The latest edition of this annual, assembled by the acclaimed writer and editor Philip Zaleski, not only showcases some of the finest writing of the year but offers astute perceptions on subjects that are universal, timeless, and yet deeply personal. Culled from an impressive variety of sources and ranging over topics as disparate as Shaker furniture, perfume, and the monastic life, the essays and poems collected here share a search for purpose beyond the mundane—and find answers in the likeliest and unlikeliest of sources.
Here you will find George Packer’s “The Moderate Martyr,” a profile of the peaceful Islamic visionary Mahmoud Muhammad Taha, alongside Sridhar Pappu’s report on “the Preacher,” Bishop T. D. Jakes, the entrepreneurially inclined leader of one of the largest churches in the country. Garry Wills questions whether it is possible (or even desirable) to live according to the maxim “What would Jesus do?” In response to the recent spate of atheist attacks on organized religion, Marilynne Robinson offers an insightful critique of “Hysterical Scientism.” Adam Gopnik explores the link between Shaker beliefs and the austere beauty of Shaker creations, and Joseph Epstein muses on the reasons for broken friendships. Some of the essays are deeply personal: Mary Gordon examines her complex relationship with her mother, and Pico Iyer reveals the place where he goes to be himself.
Including powerful poetry from notable contributors such as Deborah Digges, Galway Kinnell, and John Updike, and an introduction by Harvey Cox, The Best American Spiritual Writing 2007 is one of those transformative “magical books” that Zaleski describes in his foreword, a volume that gracefully probes the role of faith in modern life while offering both spiritual insight and literary excellence.