It is understandable that Americans would expect moments of mystical insight to burst upon our consciousness with spectacular effect — like Fourth of July fireworks. We're always on the lookout for new frontiers and fresh possibilities. No wonder we miss the miracles right in front of us.

In Breakfast at the Victory: The Mysticism of Ordinary Experience James P. Carse reflects upon happenings in his life which have been "bounded by the boundless." The author, who has been director of religious studies and professor of literature and religion at New York University since 1966, believes that "the highest achievement of the spiritual life is within the full embrace of the ordinary....Our appetite for the big experience — sudden insight, dazzling vision, heart-stopping ecstasy — is what hides the true way from us."

The true way begins in wonder. Carse sees a small mouse on his shoe and muses on alternate worlds of knowledge in the animal world. By the end of the essay, he has visions of "the creature civilizations gathered around me in the old house." He also looks into the "all seeing, unfiltered gaze" of his cat Charlie and speculates about the need to be closer to his own silence.

Carse believes that his ego speaks too loudly. "Sufis speak of their nafs, or the false self that takes the place of the soul....It is our visible self, the tangible, public aspect of a personality. It is what we see when we look at ourselves, it is what we present to others to be seen by them. It is what stands in the way of our oneness with others, with ourselves, with the Divine."

In these essays, Carse battles with his need to be special, notable, and superior to others. He squirms over being ignored and invisible at a student Halloween party. He is stunned one morning when it is almost impossible for him to deliver a lecture on Sartre he has given many times before. And he learns about his exaggerated desire for recognition from his reaction when his mother doesn't comment on a public lecture he gives at his old college.

On the other hand, Carse celebrates those moments in his life and in the lives of others when the soul shows through and the ego, in the words of the mystics, is naughted. He fondly recalls a night watch on a schooner in Lake Michigan when he felt at one with the boat, the stars, and the sea. He remembers the valiant way his dying wife was in the end effortless, not fighting for or against life. And in the title piece essay, Carse lauds the ability of the one-legged owner of the Victory Luncheonette to so lose himself in his work at the counter that it is no longer work at all but sheer flow.

Carse concludes: "It is one thing to see something remarkable appearing inexplicably in the world. It is quite another to see the world itself as remarkable and all of existence as inexplicable." Breakfast at the Victory honors the mystery and the magnificence of life. This remarkable, mystical text is filled with startling revelations about everyday spirituality, soul, the naughting of the ego, the value of effortlessness, and the beauty of stillness and silence.