Winifred Gallagher, author of the enthralling The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions, is a self-confessed neo-agnostic, which she defines as "a well-educated skeptic who has inexplicable metaphysical feelings." Armed with three questions — What is real? What do I feel? And what are my choices? — the author embarked on a three-year spiritual journey exploring Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, and the New Age. While others have gone on similar quests, this one has a richness, breadth, and soulful depth that make it an ideal intellectual companion for seekers.
Wherever she goes, Gallagher, who was raised as a Catholic, finds hospitable religious communities. In New York City, she loves the liturgy at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine and the Shabbat service at B' nai Jeshurun that leaves her humming all day long. She attends Zen centers and starts a regular practice of sitting meditation that enriches her life. She also goes to a Catholic monastery, visits an African-American mosque, and travels to Jerusalem.
Gallagher's questions about religion, faith, practice, mysticism, ethics, and compassion are reverently dealt with by many astute religious leaders, including Huston Smith, Diana Eck, Harvey Cox, Jonathan Omer-Man, and others. She learns that many churches and synagogues are open to neo-agnostics and are willing to dialogue with them about their spiritual hungers. Gallagher samples a variety of courses and classes that challenge her imagination. She is touched by the loving concern of those in a religious community who reach out to her when her son is diagnosed with cancer.
In the end, Gallagher concludes: "I believe religion is right. Even if it's not, it hasn't deprived me of any good thing and has given me many. In the age of anxiety, religion replaces narcissism and fear with compassion and epektasis — straining toward the mystery. . . . If there's a better way to live, I don't know of it. I intend to keep working on God." This is one of the best spiritual books of 1999 — a work of genuine integrity, wisdom, openness, and meaning.