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Recipes for a Sacred Life: True Stories and a Few Miracles by Rivvy Neshama

I needed this book.

After reading several very thought-provoking books in a row that challenged the way I look at my life and all but dared me to step off my path in a new direction, I was desperately needing something I could sink into. I needed a book that would envelope me and hold me close.

I settled into reading this book, not quite appreciating what I actually held in my hands.

As described by the Publisher:

ON A DARK WINTER NIGHT with little to do, Rivvy Neshama took a “Find Your Highest Purpose” quiz. And the funny thing was, she found it: to live a sacred life. Problem was, she didn't know how. But she set out to learn. And in the weeks and months that followed, she began to remember and encounter all the people and experiences featured in this bookfrom her father's jokes to her mother's prayers; from Billie in Harlem to a stranger in Salzburg; and from warm tortillas to the humble oatmeal. Each became a story, like a recipe passed down, beginning with her mother and her simple toast to life. NESHAMA'S TRUE TALES, a memoir of sorts, are filled with love, warmth, and timeless wisdom. They ground us, and they lift us up. They make us laugh, and they make us cry. And most of all, they connect us more deeply with the grace and meaning of our lives.

I needed to bask in the book’s promise of connecting more deeply with the grace and the meaning of my life. So, I just started reading. In my haste to get to the good stuff, the recipes for a sacred life, I all but ignored the Table of Contents.

I made my way through the first 10 stories and, while I was enjoying what I read, something seemed to be missing. I was not able to formulate the promised recipe of each story, which it turns out, is exactly the beauty and grace this book has to offer.

Sensing that I was missing something, I started the book again, returning to the Table of Contents, this time actually reading and considering it::

Part One: Basic Ingredients

  • A Good Day to Die . . . or Not

  • The Where to Begin

  • Grateful In Harlem

  • Tea and Compassion

  • My Mother-in-Law’s Bedroom

  • Miracles to Share

  • Gracious, Gracias

  • Life, Death, and Laughter

  • A Good Day

  • The Lord is with Me . . . or Whatever

  • Do The Right Thing

  • This, Too, Shall Pass

  • Poco, Poco

I had initially been reading each story in search of the specific formula for a sacred life, totally missing the point that the story itself was merely Neshama’s way of providing a context for the ingredients she considers necessary to create a sacred life. Each story is her way of making the sacred come to life.

This realization totally changed the way I understood the book.

A great example is the story Poco, Poco. In it, Neshama writes:

After writing thirty-some stories for this book, I got stuck. Sure, I had more recipes to share, but no stories to make them come alive. Great, I thought, just what people needed, another “Do This” list of spiritual advice that would sound a million times better coming from the Dali Lama.

“Poco a Poco,” I said. “Little by little… step by step.” If you resolve to do something but have trouble doing it, or feel overwhelmed and don’t know where to begin, or if you’re lost in the darkness and can’t find the light … not to worry. Just keep the faith and move forward, one step at a time.

The story for Poco, Poco is Neshama’s memory of playing the game “Mother May I” in the alley behind her house. She writes:

I don’t remember the rules exactly, but I do remember this. It didn’t matter so much what kinds of steps you took, so long as you kept moving forward, little by little, until you finally reached the line. And the nice thing was everyone got there, sooner or later. The game didn’t end until they did.

While I don’t remember ever playing “Mother May I,” I do remember playing a version of Marco Polo at McCarty Park, a park near my childhood home. The neighborhood children would gather, scream Marco, and hope that a cadre of willing participants, screaming Polo in return, would amass for the game.

Recipes for a Sacred Life has 77 such stories, most of them less than 2 pages long. Neshama’s stories not only give an example of how she found the making of a sacred life in her life, but they provide a space in which you can find your own stories and thereby craft a sacred life your own.

I totally underestimated the potential of this book. While I had hoped it would be a “to do list of spiritual activities,” it was much more. The stories themselves had me laughing, crying, and wondering, but most importantly they had me remembering and savoring the sacred moments my life holds.

I highly recommend this book if you are tired of books promising a curated path to bliss. This book in warm and inviting, and it is the perfect book to open when you have a few moments to spare.


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