In Spiritual Genius, journalist Winifred Gallagher, the acclaimed author of Working on God, asks Rabbi Lawrence Kushner to define holiness. "Standing in the presence of God," he says. "Everyone has it, but some people seem to have more of a knack for accessing it." Like holiness, the gift that Gallagher calls "spiritual genius"--which she defines as "the uniquely human ability to search for and find life’s meaning, then express it in our lives as only each of us can"--is one we all possess but don’t necessarily recognize.
Whether they are called saints, gurus, tzaddiks, or shamans, there have always been people who possess exceptional insight, altruism, and charisma. In this disarmingly inspirational book, Gallagher investigates what ordinary people trying to live decent, meaningful lives can learn from such extraordinary men and women, who are specially attuned to the deepest truths, and who exemplify-and radiate-spiritual genius.
In a clear-eyed, ecumenical approach that's free of dogma and bias and suffused with profound respect, Winifred Gallagher highlights the common wisdom-and down-to-earth good humor-of these religious leaders, revels in their differences, and identifies the capacity for spiritual genius that all of us share with them. On an island in the Arabian Sea, Gallagher visits Mata Amritanandamayi, regarded by devotees as a Hindu goddess, who transmits divine love through hugs and charities. She travels through America's inner cities with Tony Campolo, an Evangelical preacher who counsels national leaders and serves the poor. She learns how Riffat Hassan, a Pakistani theologian, uses the Qur’an to defend the rights of her Muslim sisters. She journeys to a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in the Himalayas to understand how an exiled minority has enchanted the world with their deep, resilient spirituality. In these diverse lives, Gallagher argues, we can glimpse our own potential for spiritual genius writ large. Each story testifies to the profound good in the world, even during a troubled time, and to Gallagher’s groundbreaking theory of a human capacity for finding life’s meaning that is nothing less than genius.
This is an astonishing, engrossing introduction to 10 human beings who seem to live with one foot in another plane. Gallagher, journalist and author of several books (Working on God; Just the Way You Are), defines spiritual genius as the "ability to seek life's meaning" and proposes that "all of us use spiritual genius some of the time, but some of us use it all of the time." From a goddess on an obscure Indian island to passionate scholars (Huston Smith), community activists (Tony Campolo), hermits and healing doctors, the individuals she highlights are deeply religious men and women with a gift for "combining mysticism and activism." These living saints are not household names, but they clearly belong in the same class as more famous individuals such as Mother Teresa. Each has emerged from major religious traditions (Hinduism, Islam, Judaism and Christianity), but this book is not a primer on world religions. Each chapter plunges the reader into deep, rich veins of religious thought and experience. The disciplined devotion and seemingly boundless compassion of these geniuses, combined with their indifference to limelight, make them utterly convincing and magnetic witnesses to the divine. Gallagher manages to insert enough of herself to draw out humor, irony and humility and to let the reader taste what an encounter with these geniuses might be like without inserting any kind of obscuring religious bias. Her reverence, curiosity and appreciation of these individuals flow from the pages.