Mindful meditations that attempt, with faith and hope and occasional charity, to counteract the “virus of contempt for life”—exemplified in the 20th-century by extermination, genocide, and atomic devastation.
Gathered from dozens of prominent and not-so-prominent thinkers, activists, artists, writers, and others, contributions for these reflections come from Elie Wiesel, Oscar Arias, Vaclav Havel, Mother Teresa, Cornel West, James Earl Jones, and the Dalai Lama. Among the less familiar names are those of musicians, poets, theologians, academics, religious, and community workers. Artist Franck (The Zen of Seeing, not reviewed) and his coeditors took the lead in compiling the collection and have also contributed to it. The writings range from tightly argued essays to spiritual parables, from Zen-like poems to recountings of myths. Not all are as optimistic as one might expect in such a collection: a Cambodian refugee, for instance, who from the time he was ten “witnessed the murders of thousands of human beings” cannot envision a truly humane world. But many look to the transcendence of the human spirit and the community of mankind as an achievable goal, if only because we can’t stay on the path of materialism and ecological destruction much longer. Others, like Mother Teresa and Doctor Anne E. Goldfeld, write from a familiarity with suffering men and women who have shared their last bite with a neighbor or who have blessed instead of cursed their desperate lives.
No chicken-soup maxims here for those searching for the meaning of life, but some cumulatively worthy exegeses of who we are and where we are going.