In the book Megatrends 2000, authors Naisbitt and Aburdene outlined trends they anticipated would be transformational as we moved into the new millennium. Among their calculations was the New Age movement, which in 1990 was quickly gaining momentum. They wrote: "In turbulent times, in times of great change, people head for the two extremes: fundamentalism and personal, spiritual experience... With no membership lists or even a coherent philosophy or dogma, it is difficult to define or measure the unorganized New Age movement. But in every major U.S. and European city, thousands who seek insight and personal growth cluster around a metaphysical bookstore, a spiritual teacher, or an education center."(1) This is all the more an accurate picture for today.
New Age devotees, who today are unlikely to call themselves by this name, may not share a cohesive focus or an organizational center, but there are certainly consistent and underlying tenets of thought among them. The movement is syncretistic, in that it incorporates any number of spiritual and religious ideologies at one time, but it is consistently monistic and pantheistic. New Age seekers are informed by the belief that all of reality is essentially one. Thus, everything is divine, often including themselves; for if all is one, and there are no distinctions, then all is God. Or, in the words of Shirley Maclaine in Dancing in the Light, "I am God, because all energy is plugged in to the same source.... We are individualized reflections of the God source. God is us and we are God."(2)
Seven hundred years earlier, medieval Christian mystic Julian of Norwich spoke in what some may consider a similar tone: "[O]ur substance is our Father, God almighty... [O]ur substance is whole in each person of the Trinity, who is one God."(3) Early Christian mystics are known for their fervent seeking and spiritual awareness of the oneness of life. Thus, there are certainly similar melodies to be found within the songs of Christian mysticism and the growing chorus of New Age spirituality. But so there are marked differences among them.
Photo by Ben May.
Within its historical context, mysticism, like many other Christian movements, was an expression of faith in response to faithless times. In this regard, New Age seekers are not entirely different. Some New Age seeking is, I think, a legitimate reaction to the comfortable and shallow religious life we find within our society. But as New Age seekers long for the depth and freedom to believe in everything, the result is often contrary to what they seek. Their theology and spirituality are entirely segregated. The quest for illumination is a quest that can begin and end anywhere; thus, they find neither depth nor freedom. On the contrary, Julian of Norwich and other early Christian mystics sought an authentic experience of faith as a result of an already dynamic understanding of that faith. Their theology in and of itself is what led them to spirituality.
For the Christian today, illumination still begins with Light itself, God unobscured, though incomprehensible, revealed through the glory of the Son. Starting with light and standing beside Christ, the Christian begins his or her journey as a seeker knowing there is one unique being who hears our prayers and cries and longings. There is a source for all illumination, and that God is light of the world.
Those for whom New Age thought seems attractive would perhaps be helped to know there is a great tradition of seeking within Christianity, a tradition that began with the recognition that we could not fix what is wrong, and a tradition that continues because there is one who can, one who also longs to find and to be found. The human heart is ever-seeking, showing the longing of a soul to be known. In the words of Julian of Norwich, "We shall never cease wanting and longing until we possess [Christ] in fullness and joy... The more clearly the soul sees the Blessed Face by grace and love, the more it longs to see it in its fullness."(4) For the Christian seeker, communion with God is far more than self-discovery or personal freedom; it is theology that has become doxology, which in turn becomes life.
Jill Carattini is managing editor of A Slice of Infinity at Ravi Zacharias International Ministries in Atlanta, Georgia.
(1) J. Naisbitt and P. Aburdene, Megatrends 2000: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (New York: William Morrow & Company, 1990), 11.
(2) Shirley Maclaine, Dancing in the Light (New York: Bantam Doubleday, 1991), 339.
(3) Julian of Norwich, Showings, ed. and trans. by James Walsh in "The Classics of Western Spirituality" (New York: Paulish Press, 1978), 129.