge about what they're getting into. Yet I see this as a process, not a final decision.

I know a lot of people who are spiritually paralyzed inside of their heads. They think, read, and talk about religion, yet they are incapable of acting and feeling. Their heart has not been touched. They are afraid of taking risks. "There are always two sides, or many sides, to any question," they opine. "It's hard to choose. It's hard to know where to start." Start anywhere that looks interesting, I respond, but start. Act. Do. Make some mistakes and get knocked down. Pull yourself up and start again. Real learning requires an interplay between action and reflection, between heart and head.

The next chapter, "Joining," encourages you to join with fellow travelers on the path you've chosen. You can discuss your doubts and discoveries, your hopes and fears, your ideas and feelings. You're not alone in your search, and traveling companions will help you see and experience a lot along the way that you'd otherwise miss. Your questions will challenge and help them, just as their perceptions will widen your perspective and deepen your practice. Keep communication open! Some fellow travelers on your path may be "experts" with names like "clergy," "gurus," or "masters." Be certain that the experts are guides who enhance your journey, though, rather than substituting themselves for your own fresh sensations of the mountain itself.

The "Crossing" chapter extols the value of a comparative approach in which you learn from trail crossings even as you have set off on a particular path. Experimenting with Buddhist and Hindu meditation can enhance Christian and Jewish prayer life, and vice versa. Understanding how different traditions grieve their dead can make it easier for you -- in giving and receiving sympathy and help -- to mourn the loss of someone close to you. Learning about the spiritual experiences of Muslims during the month-long fast of Ramadan can help Jews to find new meaning in keeping kosher, Christians to use Lent as a rich period of self-examination when they haven't reflected for years, and Hindus to emulate Gandhi's use of fasting at times of profound personal and social turmoil. Appreciating the similarities and differences between various celebrations at the time of the vernal equinox -- such as Passover, Easter, and May Day -- can enliven the season for all.

The next chapter, "Sitting," emphasizes the power of meditation and prayer in the spiritual life, as I encourage readers to take some time to sit alone under a tree in the midst of the trek. The Buddha achieved enlightenment sitting alone under the bodhi tree. Direct experience of the ultimate reality (whatever he, she, or it is called) is reported most often in these very private moments. Meditation and prayer are also quite literally good for your health. An initially skeptical physician, Herbert Benson of Harvard Medical School, studied a form of Hindu meditation in the 1970s; quite to his surprise, he found that it had demonstrably positive medical benefits. His best-selling book The Relaxation Response noted that similar health advantages could be achieved through other forms of meditation or prayer in almost any tradition.

The "Suffering" chapter grapples with the role suffering plays in religion and the spiritual life. "There are no atheists in foxholes," as the old saying goes. Many people find their religion in times of crisis. It's inevitable that there will be upsetting incidents, unpleasant surprises, injury, illness, and loss along each of our life paths. One can either fall apart at these times or see them as opportunities -- for personal deepening, for closer relationships with family and friends, for a deeper connection with what Paul Tillich called "the Ground of our Being." All the major religious traditions have paid particular attention to the question of suffering and offer significant resources to help searchers at these times.

The final chapter is entitled "Rejoicing." So much of the religious life in all traditions has involved singing and dancing, eating and drinking together, and enjoying life in all of its wonder. A sense of humor can also produce more insight than virtually anything else. Religious holy days become the culture's holidays -- times of recreation, entertainment, and gaiety. In America, for example, we celebrate at least three festivals of light during the darkest days of the year: Hanukkah, Christmas, and Kwanzaa. Religious rites of passage such as namings and baptisms, bar or bat mitzvahs and confirmations, and weddings joyously mark the great occasions of our life journeys. Religion at its best also helps us appreciate small, everyday joys that renew us and help us get through the day with some sense of fulfillment.

So this book is a guide for those who are at a spiritual turning point -- for those who are not satisfied with the faith they grew up with, or who grew up without a faith, but want to find a meaningful way to express their spirituality. It's intended for readers who feel a stirring in their soul but don't know where it's pulling them. If that's you, then this book is for you. It should help you identify what stage you're at in the development of your faith. It may point you in the direction of a new religion to help you grow, or you may discover new meaning and depth within the religion you grew up in. What's most important is that this book give you hope that you can find a religion that will get you moving again on the spiritual mountain.

Copyright © 1999 by William L. McLennan, Jr. All rights reserved.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted August 29, 2000

    A perfect place to start your journey

    Reverend McLennan's book presents spiritual development using a stage theory and a mountaing climbing metaphor. Completely nonjudgmental, he discusses the uniqueness of each individual's spirituality and provides interesting case studies showing people on various paths of spiritual development. This book has inspired in me a desire to explore my spirituality even further while at the same time affirming my beliefs as they currently stand.

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