Directed by self-admitted “deep whim,” novelist (Zombie, 2000, etc.) and biographer (City Poet: The Life and Times of Frank O'Hara, 1993) Gooch profiles Americans seeking personal spirituality apart from mainstream denominational options.
From the Urantia Book (supposedly dictated by extraterrestrials to a 1920s Chicago businessman) to high-profile Hinduism, ascetic Catholic monasticism, breakaway gay congregations, and new followers of Islam, Gooch delves into today’s more exotic worshipful styles. He lets his interviews reveal searches for a personal connection to God that begin (and often end) with a certain quality of ritual, postulating that mainstream Judeo-Christian denominations don’t provide it anymore. Departure from the Latin mass and other Catholic modernizations lumped under the rubric “Vatican II,” abandonment of the King James Bible, and similar efforts by denominational leaders to make institutional religion more accessible have instead made personal contact with God seem more remote to many, states the author. Thus the trappings of the guru and the furnishings of the ashram are essential in attracting the kind of high-media-profile, cash-contributing converts who will underwrite the flourishing of Eastern styles of mysticism as envisioned by, say, Deepak Chopra in America. Having written for Out magazine, Gooch is hypersensitive to gender-orientation triggers. Particularly while visiting monks in a Trappist monastery near Bardstown, Kentucky, he asks straightforward questions about their lives and gets at least some frank answers. In his view, the gay congregations who now support the burgeoning Metropolitan Community Churches, including the grand-scale Cathedral of Hope planned for Dallas, may despise the conservative faithful but still fervently embrace the faith. Of his own search, Gooch notes from his diary, “I chanted with the Sufis on Friday and was back on Sunday morning taking Communion at St. John’s in the Village.”
The moral here: Spirituality can transcend religion, but stick with the right accessories.