I refer often to Eckhart Tolle, especially his best-selling book, The Power of Now. The central emphasis of this book is that our culture is captivated by our orientation to past and future. (T.S. Eliot in The Four Quartets notes, “Time past and time future” and then claims that we “cling to that dimension.”) And Tolle is only one of numerous gifted souls, men and women, who are aware of the shallowness of our particular culture and the unwillingness of organized religion to address the ensuing spiritual malaise.
Tolle emphasizes “the Now”. Though he recognizes the importance of past and future and the imperative that we pay proper respect to “that dimension”, he encourages us to look below the surface, beyond the pale of the normal hum-drum of day to day life, and recognize the present moment.
But this is a very subversive notion. It flies in the face of our most basic assumptions about life and suggests that there is more to life than meets the eye. This “subversive function” is paid lip-service to in theological and ecclesiastical circles as the “prophetic function” of the gospel. But most churches and spiritual teachings are unwilling to take on this “subversive function”, preferring to amuse themselves with the gospel-eze version of those “well-worn words and ready phrases that build comfortable walls against the wilderness.” (Conrad Aiken)
It is astounding that a book of this sort has been so well-received. It speaks of the hunger of the modern human heart, a hunger that is rarely addressed with traditional religion. However, I do believe that this heart-hunger could be addressed with many world religions…and certainly the Christian tradition…but it would require a clergy that was willing to follow Jesus (and other Holy men and women throughout the ages) into a desert experience.
W. H. Auden summarized it so beautifully:
ll those who follow me are led
Onto that glassy mountain where are no
Footholds for logic, to that Bridge of Dread
Where knowledge but increases vertigo:
Those who pursue me take a twisting lane
To find themselves immediately alone
With savage water or unfeeling stone,
In labyrinths where they must entertain
Confusion, cripples, tigers, thunder, pain.