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Stepping Out With the Sacred: Human Attempts to Engage the Divine

This is a masterful and engaging account of how humans through centuries and cultures have engaged and experienced the divine. Our doctor is Muslim, our lawyer Jewish our best friend Buddhist, a plurality multiplied by global travel and politics. In “Like Catching Water in a Net”, Webb discussed how humans have described the Divine. This companion book looks at how humans have engaged the Divine across religions and centuries, through ritual, art, sacred places, language and song. Here, Webb includes her own experiences, both personal and observed from travel in fifty countries, as well as centuries of theology, literature and travel writing. She meanders along winding trails, talk over the fence and drink wine with a stranger, literally and figuratively. To engage the larger-than-description Sacred, we need all the stories we can find, even if only to remind us the distance still to go and the limitless (sometimes unsuccessful) journey. As a teacher of world religions and art, and an artist, this will not be a string of anecdotes, but a woven together, reader-friendly, vividly painted, theologically reflective whole.

Val Webb is one of the most exciting Christian voices in the 21st Century. Brilliantly she penetrates beneath the surface of traditional religious formulations and discovers the power and purpose of words as having the ability to point to a realm of truth that words cannot finally capture.
Bishop John Shelby Spong

Something More—the sacred, the divine, mystery, the numinous, GOD! How do we connect? Where do we connect? When do we connect? Val Webb takes us on an exciting journey through the many ways that people of many faiths have tried to connect with the Sacred, playing hide and seek with the Divine. A challenging journey for those still seeking to connect! A fascinating journey for those who like to ‘count the ways’! An exploration that is exciting, brilliant and accessible to all—but haunted by the ultimate question: Do we really connect?
Norman Habel, Professorial Fellow, Flinders University, South Australia

Years ago the author of Honest to God, and The Human Face of God, Bishop John T Robinson, challenged the Christian world to let scholarship lead the way to a new understanding of the faith. Now Val Webb has convincingly shown that the vast knowledge of world religions can lead us to a new more inclusive appreciation of God, which can deepen our spiritual experience as well as forge bridges of understanding between faiths.
Dr. Rachael Kohn, The New Believers: Re-imagining God. Producer and Presenter of The Spirit of Things on ABC Radio National.

About the Author

Val (Skerman) Webb’s professional career spans microbiology, business, public relations, writing, art and theology. She grew up in Brisbane, Australia, attending Ironsides State School, Brisbane Girls’ Grammar School and the University of Queensland. She began her professional life with a graduate degree in Microbiology and a research position at the University of Queensland, later working in the Microbiology department of the Royal Brisbane Hospital. After an 18 month stint in England, Val and husband Maurice, with their two small children, Helen and Paul, moved to Rochester, Minnesota where their third child, Karen, was born. The family spent almost thirty years in Rochester where Maurice was a surgeon and head of the Department of Gynecologic Surgery at the Mayo Clinic. During the 1970’s, Val owned and operated an Art Gallery in Rochester, Val Webb Galleries, which featured the work of some eighty national and international artists, including Val’s sketches, etchings, prints and hand-painted scarves. She had two books published on the art and history of Minnesota, Rochester Sketchbook and Twin Cities Sketchbook.

During seven years back in Brisbane in the 1980’s, Val was Superintendent of Communications and Public Relations for The Wesley Hospital, a large private hospital in a city of over one million people. Through that role, she was also National Secretary of the Hospital Public Relations Officers Association of Australia (1986-8) and on the Executive of the Queensland Chapter of the Australasian Institute of Fund-Raisers (1985-8). For her work at The Wesley Hospital, she has been named an Emeritus Fellow. Val also held various leadership positions in the Uniting Church of Australia, including the inaugural Chair of Queensland’s Commission of Education and Communication, responsible for theological and lay education and Synod publications and communication.

Val began religious studies part time at the University of Queensland in 1982, in response to her personal faith questions, completing her Ph. D. in Theology at Luther Seminary, St Paul, Minnesota in 1996 after the family returned to Rochester, Minnesota in 1988. Since then, Val has taught religious studies at the University of Minnesota and Augsburg College in the United States and, in Australia, at Whitley College, Melbourne, Murdoch University, Perth and United Theological College, Sydney. She has written eight books including In Defense of Doubt: an Invitation to Adventure (Chalice Press, 1995), Why We’re Equal: Introducing Feminist Theology (Chalice Press, 1999), John’s Message: Good News for the New Millennium (Abingdon Press, 1999) and Florence Nightingale: the Making of a Radical Theologian (Chalice Press, 2002). Her latest book Like Catching Water in a Net: Human Attempts to Describe the Divine (Continuum New York & London, 2007) won the “general religion” category of the USA Best books 2007 Awards. Her next book Stepping out with the Sacred: Human Attempts to engage the Divine comes out in October, 2010.

Val and her husband returned to Australia in 2003 when Maurice retired from the Mayo Clinic. They now live in Mudgee, New South Wales, where their youngest daughter Karen and husband Sean own the award winning Mudgee Homestead Guesthouse ( From there, Val continues to write, teach and lead workshops.

Review & Commentary