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Religion on NPR podcast

There’s a whole new universe to explore on national public radio

By Donna Sinclair

For exercise, I used to pound along the sidewalk with an ancient Walkman, rushing out of the house just in time to catch the evening rerun of Morningside. If I was late, I missed out; so I organized my life to catch as much of Peter Gzowski’s interviewing genius as I could.

But now, with podcasts, I can walk whenever I like, too lost in a world of ideas to worry about minutiae like unwritten letters or unweeded gardens.

In fact, I can weed while listening. Anytime. It is a revelation.

And there’s a whole new imaginative universe to explore on National Public Radio’s Religion podcast. Krista Tippett’s Speaking of Faith, for instance, is good for years of walking. Witness her piece on the Persian poet Rumi. Tippett — informed, interested and leisurely — interviews Iranian poet and Rumi scholar Fatemeh Keshavarz. The latter’s passionate discussion of the 13th-century Sufi (who enjoys a large following in the West) opens a window into mystical Islam that is as far from our images of jihad as it is possible to get.

Keshavarz reads beautifully, too. It’s a great way to spend 52 minutes: walking, listening to fine poems and meditating on Rumi’s vision that — says Keshavarz — “all humanity is pregnant with God.”

Hundreds of other interviews of similar length are available. Some subjects might be familiar to Observer readers: Robert Coles on children’s spirituality; Rabbi Sandy Sasso on the spirituality of parenting; Nobel Peace Prize laureate and biologist Wangari Maathai meditating on God and on her 20-country-strong Green Belt movement in a soft Kikuyu accent. Here is author Barbara Kingsolver on the ethics of eating; Mariane Pearl on terrorism, love and survival; and formidable but accessible scholar Karen Armstrong on freelance monotheism.

It’s marvellous to hear how they sound. Who’d have thought, for instance, that the author of The Poisonwood Bible would have a young voice? And should one tire of the sound of Tippett (unlikely, since she’s generous with her subjects’ voices), one could turn to the other podcasts offered through NPR. For example, Binah’s “creative voices from the Jewish Community Center of San Francisco” range from an interview with Edward Albee to a fascinating anecdotal discussion with composer Jake Heggie and choreographer Liz Lerman. “I don’t know how people tolerate living without rehearsals,” muses Lerman. “You get to make mistakes and fix things.” If only “Bush had rehearsed the Iraq war, he’d have seen he didn’t have an ending.”

Such thinking. All downloadable. It’s enough to give me a weed-free garden forever.

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