Magazine article Tikkun

Redemption and Ontological Mystery

Magazine article Tikkun

Redemption and Ontological Mystery

Article excerpt

It is almost as easy to overestimate the significance of the current boom in spirituality as it is to make fun of it. And yet, there can be no doubt that we are experiencing a cultural sea change of considerable magnitude away from materialistic thinking to something quite different: to a growing respect for the insights born of introspection.

We now have a "spirituality" of warfare, a Zen of tennis, even a "psychology" of futures trading. At their best, these new "spiritual" disciplines, if we can call them that, represent a kind of instinctive flinch by humanity at large away from the commodification of the world and the obsolescence of their own inner lives. At their worst, they represent a new form of philistinism that masks itself as anti-philistine-making it even harder for us to exchange the isolation of private devotion for a truly prophetic, transformative spiritual life.

The problem with these new "spiritual" practices is that they don't fully question the ends they serve. In their emphasis upon process over product and upon the quality of the internal experience itself, they tend to elevate the practitioner's own spiritual aspirations to a near absolute. But those desires-however seemingly "spiritual" they seem to the person holding them-may simply reflect the narcissism of the culture at large-and so instead of liberating the individual from the idols of the marketplace, bind us even more profoundly to them.

For example, rethinking corporate management practices from the point of view of a Samurai warrior may, on the surface, seem an innocent enough exercise in psychological "reframing." But to actually adopt the Samurai's code of Bushido as a self-conscious strategy for making more money does a gross injustice not only to the integrity of Japanese thought but also to the sincere corporate manager looking for greater spiritual fulfillment.

In fact, the corporate manager is at greater risk from such practices than is the tradition of Bushido. He may "think" he needs a "spiritual" perspective on his daily financial activities when what he may really need is a whole new moral vision capable of disclosing the misguided values at the heart of his own miserly personal ambitions.

Orthodox biblical religions do a better job questioning the ends our actions serve. For one thing, they link the individual's search for meaning to the welfare of the community, and by so doing offer an explicit critique of the culture at large. The danger, of course, is that religious communities often become insular, and rather than working to transform the world in the light of their faith, they spend most of their time defending their own image of themselves as holy, set apart, and redeemed.

What these insular communities and their New Age counterparts share is a failure to recognize that our spiritual selves are not independent individual essences but that point of nothingness at the center of our being that belongs entirely to God. Transcendence can never be an object of possession or of comprehension. Our spiritual lives are never entirely at our disposal. We cannot improve them or perfect them. We can only acknowledge their fundamental truth to us: We are not our own light! God dwells within us as an absolute freedom and unknown possibility. …

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