Reviewed by Marian Van Eyk McCain
When I was a child, everyone went to church (or chapel) on Sundays, or so it seemed. Spirituality and religion appeared synonymous. That is so no longer. The winds of change have blown hard in my lifetime, and you and I now live in a predominantly secular society – one of many in the Western world. But there is another strong weather pattern coming up against the wind. Religion may be in decline, but spirituality has never been so much in evidence. In a culture that now worships at the shopping mall yet comes away empty-hearted, there is a swell of yearning for a deeper connection – or a reconnection – with the sacred. This yearning manifests in the proliferation of ‘New Age’ therapies, gurus and products, it powers the popular search for ancestral roots and ancient wisdom, and it is possibly what brought many of us to GreenSpirit. It also shows itself in the numbers of people taking refuge in religious fundamentalism, which purports to offer the security of certainties and prescriptions in an insecure, uncertain and chaotic world.
“The spiritual revolution,” says David Tacey, “..is a spontaneous movement in society, a new interest in the reality of spirit and its healing effects on life, health, community and well-being. It is our secular society realising that it has been running on empty, and has to restore itself at a deep primal source, a source which is beyond humanity and yet paradoxically at the very core of our experience.”
The irony is that, as he points out, this movement has people heading in completely opposite directions in search of the same thing. “Spirituality seeks a sensitive, contemplative, transformative relationship with the sacred, and is able to sustain levels of uncertainty in its quest because respect for mystery is paramount. Fundamentalism seeks certainty, fixed answers and absolutism, as a fearful response to the complexity of the world and to our vulnerability as creatures in a mysterious universe.”
There are traps in both directions. Fundamentalism’s certainties are a dangerous mirage and the ‘New Age’ is by now a huge, commercial enterprise, abounding in false prophets.
Tacey, a Professor at La Trobe University in Melbourne, set up the only non-religious course in spirituality in Australia after he noticed how many signs of spiritual searching were evident in his students’ work and discussions in other classes such as literature and Jungian psychology. The new course was eagerly taken up. Numbers grew each year as Tacey and each fresh crop of students embarked on their mutual exploration of what spirituality might mean in the 21st Century and, unlike the traditional religion of most churches, how green (and therefore how political) this new spirituality is and must be. He was awed and excited by the depth of awareness he found in these young people, the fervour of their arguments and their enthusiasm for the topic, and he includes in his writing many extracts from his students’ essays and discussions. I think these are what gives the book its unique flavour.
Much space is taken up by his lamenting, as we have so often done in our GreenSpirit gatherings and online discussions, the inability of most of our religious institutions to recognise the spirituality revolution and to come out and engage with it. Instead they feel threatened, and huddle in their closets of dogma, ever-fearful of losing their power even though that very fear is causing them to lose it all the faster.
But of course, there is nothing new in that. For as Tacey reminds us:
“The ruling tradition in any era does not grasp the fact that if God is alive and active in the world, then God will be creative in the world, beckoning us to new transformations. The old tradition may in some ways prefer God to be ‘dead’, because then the sacred body of God can be laid out, dissected by systematic theologians and pedants. and pinned down in precise and scientific ways. But if God is alive, our experience of the sacred is going to be uncertain, creative. imprecise and full of surprise and astonishment. If God is alive, God will always be revealed as mysterious, unknowable and unable to be contained and captured.”
As a practising Christian, however, Tacey sees part of his work as holding up a mirror to the churches and challenging them to drop their fears and be part of the revolution. After all, their founder was a revolutionary par excellence.
My only criticism of this book is that the discussion of the churches’ attitudes seems somewhat repetitive and long-winded whereas only a few pages are given to the strongly eco-spiritual aspects of this ‘revolution’, and the Universe Story, to my great surprise, does not rate a mention.Nonetheless I found it an interesting and enjoyable book, refreshingly non-academic in its language and probably worth a place on your GreenSpirit shelf.