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A closer, faster, walk with thee

So you’re racing through another jam-packed day, late picking up the kids from basketball practice because you got stuck at the office. You still have to pay the bills, walk the dog and perhaps grab cold pizza before collapsing into bed.

When do you ever find time for God?

One publisher has the answer: “The One Minute Bible, Day by Day,” whose brief readings promise to inspire your “daily walk with the Lord.”

Or check out “5 Minute Theologian: Maximum Truth in Minimum Time.”

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Because man does not live by bread alone -- and might be tempted to eat on the run -- there’s “Aunt Susie’s 10-Minute Bible Dinners: Bringing God Into Your Life One Dish at a Time.”

The American style of worship, like everything else in people’s overloaded lives, is speeding up.

This hurried search for the Almighty partly explains the rise of a niche industry of books, DVDs, podcasts, text messages and e-mail blasts that distill the essentials of faith, from creation to the crucifixion.

The materials offer bite-sized spiritual morsels that can be digested in minutes, or even seconds, on the daily commute, aboard airplanes or at the dinner table. As “7 Minutes With God” advises: “Take 7 minutes each day to: build your faith in God, grow closer to the Father, make progress in your spiritual life.”

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And what about your over-programmed 10-year-old? Again, religious publishers have an answer: “The Kid Who Would Be King: One Minute Bible Stories About Kids.”

“The audience is definitely anyone who’s interested in a ready-made, quick little devotion they can do every day,” said Tim Jordan, an editor at B&H; Publishing Group in Nashville, which produces the “The One Minute Bible.”

“It’s not meant to replace the Bible,” Jordan added. “It’s meant to whet your appetite.”

Publishers aren’t the only ones adjusting to the time pressures on modern religious life. Rabbis and ministers, aware that worship is just another weekend option for many people, are shortening their sermons and taking other steps to entice parishioners.

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“What’s the scarcest commodity in American life?” asks the Most Rev. Katharine Jefferts Schori, presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church. “How do we invite people to connect their life of faith with their life at the soccer practice or in the coffee shop or at the pub or waiting in line for something? I think that’s the biggest challenge the church is beginning to recognize.”

Traditionalists say quick-hit spirituality can be useful, but that it’s no substitute for true learning or involvement in a religious community. Even some of the die-hard faithful, however, see the prophetic writing on the wall.

Leith Anderson leads a 2,900-member church in suburban Minneapolis and is president of the National Assn. of Evangelicals. He also produces a daily radio segment -- “Faith Minute” -- that is heard throughout the Midwest.

“It’s preaching to people who have never been in the choir,” Anderson said.

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For those who are short on time, alternatives abound. A stroll through the gift shop at the Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown Los Angeles reveals the options.

That’s where Leticia Najera spent a recent lunch break, leafing through a 4-by-6-inch black booklet titled “Bible Day by Day.” Its preface declared: “This is a pocket meditation book for busy people.”

Najera, 55, was delighted by the brief reflections on quotations from Proverbs, Luke and other biblical books. She bought a copy of the $7.95 devotional to use over dinner with her four grandchildren at home in Whittier, and planned to buy extras for friends.

A devout woman, Najera also bought a copy of “Healing Prayers for Every Day,” a companion booklet she hoped would provide spiritual uplift in her busy workday as a therapeutic behavioral specialist for children.

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Leafing through it, she landed on Page 67, a reflection for April 27, that read: “We endure many heartaches and pains during our lives because of those we love.”

Najera clutched the devotional. “Gosh, this is a message for me,” she said, explaining that she was struggling to help her grandson cope with the death of an elderly relative.

Enthusiasts such as Najera account for a loyal, if modest, market niche. Even as traditional worship attendance languishes, an appetite for spirituality has created new opportunities for alternative forms of religious communication, publishers say. Podcasts and other electronic adaptations are leading the way.

“If you know how to reach readers of religious materials, you are onto something, because they are devoted,” said Marcia Z. Nelson, religion book reviews editor for Publishers Weekly. “Devotionals and prayer books are perennial sellers.”

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And they’re fueling interest in traditional religious texts, publishers say.

The Christian Booksellers Assn. says that eight to 10 of the nation’s 50 top-selling Christian books are devotionals or other texts that provide daily spiritual guidance.

“Christian publishers and retailers realize that today’s busy consumers are looking for . . . spiritual food that can be consumed in a convenient way,” said Bill Anderson, the association’s president.

Such books stand to fill a growing spiritual void.

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Only about a quarter of Americans attend weekly religious services, a figure that has remained relatively steady over most of the last century, according to sociologists who study religion. Yet many Americans still feel a need to connect regularly with a supreme being.

A recent national survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life found that 71% of people are absolutely certain about their belief in God and that 58% pray daily outside of religious services.

Faith leaders are working hard to capitalize on that spiritual hunger, not just with convenience but with high production values.

“Religion is gradually being remade in the image of mass-consumer capitalism,” said Christian Smith, a sociologist of American religion at the University of Notre Dame, who adds that the changes have met mixed reactions.

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“What for some people is creative innovation,” Smith said, “is pandering to other people.”

For the last decade, Sinai Temple in Los Angeles has mined this new religious terrain through its “Friday Night Live” gatherings for young professionals that feature traditional prayers, speakers, music and cocktails.

The temple’s rabbi, David Wolpe, also has tapped the Internet for outreach, sending weekly “Off the Pulpit” e-mails to 2,000 people, creating what he calls “a virtual community of modern Torah.” And, mindful of time, he keeps the messages to 250 words or less.

At Saddleback Church in Orange County, Associate Pastor Tom Holladay has replaced a Wednesday night Bible study with daily “drive-time devotions.”

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The Wednesday sessions once attracted 1,000 parishioners, a huge crowd by many church standards. But the 10-minute podcasts, focusing on spiritual growth, now reach as many as 10,000 members a week from the evangelical congregation, one of the largest in the country.

“There have to be ways to take faith into our daily lives,” Holladay said. “You learn more 10 minutes a day, five days a week, than coming [to church] one hour on Sunday, when you’re nodding off.”

Jews and Christians aren’t the only ones with their eyes on the clock. The busy Buddhist can take heart in “10-Minute Zen: Easy Tips to Lead You Down the Path of Enlightenment.”

As the book’s back cover declares: “You don’t have to sit under a bodhi tree and meditate as the Buddha did to become enlightened. With this easy, engaging guide . . . you’ll find that mastering esoteric Zen practices is as easy as a walk in the woods.”

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duke.helfand@latimes.com


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