Sam Keen is the author of 13 books on philosophy and religion. He is featured as one of the Living Spiritual Teachers on this website. When not traveling around the world lecturing and giving seminars on a wide range of topics, Keen cuts wood, tends to his farm in the hills above Sonoma, takes long hikes, and practices flying trapeze.
In the opening section of this rambunctious book, the author delivers an overview of the present situation where "we wait patiently on the border between agnosticism and faith"; where religious fundamentalists spew hatred and violence in their "us" against "them" scenarios; where dogmatic atheists assert their venom; where multinational corporations reign in a culture that "worships efficiency, speed, profit, and consumption"; and where American exceptionalism is dedicated to continuous war-making to keep the military machine well-oiled. Keen proffers hope that progressive religion will offer a viable path into the future where individuals will reclaim the authority of their own experience of the sacred and work together with others in the pursuit of social justice.
A renewed quest for G-d in our time begins, as it has in many ancient religious traditions, in the desert. Solitude is the gateway to silence which means an escape from the shrill and divisive cultural babble of our time. Here we enter sacred time which Keen calls "a many-splendored-thing." In the desert we confess our personal failures and our complicity in the sins of our community and nation. In the desert, we square off with the questions that matter. And, with a little bit of luck, we come upon minor oases such as memories of childhood mystical moments, feelings of being quickened or enthusiastic, epiphanies, and visions.
At the core of this book is Keen's challenges to us: that we craft a religious life "by re-owning our elemental emotions, learning to speak in poetic ways about G-d, and practicing justice." The 14 elemental emotions stand in contrast to the secular values of possession, consumption, and technological innovation. All the world's religions can unite behind the following:
"In the blinding light of WONDER we discover ourselves
within a mystery beyond explanation.
In the warm glow of GRATITUDE we receive our life as
a gift from a source beyond ourselves.
In AWE we tremble before the overwhelming creative-
destructive power of the cosmos.
In JOY we are surprised by unconditional grace.
In GRIEF we weep for all fleeting beauty.
In REVERENCE we listen respectfully to the myriad voices
of the commonwealth of sentient beings.
In COMPASSION we are joined to our neighbor's sorrow
In OUTRAGE we resist the desecration of war, poverty,
and the pollution of streams and atmosphere.
In ANXIETY and DREAD we feel lost in infinite space and
In being EMPOWERED we find ourselves infused by the
informing energy of the cosmos-enthusiastic.
In the echo of VOCATION we discover our promise and
In HOPE we are moved toward a fulfillment we cannot
In TRUST we surrender to the unknown source of the
In HUMILITY we know that our destiny is earthy from dust
to dust and we rest content in the luminous
After discussing prayer, metaphors and myths, the names of G-d, and rituals; Keen issues a clarion call for more spiritual attention to justice ecological, political, and economic. He ends the book with a plea for the re-enchantment of everyday life.