Going on Faith
is an expanded version of Spiritual Quests
(1988), a collection of essays--originally a New York Public Library lecture series about religious writing--by David Bradley, Frederick Buechner, Mary Gordon, Hugh Nissenson, Allen Ginsberg, and Jarozlav Pelikan. This new edition coincides with what the book's editor, William Zinsser, calls 'a new interest in matters of the spirit.' Its list of contributors has grown to include Hillel Levine ('a Jewish writer talking out of a lifelong spiritual search'), Diane Ackerman ('a writer who finds religion everywhere except in churches'), and Patricia Hampl (who explores 'the life of religious contemplation').
Mary Gordon's thoughts about the effect of her Roman Catholic upbringing on her fiction writing (for example, Final Payments) are among the book's highlights. 'Regular attendance at Mass,' she claims, was 'an excellent training ground ... for an aspiring novelist'--and not just because of the resemblance between the form the Mass takes and the form a novel takes. 'An hour a day in a confined space like a church, where one has the leisure or the boredom to observe others of one's kind when they imagine themselves to be in private communion with their deepest souls,' says Gordon, 'is as useful for a prospective novelist as a wiretap.' In his essay, Frederick Buechner (Godric) contemplates the similarities between faith and fiction. 'You fashion your story,' Buechner says, 'as you fashion your faith, out of the great hodgepodge of your life--the things that have happened to you and the things you've dreamed of happening.' But perhaps what faith and fiction 'have most richly in common,' says Buechner, 'is that they are a way of paying attention.'
Not all of the book's contributors are traditionally devout. Hugh Nissenson professes to make a religion of his atheism. David Bradley, who comes from a long line of Methodist preachers, claims writing as his religion. And Diane Ackerman (A Natural History of the Senses) doesn't believe in God. Nevertheless, she says, 'even without an organized religion or a church I often find myself in a position of praise or prayer.... I also find myself constantly going on pilgrimages and quests.' --Jane Steinberg