In the fifth yearly installment of The Best Spiritual Writing series, editor Philip Zaleski honors many religious traditions in his choices of pieces that creatively circle around such profound themes as faith, grace, pilgrimage, devotion, humility, gratitude, and love. Early in the volume, the senior editor of Parabola magazine writes: "This, then, may be the authentic task of the spiritual writer: to converse soul to soul, passing on what light she may possess. Her calling is to be a writer-at-work and a saint-in-the-making; her responsibility to point beyond writing to the spirit; her happiness to polish, in herself and in others, the triple gem of beauty, truth, and goodness." Not a bad description of the challenges inherent in spiritual writing. Those accomplished in this medium, according to Zaleski, are nurtured by silence, a deep well of refreshment for their souls.
The best piece among the 25 essays and poems included here is Brian Doyle's "Grace Notes" from Notre Dame Magazine. Here are some of the things he loves about this gift of God: "Grace is uncontrollable, arbitrary to our senses, apparently unmerited. It's utterly free, ferociously strong, and about as mysterious a thing as you can imagine." Doyle's lyrical assessment of this grace is a dazzling tour de force.
Other noteworthy pieces are poems from Wendell Berry's "Sabbaths, 1999" from The Hudson Review; Marc Ian Barasch's "Night Eyes" on dreams from Utne Reader; Terry Tempest Williams's devotional "Santa Teresa" from Portland Magazine; and Howard Mumma's "Conversations with Camus" from Christian Century.