virus: Working on God

Reed Konsler (
Sat, 6 Mar 1999 14:08:45 -0500


_Working on God_

by Winifred Gallagher
Random House, New York, 1999
ISBN: 0-679-44794-6

Gallagher is former author of _Just The Way You Are: How Heredity and Experience Create the Individual_ (NYT "Noteable book of the year") and _The Power of Place: How Our Surroundings Shape Our Thoughts, Emotions, and Actions_. She's written for *Atlantic Monthly* and *Rolling Stone*.

I picked this book up 3 or 4 days ago. It's a quick read; her style is fluid and her personal anechdotes weave well with historical backgrounding and interviews. The book is framed as a "personal journey" buy thankfully doesn't have a narcissistic or confessional quality...just enough personal stuff to make the author human and provide the subject a little warmth.

It's a good beginners book...perfect for someone who's interested in spirituality, the transcendent and such but uncomfortable with God, Churches, and so forth. Gallagher concentrates on Buddhism, Christianity, Judaism, and "New Age" stuff. Gallagher doesn't come to any deep conclusions or dramatic Earth shattering principles...indeed her purpose is to defuse the tension surrounding the relationship between the modern and the mystical. At worst, you could call it a "feel good" book...but it DID make me feel GOOD. Also, her command of the literature and the precision of her interviews are sharp enough that one can't claim the book is shallow.

The point she drives home, however...and I agree with that American spirituality is a force on the upswing. People are looking, with a critical eye, for something to celebrate life through and to comfort them in hardship. Religious thinking and feeling waxes and wanes through the ages. Gallagher provides us a glimpse of the next wave of transcendental resurgence in America and the West. It's a beautiful picture, and with more visionaries like her I am hopeful it will become a new reality.

>From her conclusion:

"As I inch across the George Washington Bridge toward my secular city, I consider the most important question I hoped to answer. 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. It says you should do the best you can right now--pay attention to what's most true and be kind--and trust, like the great souls of blessed memory, that somehow, everything will be all right. If there is a better way to live, I don't know of it. I intend to keep working on God."

Thanks, Winifred.

Anyway, if you are interested further in the topic of <faith> which I have been harping on, I highly recommend you buy her book.


  Reed Konsler