PRAYER

A HISTORY

The Zaleskis may have bitten off more than they can chew. Still, at their best, they rival Karen Armstrong in their lucid...

What do the Jewish blessing over cheese, the Islamic dhikr and the Japanese tea ceremony have in common? In each, the human meets the divine in prayer.

The Zaleskis, who have individually and jointly edited several anthologies with spiritual themes (The Book of Heaven, 2000, etc.), begin this rich study by examining the “prehistory” of prayer. They suggest that its origins lie somewhere in human impulses toward magic and sacrifice. Most prayer, they find, falls into four categories: petitionary, liturgical, ecstatic or contemplative. Because they believe it’s impossible to understand prayer if you discuss it “in the abstract . . . as a generic category,” the authors feature a “portrait gallery” of expert pray-ers, from Teresa of Avila to AA founder Bill W., and examine prayer’s place in pop culture and politics. The chapter on “Prayer and the Public Square” is especially relevant in our current political clime. Americans, write the authors, are unsure when, if ever, it’s legitimate to pray in public; though our feelings about it may be reshaped by forces as divergent as international migration and the Internet, our ambivalence about, say, prayer in school, is likely to continue. Throughout, the authors are careful to offer a cross-cultural survey: Along with Christian prayer there is discussion of Hasidic prayer, Islamic salat and even Buddhist haiku. But their eagerness to be all-encompassing can feel forced. Emphasizing commonalities and almost never remarking on the differences among traditions results in a certain superficiality.

The Zaleskis may have bitten off more than they can chew. Still, at their best, they rival Karen Armstrong in their lucid prose and expansive vision.

Pub Date: Nov. 2, 2005

ISBN: 0-618-15288-1

Page Count: 416

Publisher: Houghton Mifflin

Review Posted Online: May 19, 2010

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 2005

THE MYTH OF SISYPHUS

AND OTHER ESSAYS

This a book of earlier, philosophical essays concerned with the essential "absurdity" of life and the concept that- to overcome the strong tendency to suicide in every thoughtful man-one must accept life on its own terms with its values of revolt, liberty and passion. A dreary thesis- derived from and distorting the beliefs of the founders of existentialism, Jaspers, Heldegger and Kierkegaard, etc., the point of view seems peculiarly outmoded. It is based on the experience of war and the resistance, liberally laced with Andre Gide's excessive intellectualism. The younger existentialists such as Sartre and Camus, with their gift for the terse novel or intense drama, seem to have omitted from their philosophy all the deep religiosity which permeates the work of the great existentialist thinkers. This contributes to a basic lack of vitality in themselves, in these essays, and ten years after the war Camus seems unaware that the life force has healed old wounds... Largely for avant garde aesthetes and his special coterie.

Pub Date: Sept. 26, 1955

ISBN: 0679733736

Page Count: 228

Publisher: Knopf

Review Posted Online: Sept. 19, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 1, 1955

THE ART OF SOLITUDE

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

A teacher and scholar of Buddhism offers a formally varied account of the available rewards of solitude.

“As Mother Ayahuasca takes me in her arms, I realize that last night I vomited up my attachment to Buddhism. In passing out, I died. In coming to, I was, so to speak, reborn. I no longer have to fight these battles, I repeat to myself. I am no longer a combatant in the dharma wars. It feels as if the course of my life has shifted onto another vector, like a train shunted off its familiar track onto a new trajectory.” Readers of Batchelor’s previous books (Secular Buddhism: Imagining the Dharma in an Uncertain World, 2017, etc.) will recognize in this passage the culmination of his decadeslong shift away from the religious commitments of Buddhism toward an ecumenical and homegrown philosophy of life. Writing in a variety of modes—memoir, history, collage, essay, biography, and meditation instruction—the author doesn’t argue for his approach to solitude as much as offer it for contemplation. Essentially, Batchelor implies that if you read what Buddha said here and what Montaigne said there, and if you consider something the author has noticed, and if you reflect on your own experience, you have the possibility to improve the quality of your life. For introspective readers, it’s easy to hear in this approach a direct response to Pascal’s claim that “all of humanity's problems stem from man's inability to sit quietly in a room alone.” Batchelor wants to relieve us of this inability by offering his example of how to do just that. “Solitude is an art. Mental training is needed to refine and stabilize it,” he writes. “When you practice solitude, you dedicate yourself to the care of the soul.” Whatever a soul is, the author goes a long way toward soothing it.

A very welcome instance of philosophy that can help readers live a good life.

Pub Date: Feb. 18, 2020

ISBN: 978-0-300-25093-0

Page Count: 200

Publisher: Yale Univ.

Review Posted Online: Nov. 24, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Dec. 15, 2019

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