Findhorn and the New Age: Looking Back (Part II)

Last time I gave material from my upcoming book, which spoke of my experience of Findhorn, the New Age and a general disdain therein for “limiting” the representation of the Transcendent to personal terms like God or Jesus. And I indicated the Sanctuaries at Findhorn, where people could sit in silence and meditate, while “free” from”divisive” religious imagery. And I spoke of how these Sanctuaries were hardly attended at all by the actual members of the Findhorn Community …

And yet when I left Findhorn, I sought to create another such Sanctuary outside the community. Continued material from my book manuscript:

“A few years later, I joined with others in establishing a New Age centre in Cambridge, England. Our purpose was to create a public outpost there for Findhorn-style spirituality, where it could be extended to the best young minds and future leaders, rising through this world centre of academic brilliance.

Not surprisingly, our centre would have a Sanctuary: a bare and neutral room with circles of chairs. And just like at Findhorn, it was not particularly used by many folk. Now for this Sanctuary, there was an inscription on the door, which I myself wrote and placed there:

“This sanctuary is dedicated to the idea that there are no words or forms that can express the ultimately REAL, without also limiting it, and that no religion or belief may be said to be the TRUTH but only a refraction among many such refractions that serve to guide the way.

This room is therefore dedicated to silence and simplicity that every seeker may feel welcomed here to find within the SACRED REALITY for which no words suffice, but from which healing, inspiration and renewal FLOW.”

Here from my own pen is perhaps a small, encapsulated “gem” of New Age ideology – with all the requisite vague and imprecise terminology! Years later, a New Age friend of mine asked me, if I still agreed with the words I had erected on that door. My response to her was “Yes and No”.

Yes, of course, I explained, God is infinite and ultimately beyond any attempt to perfectly capture in words. But no, if we are to take my inscription for that which it tacitly advocated: a new religious approach, where one despairs of representing the Holy and which draws the conclusion that although there may be refractions which “serve to guide the way”, such refractions can have little outstanding claim to truth or importance, beyond any other such refractions.

Here is relativism in a somewhat muted form, dear Reader: Christianity itself is just one more limited refraction. You may as well choose another refraction or do away with it altogether, if you like. Nothing will be lost if you do. This is the message I erected on that door in Cambridge. Mea Culpa.

And here too is iconoclasm in a somewhat muted form. Away with all the icons, statues, stained glass windows, away with the Pieta of Michelangelo and away with all the crucifixes! Away with theology, philosophy, scripture and a myriad of attempts to “limit” God in words! We no longer need these things which serve to bring disunity. This is the cause I was also serving in Cambridge. Mea Maxima Culpa. Even if I was twenty-eight years old and like many a New Ager not really conscious of what I did.

Now to say baldly “Away with all the icons!” is to speak in terms more extreme than most New Agers would favour. For many sincerely affirm and believe in their acceptance and tolerance of such things. But after years of experience, I am concerned that the underlying reality is somewhat different.

For I see that there is frequently indeed a marked intolerance, not only of (particularly Western) icons and religious imagery, but theology in general – that is to say of countless attempts to represent God in particular and personal ways.

Now to represent God in a particular and personal way belongs to the very essence of Christianity! God became human to represent Himself to us in the most particular and personal way He could!

And speaking from years of experience, I may guarantee you, dear Reader, that my use of that last capitalised pronoun – “He” – is enough to raise the ire – if only unconsciously – of many a “tolerant and all-embracing” New Ager.

If only unconsciously, this “tolerant and all-embracing” New Ager is actually rejecting vast, vast tracts of Tradition – particularly Christian but also of course Judaic, Islamic and more.

But the unconsciousness needs to be stressed, for, whether it is in Findhorn, Cambridge, California or any other number of locales, I am invoking sincere idealists who genuinely believe they are pioneering a new, open culture and spirituality, free of the traps of materialistic society and “old age” religion.

Such sincere idealism is not without attraction. Now many Catholics who know the deep joy of the Church might question why I say this. For them, like myself today, the idea of life without the riches of the Church will seem unpalatable indeed – nay unbearable.

Not for us, a life where one would never turn oneself, nor ever hear another soul turn in worship or reverence to our Lord and to our Lady – such a life would seem like death itself.

Not for us, a world wherein one rarely hears of God, but instead of fuzzy, impersonal terms like “Spirit”, “the Universe” or the “Source”. Or a world where one never sees the beauty of a church or most importantly of all, feels the interior power of the Sacraments …

If you are such a Catholic yourself, dear Reader, I say this, that you may know how much I empathise with your feeling! Even if I were compelled by some circumstance bizarre to return a spell to Findhorn, how empty and sterile would I now find this New Age world of non-definition and rejection of Tradition. Having tasted the beauty and mystery of the Church, how unappetising would I find all this!

But it is clearly not unappetising for New Agers. And it must be stressed these Mysteries of the Church have rarely indeed been consciously tasted by New Agers! These Mysteries of the Church are as a rule completely invisible to them. May I venture here again the notion that much of the mysterious power of the New Age, may lie in the fact that few of its adherents have consciously encountered the Mysterious Power of the Church?

Yes so many of my New Age fellow-travellers were, like myself, of Protestant heritage, who knew nothing, nothing at all of the Sacramental Church. And like my own, their concept of Christianity was not of Sacred Mystery, but like a caricature of Calvin´s. Coming from such impoverishment, New Age Spirituality can appear attractive indeed!”

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  1. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 28 April 2010 at 14:36 | Permalink

    Roger, I know you are familiar with some of the inner structures hinted at in MoTT by our Unknown Friend. Mysticism, Gnosis, Sacred Magic…Poverty, Chastity, Obedience. We also hear from him that a heresy is the partial truth about something but elevated to the complete truth. So in the organic movement from mysticism, gnosis to sacred magic there is a wholeness that reflects ever greater truth arriving to the fullness of truth. The New Age is heretical in this sense. That we can have experiences that do not reflect a particular religion and changes of consciousness this implies is a partial truth. It falls within The Magician of MoTT, in other words, mysticism or “concentration without effort.” From another perspective it is an unadulterated experienced of the Nefesh Chayyah, our innate spiritual aliveness, the Living Soul but bypassing or temporarily becoming dark to the encounter with God. But if the movement of the spiritual life is to continue and not be confined in the sense of the “Moon” of MoTT but attain continuity in the spiritual realm through duration (the “Sun” of MoTT) mysticism must give way to gnosis, the Magician to the High Priestess. It is here that the true meaning and importance of religion becomes apparent for the Living Spiritual Traditions are the Forms of Vision that the one in gnosis (the post of the High Priestess) sees. The “Spirit of God moved over the Face of the Deep.” In mysticism we are depth without form (tohu-va-vohu in Hebrew). This is the Dark Night, the Cloud of Unknowing but also it can become the mirror or still pool turned upward to God. “Then the Spirit moved over the Face of the Deep.” This is the receiving of gnosis-contemplation, the Spirit of God infuses supernatural light via the Forms of Vision which is revelation, which the “form” of the Living Spiritual Tradition or in a word, religion.

  2. Posted 28 April 2010 at 15:13 | Permalink

    Thank you, Edwin! I am glad to have your good voice back here, as well. You speak in the symbolic language of the Meditations on the Tarot, which may sound very strange, very un-Christian and un-Catholic to some readers here and very likely alienating.

    It is, as I have said elsewhere at this site, a profoundly Catholic and Christian book that saved me from the New Age! As you know, it has nothing to do with telling fortunes, but the language you emphasise will trouble some. I think it good to say that with words like gnosis, for example, this author means nothing to do with gnosticism and seeks constantly to defend a very Traditional Catholicism. (More and more for example, I see the link between his defense of Papal Infallibility and De Maistre).

    However to clarify – yes the author is asserting a common mystical root represented by the first card of the Tarot. This could be seen as a kind of common beginning for different religions.

    But the author is decisively rejecting a common New Age idea that it ENDS there – that there is simply one basic form of spirituality.

    For it is with the second card, that the author says that the true Christian path becomes evident. Speaking somewhat simplistically, that which is represented by the first card can – as you intimate – lead to a non-Christian approach of simply and exclusively Oneness and Monism.

    But with that which is represented by the Second Card – legitimate Twoness – Two being the number necessary for LOVE – the superiority of Christianity becomes evident.

    Yes the author’s powerful meditation on the importance of Two-ness, on the importance of Christianity and of LOVE opened out by the Second Image of the Tarot, this has been so very, very important to me.

    Again it served to LIBERATE me from New Age-ism and I pray it can liberate others too. I would not recommend this book unreservedly to anyone, but it has received significant support within the Church – then-Cardinal Ratzinger himself authorised the Russian edition according to one report – I think because it can so powerfully liberate some of us bound up with New Age-ism.

    I am not commenting now on other profound things in your post for example towards the end – but I am studying them with appreciation.

  3. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 29 April 2010 at 14:15 | Permalink

    Yes, this book brought clarity to my thinking on religion and brought me to acknowledge Christianity as the pinnacle of truth when I, like you sought an exclusively universalist or perennialist interpretation of religion. That said, there is a universalist or perennialist undercurrent to the book but that is absorbed finally into the Christian (Catholic, to be precise) Mystery.

  4. Posted 29 April 2010 at 17:41 | Permalink

    About half the New Agers I know are former Catholics, but the Catholicism they tasted was probably as bland as the Protestantism you mention. In the 70s and 80s, we were taught by bitter, older priests and nuns who talked about sin but never got a chance to teach us the theology behind it, and younger ones who discarded their collars and veils and played guitar and sang about love. We went to a Mass where Christ came down to our level, so there was little Mystery to be had. It’s not surprising that people drifted away looking for something more meaningful and coherent, but somewhat ironic that they drifted into a belief system where meaningfulness is almost suspect by definition. By trying to embrace everything, they wind up embracing nothing—nothing except the self, perhaps.

    I find that these are generally very intelligent, caring people who are searching for something; and the more I learn about the teachings and history of the Church, the more I realize the Church is exactly what they’re searching for. They read voraciously, looking for answers to the meaning of life, but mostly from one shelf of books written in the last century plus a few older Gnostic tomes, while the Church has discussed the questions they’re asking for centuries, and there are more writings by theologians and popes than you could ever consume in a lifetime. Every term they use, like “Spirit” or “Christ,” was taken from the Church and then stripped of meaning until it had nothing left to offend—or illuminate. They would never say the Rosary kneeling before a statue of the Blessed Mother, but they’ll sit around a crystal meditating to someone chanting something meaningless. In their self-directed search for meaning, they end up mimicking Catholic practices to a great extent, but since they reject the Church, they can’t take advantage of 2000 years of experience in how to conduct that search.

    I find myself wanting to evangelize them, but of course that’s very difficult to do, because they already believe what they’re looking for is exactly the opposite of Catholicism. So going up to them and saying, “You should be Catholic because the Catholic Church is the One True Faith founded by Jesus Christ and has the Truth that no other church has,” will only alienate them, because they reject the idea of Truth in the first place and they already think they know what the Church is about. There has to be a different way to approach them, to ease them into it, but I’m still working on that, which is why I enjoy your writings about it, Roger. I’ve read Fr. Mitch Pacwa’s book, Catholics and the New Age, and I’m currently reading A Still, Small Voice and Ransomed from Darkness, but all of these tackle the subject too head-on to simply hand to a New Ager. They’d look at the first page and see something about demonic forces and say, “You kidding me?” But I hope that by reading these experiences, I can understand their viewpoint and the search they’re always on well enough to offer them the true alternative when I get the opportunity. For that reason, I’m always glad to find more books on the topic, and am looking forward to yours.

  5. Edwin Shendelman
    Posted 30 April 2010 at 15:28 | Permalink

    Great post, Aaron and so true. I find that sharing my personal testimony and what inspires me about Christianity a great way to evangelize without turning people off. Remember, it isn’t all up to us but the good Holy Spirit.

    “It isn’t our job to finish the Work but neither can we desist from it.”–The Talmud.

  6. Posted 1 May 2010 at 14:51 | Permalink

    I am also very appreciative of your comment, Aaron. Very heartened, really.

    So often when I read the traditionalist Catholic world online, I find so much that is turned inward. Issues such as sedevacantism or John Paul’s tragic failure with his Bishops. These ARE important subjects, of course.

    But so is this New Age movement, of which there is very little said and which as I said earlier in my very long response to Epsilon, is BURYING Christianity.

    Yes I am very glad to see you engaging with this. Again, really very heartened.

    There are a number of acute, very accurate things you say – but rather than responding to them here, you’ve inspired me to do so in my next blog entry, where I plan to quote you and comment. Later today or tomorrow I hope. Provisional title: The Cultural Bondage of the New Age …

  7. Posted 2 May 2010 at 07:45 | Permalink

    That’s a good point, Roger: Catholics are generally just as clueless about New Age as New Agers are about Catholicism. I’m on Catholic forums where there are long discussions of the dangers of Islam, Masonry, and the more traditional forms of Protestantism, but almost nothing about New Age. Those are all worth discussing, of course, but to my eye, it looks like New Age is drawing more people away from the Church than all those combined. My Catholic friends are quite surprised when I explain that when they hear someone talking about “Spirit” (instead of “Holy Spirit”) or “Christ Consciousness,” that’s not just a funny way of saying the same thing we’re saying, but a completely different belief system. That lack of knowledge also explains how so many of them think President Obama is Muslim, when it’s seemed obvious to me all along that, to the extent he’s anything, he’s New Age. Looking forward to your next installment.

    Edwin, I admit most of your first comment went over my head. 🙂 But I thank you for the mention of MOTT; I’ve put it next on my reading list. It sounds like the kind of book that might be good for handing to New Age friends to ease them into some new ideas.

  8. Posted 9 May 2010 at 20:22 | Permalink

    It’s not simply New Age on it’s own because it overlaps into mainstream as I’m sure Roger will agree?!

    Dialogue and overlap from the perspective of re/evangelising is also very important as you might gather from this link:

  9. Posted 11 May 2010 at 15:58 | Permalink

    Aaron, Epsilon, please forgive the long delay in responding to your most valued comments here. Problems with the comments boxes and all kinds of pressures slowing me down …

    Regarding you saying Aaron:

    “My Catholic friends are quite surprised when I explain that when they hear someone talking about “Spirit” (instead of “Holy Spirit”) or “Christ Consciousness,” that’s not just a funny way of saying the same thing we’re saying, but a completely different belief system.”

    This comment alone is worth its weight in gold …

    And I think that simply getting across, that there is even the possibility that we might actually be talking about something very different to the New Age, is the initial step in this burning question of contemporary evangelisation.

    If that idea just begins to sink in, then one has the idea of CHOICE. One is choosing New Age or not. One is choosing Christianity or not … In the New Age ideology all choice is a non-starter, because we’re all just talking about the same thing, anyway.

    You both seem in different ways to be linking New Age-ism to mainstream secularism and this feels very important too.

    Due to above mentioned pressures, I haven’t studied your link as much as I might otherwise like Epsilon, but I do agree with you and indeed think there is something very important indeed as it indicates to the work of:

    ” revealing the biases inherent in news agendas driven by profit”

    So, so much being driven here it seems to me – not simply contemporary secular mainstream “culture” but yes the contemporary New Age movement that in so many ways is part and parcel of that.

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