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Issue Date:  October 7, 2005

THE BEST AMERICAN SPIRITUAL WRITING 2005
Edited by Philip Zaleski
Houghton Mifflin, 208 pages, $14
Reading for inspiration

Reviewed by OLGA BONFIGLIO

Editor Philip Zaleski has collected high-minded theology, Weltanschauung wisdom, modern-day parables and morality tales and brought them together in The Best American Spiritual Writing 2005. This seventh volume of the series, which was first published in 1998, provides good reading for daily prayer and reflection. The book presents readers with the opportunity “to see with other eyes, to imagine with other imaginations, to feel with other hearts,” as C.S. Lewis puts it.

The writing throughout these chosen essays is compelling. In Bill McKibben’s “High Fidelity, we discover how faithfulness and “dogged devotion” can be expressed in the simple act of showing up for weekly church services for 70 years. Patricia Hampl contributes a great travel piece on the dynamics of the cross-cultural encounter. Natalie Goldberg's tribute to the influence of a deceased teacher in “When the Candle is Blown Out” complements the essay by distinguished professor of philosophy Huston Smith, who acknowledges his own humanity in “The Master-Disciple Relationship.” Harvey Cox cleverly invites readers into his classroom in “Best of Intentions” as he nails the challenge for a new 21st-century spirituality.

One of the best of these “best” is Charles Johnson's modern midrash “Dr. [Martin L.] King’s Refrigerator,” in which we see the soon-to-be-famous young minister struggling over his Sunday sermon. Gripped by hunger, he goes to the kitchen and ends up pulling all the food out of the refrigerator. Suddenly he realizes that the food comes from all over the world and that he is standing with “all of human culture, history and civilization scrolled at his feet.” At that moment he recognizes that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly.”

Mr. Zaleski aims to showcase spiritual literature that “combines insight and beauty,” and has chosen the works on the basis that “they speak to people of every fiath; that they retain their value because they deal with eternal rather than ephemeral matters.” The readings in this year’s selection are faithful to his purpose.

Olga Bonfiglio is a professor of education at Kalamazoo College, Kalamazoo, Mich. She is the author of the soon-to-be-released Heroes of a Different Stripe: How One Town Responded to the War with Iraq.

National Catholic Reporter, October 7, 2005

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