The thing that strikes one first about The Best Spiritual Writing 1999 is how non-traditional many of the pieces are. The perspectives of many faiths including Taoism, Judaism, Christianity, and Zen Buddhism are represented in this second annual anthology. Essays on parenthood, prayer, travel, and nature touch upon spiritual sensibilities without emphasizing any specific religious discipline. Interspersed among these essays are poems on anger, grief, and hope by Virginia Hamilton Adair, Seamus Heaney, Luci Snow, and others.
A unifying theme in the collection is that a spiritual outlook is the ability to see the divine in the ordinary in things taken for granted. A sparkling example is Tom Junod's surprisingly candid profile of Fred Rogers (Mr. Rogers to over three decades of kids), which reveals an everyday man on a spiritual mission. In Can You Say . . . 'Hero'? Junod shows a quiet prophet walking among us, one who can touch us all. Another non-traditional perspective is found in Jonathan Rosen's The Talmud and the Internet. In a witty but bittersweet story of his grandmother's death and his search for a passage from John Donne with which to eulogize her, Rosen compares the web of insight, opinion, and dissension contained on a single page of the Talmud to the World Wide Web from which he finally retrieves the poem. Mary Gordon contributes a more somber piece on visiting her mother in a nursing home. In Still Life, Gordon addresses the questions "Who are we?" and "Why are we here?", and she conveys an acceptance of the unknowability of the answers. This anthology engages, informs, and entertains. The pieces range from Bernie Glassman's heartbreaking description of grief to Larry Woiwode's celebration of nature.
This collection shows that great spiritual writing is universal in its reach. It does not try to persuade or convert. It simply reveals each individual's experience and offers it as a building block to the faith of the larger community.
Lisa Baker is a freelance writer in Wayland, Massachusetts.