Why do I exist? Is this all there is? What is my true nature? What is most important in life? How should I live? These are humanity's oldest spiritual questions. At the year 2000, however, many who ask them are profoundly estranged from religion. To some, religion is belief in the unbelievableincompatible with intelligence and learning. To others, it's just another bureaucratic institutionlegalistic, hypocritical, untrustworthy. Still others have been alienated by their birth traditions, while an increasing number lack any such grounding. What unites this diverse group of skeptical, ambivalent "neoagnostics" is a sense of something deep and vital that eludes the reach of their intellect and education and an inchoate desire for meaning. A halfcentury of the great secular experiment of Einstein, Marx, and Freud has proved that if religionthe record of our struggle to understand existence and behave accordinglyhas grave flaws, so do the materialistic "faiths" that were intended to replace it. After looking for answers in some obvious places, from relationships and accomplishment to art and science, Winifred Gallagher realized that she had not seriously considered religion since childhood's version of Christianity collided with a college education. Asking the question "What if religion could be about something else?" she decided to explore her own heritage, as well as Buddhism, Judaism, and the New Age. She discovered a vat, quiet, "millennial" spiritual revolution that is transforming religion into a process of moving towardand struggling withthe sacred. Transcending denominational boundaries, this new sensibility embraces modern realities from physics to psychiatry, addresses existential questions, values personal experience over institutional authority, draws insights from multiple traditions, welcomes women as clergy and teachers, and expands morality beyond the personal to the systemic, from economics to ecology. A reporter of behavioral science, Winifred Gallagher began her investigation of postmodern religion with research and interviews, but watched it also become a very personal story of epektasisstraining toward mystery. Journalism and journey unfold over time spent in a Zen monastery and a cloistered convent, smallgroup discussions and healing rituals, a Conservative synagogue that shares a Christian church, and the birthplace of the New Age. Written with humor, empathy, and a rigorous curiosity, Working on God breaks new ground in depicting the broadbased spiritual movement that is transforming culture as well as religion.From the Hardcover edition.
In Spiritual Genius, journalist Winifred Gallagher, the acclaimed author of Working on God, asks Rabbi Lawrence Kushner to define holiness. "Standing in the presence of God," he says. "Everyone has it, but some people seem to have more of a knack for accessing it." Like holiness, the gift that Gallagher calls "spiritual genius"--which she defines as "the uniquely human ability to search for and find life's meaning, then express it in our lives as only each of us can"--is one we all possess but don't necessarily recognize.
Whether they are called saints, gurus, tzaddiks, or shamans, there have always been people who possess exceptional insight, altruism, and charisma. In this disarmingly inspirational book, Gallagher investigates what ordinary people trying to live decent, meaningful lives can learn from such extraordinary men and women, who are specially attuned to the deepest truths, and who exemplify-and radiate-spiritual genius.
In a clear-eyed, ecumenical approach that's free of dogma and bias and suffused with profound respect, Winifred Gallagher highlights the common wisdom-and down-to-earth good humor-of these religious leaders, revels in their differences, and identifies the capacity for spiritual genius that all of us share with them. On an island in the Arabian Sea, Gallagher visits Mata Amritanandamayi, regarded by devotees as a Hindu goddess, who transmits divine love through hugs and charities. She travels through Americas inner cities with Tony Campolo, an Evangelical preacher who counsels national leaders and serves the poor. She learns how Riffat Hassan, a Pakistani theologian, uses the Qur'an to defend the rights of her Muslim sisters. She journeys to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas to understand how an exiled minority has enchanted the world with their deep, resilient spirituality. In these diverse lives, Gallagher argues, we can glimpse our own potential for spiritual genius writ large. Each story testifies to the profound good in the world, even during a troubled time, and to Gallagher's groundbreaking theory of a human capacity for finding life's meaning that is nothing less than genius.