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I am neither a rabid fan nor a resolute enemy of Oprah Winfrey.
The reality is I watch her program when I am preparing dinner or walking on my treadmill. Oprah becomes background music for my activities. That may seem a diminishment of her worth, but actually I appreciate what she does for humanity.
Granted the iconic stature she has achieved over the years, Oprah still seems to want to do good and empower others in the same direction.
One of her latest endeavors, the cyberspace study group with Eckhart Tolle’s book, “A New Earth:Awakening to Your Life’s Purpose,” is example of that desire.
Although I have not yet read the work, I have read about it and am intrigued by the continuing comments regarding planetary self-help that emerge when folks mention it. Even more interesting is the fact institutional religion has long been matched with a generic sense of spirituality.
People are vigorously seeking God wherever they can find divinity. And that is a good thing.
Some might be dismayed the source of Judaeo-Christianity, God’s word in the Bible, is not researched and discussed with equal vigor. Their point is well-taken, until we remember the words of scripture, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places.” [John 14:2]
There are many ways in which we can enter a relationship with God. There are uniquely different roads leading to union with God. It is dangerous to loath or dismiss any of them.
Tolle’s route to a new earth likely emerges from an understanding of God’s promise in scripture: “See, I make all things new.” [Rev. 21: 5] And, of the Johannine scriptural vision: “Then I saw new heavens and a new earth.” [Rev. 21:1] It is a human hope for betterment, a human view of future bliss.
But, that future can only come when we begin to pave the way in the present. It demands radical change—a change in attitude and acceptance. It is truly an awesome task, an awe-filled labor we must undertake. The trip is worth the trouble.
Our starting point is trust in God’s promises of newness and willingness to cooperate in the creative process. We cannot begin without that kind of obedience to God’s will and we won’t understand what God wills until we begin.
A new earth cannot emerge while we are stuck with unthinking maintenance of an old one that is broken. Nor can it be “fixed” while we are centered on ourselves, fixated on our own egotistical wants—an egoism that Tolle says is a dangerous insanity.
A Google search revealed his belief that “humanity now, perhaps more than in any previous time, has an opportunity to create a new, saner, more loving world. This will involve a radical inner leap from the current egoic consciousness to an entirely new one.”
Furthermore, with this shift in consciousness “we will come to experience who we truly are—which is something infinitely greater than anything we currently think we are—and learn to live and breathe freely.”
This is nothing short of a biblical reality, phrased in modern day terminology that is carefully neutral so it transcends the confines of any particular culture, religion or spiritual tradition.
At the same time, it also smacks of the best of Islam, Buddhism, Judaism, Hinduism and a multitude of world religions whose base conviction evolves from belief in a higher power, no matter what name that power bears.
When questioned about the content of his book, it was most interesting for me to read Tolle’s response was he only wrote about one thing, spiritual awakening.
I smiled since the trilogy I have written bears the title “Awakening to God.” Are we not on the same page of music? Better yet, is there not one song we all sing in harmony?
Tolle believes humanity is in an era of readiness to be awakened and is willing to live more deeply, if for no other reason than that we are running out of options.
We can no longer afford to live a delusional life, ignoring reality and pretending all is well when it is not. We must act positively, recognizing we are not the center of the universe, or we and the planet will not survive.
In his view, his book has transformative power because it has come out of an awakened consciousness rather than the accumulated knowledge of a person’s mind.
As I read the many comments and watched the segment of Oprah featuring an array of readers across the globe, I wondered what happened to the transformative power of organized religion.
Why is it necessary to have “how-to” books on spirituality? Are various church communities failing or inadequate or off-putting? Has religion lost its spirituality? Can there be spirituality without religion? Are they not inextricably entwined?
Though the questions need to be voiced and heard, it would be too easy to lay blame here or there. It would be too easy to dismiss Oprah as high priestess of her own cyberspace church.
Instead, I think we need to look at the deeper reality people are seeking God wherever God can be found—and rejoice that they are so doing. We need to ask ourselves in what ways we are helping organized religion to be continually reforming itself. We need to model biblical values every day so that no one will need to search for a “how-to” book.
Emphatically, we need to recognize and to make real the words of Paul to the church at Corinth, “You show that you are a letter of Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living god, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
When we model the word of God, we are the “how to” text. We exemplify God’s presence in the world. We are both religious and spiritual. There is no duality but only union with God and each other.
Awakened to that reality, we will be a new earth—not because we have read a book but because God has promised to make all things new—and we believe in that promise.
The question remains, “Do we really want a new earth?”
Fran Salone-Pelletier has a master's degree in theology and is the author of, AWAKENING TO GOD: The Sunday Readings in Our Lives [a trilogy of scriptural meditations], leadchaplain at Brunswick Community Hospital, religious educator, retreat leader and lecturer.