"Art, like prayer, is always the expression of longing," Sister Wendy Beckett once wrote. She has the knack of discerning the transcendent beauty of paintings ranging from the realistic portraits of the Renaissance to the ambiguities of modern art. There is no one else around who can as easily and perceptively ponder the spiritual dimensions of art.

In these soul-stirring works, Sister Wendy links ancient and modern paintings with four themes important to all religions: silence, peace, love, and joy. Her meditations on Rembrandt's "Woman with a Pink," Vermeer's "Young Woman with a Water Jug," and van der Weyden's "The Magdalen Reading" shed light on the contemplative powers of silence.

In a section on peace, Sister Wendy chooses images of the countryside, an ideal city, Christ facing his passion, and more. She delves into physical love via Gustav Klimt's "The Kiss," mother love via Berthe Morisot's "The Cradle," and perfect love via Master Heinrich of Constance's "St. John Resting on the Bosom of Christ." Her choices to illustrate the spiritual practice of joy include Bernini's "Ecstasy of St. Teresa," Rubens's "Rainbow Landscape," and the marvelously buoyant "By Moonlight" by Margaret Neve.