A motivational work guides readers in constructing a rewarding personal religion.
When you get right down to it, the world of the arts and the realm of the spirit are not so distinct from each other. The nouns may be different (painter, pianist, Roman Catholic, Baptist) but, as the author points out, the verbs are pretty much the same: “In the heart, mind and spirit, Methodists do mostly the same things that Muslims do; actors do many things that dancers do. And further, playwrights do many things that prophets do, stage managers do many things sacristans do, and choirs sing inspirationally in both worlds.” This call to switch the emphasis from identities to acts is central to Booth’s (co-author: Playing for Their Lives, 2016, etc.) project, which is to merge readers’ creative instincts with their spiritual ones in order to reach a place of clarity and fulfillment. What follows is a series of ruminative examinations of the various ways that people have tried to access one or both of these ideals—art or God—finding commonalities and revealing the insights that various seekers have uncovered. The elements that keep reappearing are what the author calls the “perennials”: a category that includes vague but customizable ideas like rituals, traditions, and symbols. Booth advises his readers on how to cultivate these perennials in their own lives through the use of certain skills and tools, some of which riff on older, familiar philosophies (the Ten Commencements, the Seven Deadening Spiritual Misalignments). Along the way, the author provides exercises to help readers get into the proper mindset: “Assume a well-intentioned researcher follows you around for a day, observing every action.…At the end of the day, what would she say you believe?”
Booth’s ideas are a hodgepodge of New Age and self-help mantras, and his narrative voice is reminiscent of that of a guru—albeit a charming one. While there is sometimes a self-satisfied cleverness to his prose—“How often do classical violinists seek to identify themselves with country fiddlers? Do mullahs get a turn in a Methodist pulpit?”—more often his approach is accessible and illuminating. He manages to present his findings not as some secret or mystery to which he holds the key, but rather as the intellectual heritage of humankind that all have access to if only they frame it in the correct way. There are moments when his personal beliefs creep onto the page in a way that feels off-putting—he’s very down on American public schools and the concept of Utilitarianism—though this is a work from which it is easy to pick and choose ideas that sound good to readers. Books of this genre are often reiterative of one another, and readers’ preferences usually have more to do with presentation than content. Booth—whose personal anecdotes seem to allude to a learned, well-traveled man of health and leisure—deftly delivers his notions, and his words read as common-sense advice freely given. The book should appeal to those looking for a soothing purveyor of ancient wisdom.
An inviting and well-stocked greenhouse of applicable concepts from humanity’s artistic and spiritual traditions.