Common threads, many faiths
Bernardston couple together create inspirational book
BERNARDSTON — When a local couple took a long look at world religions, they saw plenty of differences, but also some striking similarities.
Paul and Valerie Luther focused on the latter.
“We were looking for common themes, or seeds in different religions and approaches to understand the divine that have commonality,” said Valerie Luther.
“To Heal and Be Healed: Prayers for a Wounded World” is the almost-accidental result of their exploration. The couple hopes those who pick it up will find inspiration, opportunities for reflection, and encounter outlooks they may not have considered before.
As the Luthers collected bits and pieces from several religions for their own enlightenment, they realized that the compilation could have value for others as well, whether they’re from religious or secular backgrounds.
e_SDLqWe weren’t just focused on the Protestant, Catholic and Jewish faiths, but the complete history and variety of human religious experience,” said Paul Luther.
The 68-page book brings together writings from several points of view, be they Buddhist, Christian, Confucianist, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Native American, or Taoist, as well as secular selections including Shakespeare, Louis Armstrong and more.
“We found that the words weren’t the same, but the philosophy was,” added Valerie.
The messages of loving your fellow man, doing good rather than harm, seeking peace and keeping an open mind, among others, were prevalent across the board.
While the text of the book, with a few exceptions, is the work of others, the photographs that illustrate nearly every page were all taken by Paul Luther.
Paul didn’t have a book in mind when he took those pictures.
“I got into photography when I was in Manhattan,” he said. “New York City was falling apart, there was chaos everywhere, and I needed a way to re-construct my environment.”
“Photography allowed me to put blinders on, and frame my world.”
Paul and Valerie combed through countless prints, and came up with dozens of serene images of nature to accompany the readings.
“The pictures are there to slow down the reader,” said Valerie.
The couple want their audience to take a moment to reflect on each reading, rather than rush to the next page, as people often do.
“We claim that the book seeks, among other things, to remind us that we need to step back, slow down and remember our hopes and dreams,” the couple explained.
Though the Luthers would go on to take a comprehensive look at world religion, both were brought up not to question their faith as they grew up in Union City, N.J.
Valerie was raised in the Roman Catholic discipline.
“We still had Mass in Latin; it was a very traditional church,” she said.
So traditional, in fact, that her husband nearly had to sign papers promising their children would have a Roman Catholic upbringing, in order to marry in Valerie’s church.
Paul Luther had been brought up in the American Baptist denomination.
“It wasn’t as rigid (as the Catholic church),” he said. “It wasn’t a lot of fire and brimstone.”
Maybe not, but the American Baptists still preached that salvation was only available to those that accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and savior.
Despite their priests’ and pastors’ cautions, the two would consider other ways of being spiritual.
“We were children of the counter-culture of the 1960s,” Paul explained. “Campuses exploded with ferment on social values and world-views, and the women’s and civil rights movements.”
The Luthers, who were teenagers when the ’60s started, came of age at a time when young people were eschewing the ideals of their elders, and questioning long-held traditions and ways of life.
Though they grew up in and embraced this atmosphere, the two went on to do some pretty traditional things.
They graduated from high school together in 1964, and five years later, the high school sweethearts were wed. They went to college, earned degrees, and got jobs. They settled down, went to church, had a child and are now grandparents.
“To Heal and Be Healed” is the second incarnation of the compilation. In 2010, the Luthers self-published a hardcover edition, each page individually printed to make sure the photographs came out their best. It was a much more expensive endeavor. They only made 50 copies, which they gave to friends and family members.
The couple self-published this soft-cover edition as well, the printing done at Copy Cat Print Shop. They’ve priced it at $6.50, taking a bit of a loss, but making it available to more people, which they feel is worth it.
“To Heal and Be Healed” is available at World Eye Bookshop in Greenfield, and from the Luthers themselves.
David Rainville can be reached at:
or 413-772-0261, ext. 279