It is old news by how that Americans have rediscovered "religion"; the newsmagazines have told us so. But this heavily reported trend shows no signs of abating; indeed, as the turn of the millennium approaches, sighting of the "spiritual" continue at an increasing rate.
Consider, for example, The Best Spiritual Writing 1998 (HarperSanFrancisco), edited by Philip Zaleski, with an introduction by the poet and memoirist Patricia Hampl. Based on the model of well-established annual anthologies of short fiction, essays, and poetry, this volume is both good news and bad news for Christians.
First the good news. The mere existence of such a collection-and a superb collection it is-attests not only to the spiritual hunger of Americans, contra the prophets of secularization, but to a radical shift in the cultural climate. Here, along with writers from Buddhist and Jewish and Native American traditions (and "none of the above"), are Andre Dubus and Madeleine L'Engle and Frederica Mathewes-Green (whose essay first appeared in CT) and Luci Shaw, not to mention Marvin Barrett and Anne Lamott (whose new book is reviewed on p. 86) and Nancy Mairs (whose essay first appeared in the Christian Century) and Reynolds Price. That is good news indeed; it suggests an opening, a public square, if you will, where Christian voices will be heard. (See also Tim Stafford's article "The New Theologians," p. 30 of this issue.)
Now the bad news. To begin with, the book is oddly framed by Hampl's introduction, from which it will be sufficient to cite a few obiter dicta:
* "Spiritual writing (or perhaps simply real spiritual writing) is allergic to pietism."
* "The comforting absolutes and the complacent preening of the saved have nothing to do with the autobiographical ...1