This elegant and spiritual collection of essays is the twenty-first book by Scott Russell Sanders. We've loved all those we've read and have profiled him in our Living Spiritual Teachers Project. He is a distinguished professor emeritus of English at Indiana University and a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences.
In the essay "The Way of Imagination" he meets a retired banker who has decided to spend some of his money restoring and preserving several hundred acres of trees. "What I long to do," he says, "is help restore a bit of the forest primeval." Sanders sees this kind-hearted act as an imaginative leap of faith in "making the human future more precious." He also describes it as an act of compassion similar to the stranger who helps a stricken person as if he were his neighbor. This kind of imagination is liberating because it "keeps us from being trapped in the present arrangement of things."
The next essay on "Immersed in Mystery" examines another favorite subject of ours. In his seventies, Sanders is grateful for a life of reading, Zen gardens, quilts, and comic books. They deliver him fresh experiences of life's "inexhaustible and inexplicable reality."
We like it that Sanders asks the right questions in these essays. Take a gander at his piece on "Useless Beauty" where he looks at the efforts of philosophers, scientists, and theologians to define what beauty is while the rest of us are content to "rejoice in it, care for it, and strive to add our own mite of beauty, with whatever power and talent we possess."
Sanders keeps us alert to other human challenges and delights such as bears, the reckless behavior of human beings which is doing irreparable damage to the earth, revisiting Henry David Thoreau's Walden, the problem of lies, the nature of conscience and resistance, seeking the soul's true home, the suffering of strangers, neighbors, and chanting. He shares his feelings upon learning that his son is dying of cancer, and he reports on how his wife is coping with Parkinson's Disease and what he's learned about pollution in their state that may have caused it. We especially appreciated his essays on why he writes. In "A Writer's Calling," he confesses:
"I keep writing on account of the pleasure I feel in doing skillful work, the inspiration I find in reading, the questions that haunt me, and the creative mystery I sense at the heart of nature. We apprehend the universe in fragments, but the universe itself is whole. The art that I wish to experience and the art I aspire to make attempts to model that wholeness, to honor the order and beauty of the cosmos."
We thank Scott Russell Sanders for this and all his other books about the wholeness of the universe. The pleasure in reading them is all ours!