Thriving in the Crosscurrent:

Clarity and Hope in a Time of Cultural Sea Change




Why This Book, Why Now?

Chapter 1

Rhyming Hope and History

Chapter 2

Just Changing . . . or Evolving?

Chapter 3

Four Strong Winds

Chapter 4

Three Crossings

Chapter 5

Modernity: How Can a
Sea Change Go Wrong?

Chapter 6

Who Says It’s
Getting Better?

Chapter 7


Chapter 8

Life in the Renaissance

Chapter 9

The Second Axial Age

Chapter 10

Thriving in the Crosscurrent

Chapter 9

The second of the great sea changes was the passage into the Axial Age, in the fi rst millennium BCE. The rise of the classical religious traditions advanced apace with the development of individual consciousness. Ethical awareness and the spiritual search shaped this earlier sea change, as the late theologian Ewert Cousins describes:

The Axial Period ushered in a radically new form
of consciousness. Whereas primal consciousness
was tribal, Axial consciousness was individual.
“Know thyself ” became the watchword of Greece;
the Upanishads identified the atman, the transcendent
center of the self. The Buddha charted the way
of individual enlightenment; the Jewish prophets
awakened individual moral responsibility. This sense
of individual identity, as distinct from the tribe and
from nature, is the most characteristic mark of Axial
consciousness. From this flow other characteristics:
consciousness that is self-refl ective, analytic, and
thatcan be applied to nature in the form of scientific
theories, to society in the form of social critique, to
knowledge in the form of philosophy, to religion in
the form of mapping an individual spiritual journey.1

Our twenty-first-century sea change is ushering in its own “great transformation,” which Cousins and others have described as a Second Axial Period. The Second Axial turning is simply the horizonal sea change viewed from a religious and/or spiritual perspective. An ancient parable from the Hindu mythic tradition illustrates one of the core values of this Second Axial Period: adherents of the great traditions converge as their understanding deepens. It’s another example of the best values of past sea changes reappearing in a novel form as the goods of a newer shift.

While the twenty-fi rst-century crossing has countless aspects— social, political, ecological, economic, etc.—I’ve chosen to focus on its spiritual dimension. Arguably the most important change underway in our time is the change in our most profound values, perceived truths that shape our most essential attitudes and choices. Whether or not a person is religious, he or she has a spiritual dimension. A global change in these deepest structures of meaning will have tremendous implications.


Imagine a great wheel whose immense and beautifully carved spokes converge in a tiny glistening hub. In the Hindu tradition, the wheel is a symbol of human spiritual search and discovery. Each of the uniquely shaped and decorated spokes symbolizes one of the world’s religious paths. The rim of the wheel represents the most superfi cial level of understanding of any tradition. It’s the level at which the religions are most dramatically separated from one another by their distinctions. Conversely, the hub is the center from which each spoke emerges and the point at which all come together. It represents the common source and the deepest level of each and every tradition.

As the seeker grows in understanding, he or she moves along one of the spokes, from the gigantic rim to the small hub at the center. At the rim, the spokes are widely separated, but as they converge on the center of the hub, separation all but vanishes.

As I stand on the rim at the outer end, say, of the Christian spoke and gaze across at my Buddhist counterparts, their faith seems strange, if not bizarre. And yet, as I begin to move along my own spoke, the distance that had divided us begins to diminish.

As I venture more deeply into my own tradition, learning something of its symbolic language and hidden dimensions, I begin to see the Buddhist symbols as kindred to my own. Suddenly, it’s clear that our paths are convergent, sharing a common center. Just as the wagon wheel needs both its circles—the rim and the hub—so the symbolic wheel of human spirituality requires the diversity, the color, the pageantry, and variety of the outer circle as well as the harmony of the inner. But it is convergence, “inclining to a center,” that makes a wheel a wheel.

The image of the sacred wheel is powerful because it gives us a way to think about a spiritual sea change. More specifically, it describes the essential processes of this Second Axial Age: encountering diversity, beginning a cross-cultural dialogue, and discovering the possibilities inherent in interreligious engagement.

Order Thriving in
the Crosscurrent

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