Theology and Religious Study : 640029

Question:

It introduces us to the ‘aesthetic’ and the ‘asceti c’ of the Christian faith, according to Eugene
Peterson.
Read Peterson’s article, ‘St Mark: The Basic Text for Christian Spirituality’, from his book
Subversive Spirituality.
. What are the things that strike you about this article? How do you respond to his argument?
Please have the text of the article available for discussion, and also be ready to engage with the biblical text upon which it is based. In our session we will consider chapter 9.14-29 as well.
What are your reflections on these verses, and on Peterson’s article? What do they tell us about true,biblical spirituality?
What is Spirituality?

Is it a Christian word?

Are the definitions of spirituality so many and so fuzzy that it has lost any usefulness it may have had as a term to describe a crucial dimens
ion of the Christian life?  Is it a helpful word for us to use at all?

Definitions of ‘spirituality’ are, indeed, legion. Many  different  faiths  speak  of  ‘spirituality’,  as  do  ill-defined  ‘new  age’  type  movements.  Many
definitions of the term are extremely vague.

Even  if  we  restrict  the  focus  to  specifically  Christian  spirituality  there  are  many  different
understandings on offer.

Some of these are so broad they encompass almost all of human experience.  Others,  which  focus  almost  exclusively  on  prayer  an
d  contemplation  are,  I  would  suggest,  too narrow.

Helpfully,  as  Linda  Wilson  notes,  there  is  a  growing  trend  to  define  Christian  spirituality  as consisting  of  ‘more  than  just  devotion’.  For  Wilson,  as  well  as  other  writers,  spirituality  also encompasses ‘the way devotional lives are worked out in practice’ (see L. Wilson,
Constrained by Zeal: Female Spirituality Among Nonconformists: 1825-1875
[Carlisle: Paternoster, 2000], p. 4).

This understanding of Christian spirituality includes both:

a. the way in which a relationship with God through Christ is developed and
b. the way that relationship is worked out, in private and in public.
The  two  main  biblical  images  for  the  ‘life  of  faith’  are  ‘pilgrimage’  and  ‘discipleship’.  Both  these
images denote the importance of a relationship with God that is actively lived out.
A  complementary  approach  to  spirituality  is  proposed  by  Philip  Sheldrake  in  his Spirituality  and History
. Sheldrake understands spirituality as being concerned with the ‘conjunction’ of theology, prayer  (or  more  broadly  communion  with  God)  and  pra
ctical  Christianity  (See  P.  Sheldrake, Spirituality and History [London: SPCK, 1991], p. 52). Theology is vital. What we believe about God and his ways sh
apes us.

Communion  with  God.  This  is  our  ‘devotional  practice’,  broadly  conceived  –  our  prayer, contemplation, worship…
Practical  Christianity.  How  our  faith  is  worked  out  in  practice,  in  real,  concrete  ways.  This  last
emphasis helps to deliver us from what Eugene Peterson calls ‘the soupy, sentimental, gushers’
who, sooner or later, seem to get involved when spirituality is mentioned.
So, on the one hand, spirituality is a word that is overused and defined in a variety of different, no
t
always helpful, ways. It is not directly biblical. But, on the other hand, the word ‘spiritual’ certainly is biblical, and spirituality is a word that ha
s a
rich  Christian  heritage  (although  it’s  passed  through  a  number  of  different  shades  of  meaning) and, just as importantly, it is a word that is reco
gnisable by a wide range of people today.It would be a shame to abandon it. But we’d be foolish and unfaithful if we didn’t to
speak of and seek to live out a form of spirituality which is specifically Christian spirituality.
We need to be shaped by God. We need to be seeking:

A  biblical  spirituality  (I  suggest  this  will  be  fed  by  a  biblical  theology,  seek  to develop rich communion with the God who reveals him
self in Jesus Christ, and be earthed in the practical realities of day to day life).
•A spirituality which draws from the rich traditions of the Christian church.

A spirituality which has Jesus at the centre.
2. THE SPIRITUAL JOURNEY The idea of the journey is powerfully present in Scripture and in subsequent Christian history and experience.
Just one biblical example would be the so-called ‘Psalms of Ascent’ (Psalms 120 – 134).
These have been movingly written on by Eugene Peterson in his book A Long Obedience in the Same Direction
. This was later republished with the simpler title

The Journey
.
a. An Individual’s Journey An outstanding and formative example of a spiritual
narrative is the Confessions of Augustine (354-430).  It was a new kind of literature, the first and one of the greatest of spiritual autobiographies.
Augustine’s work tells his own personal journey.  It is addressed to God and is about the meaning of a human life.
Augustine, famously, wrote: ‘You made us for yourself and our hearts find no peace until they find rest in you’.
He was talking about inner human feelings. Not just doctrine.

b. The Universal Journey John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress is probably the most famous example of this. This paints the universal experience of journey in
the form of an allegory.  It embraces a wide range of Christian experience.  Bunyan’s ‘Christian’ enters the Christian way through a ‘gate’ (this symbolises conversion). His journey is towards the ‘Celestial City’, which he finally reaches crossing the ‘River of Death’. Along the way he is helped or hindered by a host of
characters – for example, ‘Faithful’, ‘Hopeful’, ‘Ignorance’ – and he struggles through the ‘slough of despond’ as well as entering ‘Doubting Castle’, where he encounters ‘Giant Despair’. Most journeys involve loss, loneliness, fear and anxiety, wrong turnings, friendships and joy.
To read about other journey people’s can be a way of putting things in perspective. On a separate piece of paper write down twelve sign
ificant events in your life that have shaped you and brought you to this point.  Then write down two things that you think God is le
ading you into.

3. JOURNAL KEEPING

a. An Introduction to Journal Keeping Often it can help to write about our experiences at the time we have them, or soon after. This is a way of reflecting on our own ‘journeys’.
This may be in the form of a ‘Journal’. There may be some times of transition in life when detailed reflection is especially important.
I would suggest that, for you, one of these times is now. A time of transition and of formation.  In a journal certain themes can emerge over time. A
s a result of reflection we can become more self-aware and there is more possibility of change – of moving forward in the journey.
For example: It can be a way out of negative emotions about our situation. You write about your frustrations. But then you think about them. What is being challenged in me? God is in this process of change.  In the future to go back and to evaluate can be a help. We may idealise the past. Or we may paint
it as uniformly grim. But a journal is not a scientific textbook. It may be an expression of quite random thoughts.
It can help with the process of building up ourselves.  It should be seen as part of your time of prayer. Many Protestants have kept journals.
For the Christian there is reflection in the light of what you know of God. Not self-discovery only, as in secular journals, but reflecting on our relationship with God. On our journeys we walk with him. Indeed we are seeking to follow Christ.  b.  Beginning, or Going Further, in Journaling Luci Shaw (
Life Path [Crowborough: Christina Press, 1991]) suggests ‘an
ything goes’. This has become my own ‘rule’. Notes from sermons, ‘quiet times’, noting down people and situations for prayer etc.
But also longer reflections on life and ministry.  Luci is a poet and many early ideas for poems begin as notes and lines in her journal. There were
also deep reflections on the death of her husband which she later chose to share.  I don’t think it matters what book is used. Luci Shaw suggests a notebook which is not so expensive and lavish looking we’re afraid to write in it and, on the other hand, something that is
special enough to motivate us! You may be able to let feelings go by drawing. Some reflections may be deeply personal. Some will be more general.
Often there will be a mix of the two.  There may be reflection on your ministry.  One example of reflection of this kind is found in
the diary (effectively for him a spiritual journal) of Robert Murray M’Cheyne: He writes that he resumed his diary, ‘long broken off’, on 21 Feb 1836.
He says this practice of writing ensures sober reflection on the events of the day as seen in God’s eyes. He preached twice that day and notes that in the morning he was more engaged in preparing the head than the heart.  ‘This has frequently been my error. I have always felt the evil of it, especially in prayer. Reform it,
then, O Lord.’

c. Re-reading the Journal   Most important is the need to take time to reflect, a ‘leisurely re-reading’ (Shaw) of what we have written.
This can be done on a retreat or when time is blocked out for a quiet day or morning.  As we reflect we can ask:  Are there patterns? – Are there insights? – How is
the journey going?  I find it helpful to keep every other page blank. You can go back and fill in answers to prayer, note insights and things which need to be followed up.

Answer:

Introduction:

As I look back to a time when I was merely 21 years old, I remember a person who was a great devotee to Christ, praising him and showing him gratitude for having helped me and all my friends get cured of illnesses, and lead a magically wonderful life. My family is highly a religious one, and I was being made aware of the omniscience of Christ, right from a very tender age. From the age of 5, I started attending the Church prayers on Sundays, and was being taught to thank Christ for all the good life and grace he has showered on all of us. My parents kept on re-iterating the same thing each day, that Christ is our saviour, and as I would attend the Church on Mondays, I would behold the Biblical scenes engraved on the walls of the Church. I was too young to feel a sense of awe and inspiration for the allegorical significance of the pictures. Nevertheless, I would stand in awe and surprise, as I would appreciate the artistic detail of the eye of the painter, and the bright, colourful aspects of the Church paintings. By the time I was 14, I knew that Christ is the saviour, and through intense suffering. At school, I got myself acquainted with Julian of Norwich who would always believe in the goodness of the Almighty, and I was inspired to learn how she had a series of visions of Christ, that is said to have cured her of her deadly illness in a short while[1]. I had a school friend, named Robbin, who one day handed down to me a famous book named The Book of Mergery Kempe, that carefully details the various domestic tribulations of the author, her extensive pilgrimages to holy sites in Europe and the Holy Land, as well as her mystical conversations with God. Although I was always encouraged to commit and dedicate myself to Christ, I was unable to feel a deep connection in the beginning[2]. Merely attending the Church, and listening to the Biblical quotes would not satiate my inner urge to be reconciled to the Almighty. Although worship was an integral part of my life, I would often feel deprived of the spiritual connection, the Bishop in the Church would talk about. However, as I started reading about Julian of Norwich and her spiritual experience, as well as The Book of Mergery Kempe, I started experiencing the spiritual calling both these women felt, and how their own personal experience, and not any Christian theological speech, altered their life. As I came across a woman’s recounting of her spiritual tale, I was fascinated by how a lay woman could experience the Holy Spirit, without the intervention of the Church authorities. For the coming Sundays, I would not ever go to the Church, unless compelled to. I would be able to experience the Holy Spirit, present in the world, surrounding me and my friends, and even though none would feel it, I was able to make sense of the words exclaimed in wonder by Kempe, in the extracts of the book I had. I did not require the Bishop to interpret what was there written in the Bible as I was experiencing them on my own, and I did not require to hear the preaching as slowly I was learning to hear the unheard words of the Holy Spirit. Slowly, thus began my journey to move from a Roman Catholic to a Pentecostal, embarking on a spiritual quest to justify every question ever had about the universe and beyond.

Discussion:

While I was reading the passage of Matthew 28. 16-20, and I was trying to reflect on the meaning of the passage, my own attitude towards life was changing. In this paragraph, there is one line that has remarkably influenced my perception of the Holy Spirit, and it states : “And behold, I am with you always, until the end of age”. This helped me realize the unchangeable truth of the universe-the divine existence of the powerful Almighty who shall guide and enlighten mankind unto the right path of life, and all that I need is to follow the guidance. While I had started reading the Biblical passage, I was merely reading how it narrates the reaction of the followers of Christ on his resurrection, and yet as I proceeded with it, I started experiencing a sense of certainty about the unquestionable goodness of the Spirit, which has risen and shall continue to exist till the end of time. I could sense the world being wrapped in the light of goodness and benevolence of the Holy Spirit, the recognition of whose existence can be a great source of joy and pleasure for the followers. The revelation of Lord, and the resurrection of Holy Christ, helped in reinforcing the belief about the existence of the Holy Spirit, as well as my belief in a just, virtuous world. While I am reading these lines aloud, I started feeling more emotionally overwhelmed than before. I started experiencing a profound realization of how in life have I felt despised and others, including my friends have disdained me[3]. However, on keeping my head held high, I have been able to surmount the obstacles of disbelief, mistrust and self-doubt. In this paragraph, I read how some women have been afraid to hear about the resurrection of Christ, and despite the prevailing sense of fear, they managed to visit Christ in Galilee. This helped in re-affirming my faith in the Holy Spirit that is not merely confined to the walls of the Church, but can also be explored within my mind, and outside in the Universe as well.

Gradually, I was exploring a highly distinct form of spirituality, which I have never experienced before. I was realizing that it is not sufficient to go to the Church on Sundays and offer my prayer and devotion to Christ. I could not sense the spirituality permeating my mind, and although I would listen to the Biblical quotes, very often would I feel the same kind of spiritual frenzy that I had experienced, while reading Michael’s quote from the Bible. I started realizing that if one is listening to religious paragraphs, and offering payer to Christ, because he is expected and asked to, he is not able to fill the spiritual void inside his mind. A first-hand exploration of spirituality was needed in my case, as I was feeling thirsty for a kind of spiritual solace and grace where I would be able to connect my life with the Holy Spirit, and draw inspiration from the same. While I was searching for alternative ways of spiritual attainment, I came across a friend, named Eva who practiced a different form of worship, and although unbeknownst to me so far, this new form of worship, also called Pentecostalism, is remarkably similar to the spiritual practice I have been looking out for. While earlier, I thought her thought process in terms of religious beliefs is highly different from that of mine, after having a prolonged interaction with her for 2 days, I realized that she also recognized the existent of the Almighty, as well as Christ, and she also firmly believed in each of the words of the Bible. However, what made her different from us is her earnest intention to offer dedication to God without the intervention of the clergy, and her refusal to visit the Church to reach out to God, who can be experienced within one’s mind without any external intervention[4].

I do not hesitate to state that this new form of worship instantly attracted my attention, as I have always believed that spirituality is a force that is more experiential, rather than a mere religious ritual to be performed on each Sunday. Eva taught me that the power of the Almighty can be traced through interaction with Him, and the entire process of worship I learnt to be highly dynamic and energetic. I was 20 by now, and I was learning new ways of offering devotion to God. God was not just Christ, but it was the Holy Spirit, that pervades the entire universe and controls it. Eva introduced me to her grandfather, who would offer his devotion to the Almighty through a language unknown to most of us residing the world. I always had an intrinsic distaste for the same old, conventional religious passages that we were expected to enunciate in the Church prayers, and was instantly fascinated by what I was learning. I learnt how to communicate with the Almighty, and to let him converse with him, with a language that belongs to him. Soon after 5 hours, I found myself amidst a certain spiritual frenzy taking hold of me, that guided me into speaking a new language, so foreign to me, and the supernatural phenomenon started happening. I was unable to decipher any of the words coming out of my mouth, and yet I was experiencing a subtle, inexplicable form of joy and spiritual ecstasy of having established a meaningful contact with the supernatural power, that has so far remained unknown to me. Ever since the day, I have been offering my prayer to the Almighty in the most meaningful way, I have been feeling that I have been able to spiritually evolve from someone confined to this materialistic world, to a spiritually enlightened being.

My experience in praying in tongue (glossolalia) has not only spiritually enlightened me in more than one way, but has also accompanied me on my spiritual encounter with Christ. I would like to refer to one such specific instance in my life when I was looking out for some sort of positive strength, hope and assistance. The pain was too strong to overcome, and I would also like to state that the fear completely took over my spirit. At this crucial phase, as I was literally struggling to stay composed and was trying my best to pray in senses I soon remembered the story of Jesus calm the storm. However, nevertheless the fear was over powering me and I literally felt that my mouth was dry and I had been trembling with fear for a long time. Time and again I tried to close my eyes, join my hands and tried to offer my prayer, but all in vain. Every time I was closing my eyes, I was getting distracted by something else. However, soon I came across Eva who told me that in case I lack the ability to pray in the conventional way, I can still draw spiritual guidance and solace of the Almighty if I  just pray in tongues. Soon, I started praying in tongue and soon I discovered that I was praying in tongue and in spirit. The next thing that I realized was that I have entered the Garden of Gethsemane (in spirit). I could sense with my eyes that Lord Jesus is in His agony and pain. I found Him asking God to let the cup pass if possible. At that very moment, I could feel his pain, agony and heart. For a temporary time, I was in Him and I felt it all. During this experience, I started realizing that I was communicating with God in tongue, a heavenly language. As I look back, I simply realize that it is an actual communication except it is in tongue and people surrounding me will not understand a word that I would say[5]. Since that Time, I have been practicing praying in tongues, and most importantly I have experienced myself speaking through Lord Jesus and pleading for God’s mercy and grace. I have always heard the Lord showering me with Grace, that has helped in eliminating all my senses of fear, pain, suffering and agony just lifted up and disappeared. Glossolalia set me free by the power of God, and I do believe that this form of prayer and process of offering devotion is far more effective, and spiritually enlightening.

I became pastor after I got influenced by the Pentecostalism. Pentecostalism is one of the fast growing groups of Christians. It is a form of Christianity that gives importance on the work of the Holy Spirit and also gives evidence on the direct experience of the God as a believer. As a member of a Roman Catholic, I failed to get a direct experience from god as the bishops of the church served as our mediators to covey our feelings, thoughts and prayers to The Almighty. However, the Pentecostalism offered me a new ray of thought in the spiritual domain. Pentecostals belief that fait is a form of experiment. Faith is not merely restricted on the ritual proceedings and strict thinking framed by the Roman Catholic, fathers of the bishops of the church. The Energetic and dynamic point of view of the Pentecostalism attracted me. Pentecostals believe that they are solely driven by the power of the God and that power is residing within them. They regard the reflection of human as a reflection of god[6]. Here in the Pentecostal church, immense stress in given on the conversion that amounts to a Baptism in the spirit. As a Pastor, I gradually attained knowledge that movement in returning over Christianity is pure and simple in regards to the Roman Catholic Church. Moreover, as a Pastor I came to realize that Pentecostalism is not a church itself as believed by the Roman Catholic. It gave full liberty to the believers to establish connection with god directly. Pentecostalism is a movement itself towards the renewal or revival of the denomination present in the Christianity. This movement is carried by the pastor and that took immense interest on me. As a Pastor, I based my theology on the text of the Bible which believes that the phrases are the words of God and is devoid of any form of error. I became Pastor under the light of the Pentecostalism due to its rooted holiness. Pentecostalism derive its roots from the Great Awakenings of Whitfield and Finney. As Pastor I believe the concept of “being slain in the Spirit” as a common phenomenon. I uplifted myself from the hypocrisy of fake believe and also was successful in expressing my thoughts and connection with god without requiring any medium or verbal language. My experience in praying in tongue (glossolalia) has not only spiritually enlightened me in more than one way, but has also accompanied me on my spiritual encounter with Christ. I no longer hesitate to state that this new form of worship attracted my attention. I believed that spirituality it is a force that is more experiential, rather than a mere religious ritual to be performed on each Sunday as believed by the Roman Catholic. It also gave me a new ray in the field of spiritually and also nurtures my personality and inner self in a whole new level. I still have faith in God or rather say the fate has increased as I can connect with god directly.

Ephesians 4:11, Acts 20:28, and 1 Peter 5:2 of the bible is about being a Pastor. According to the definition that has been provided within the Bible, it can be said that Pastor are individual, who have their own policy of dealing with Christian obligation. Due to my past experience in life I have chosen the path of becoming a pastor, which has helped me to directly connect with my inner soul with the spirit of Almighty. Within the act 20:28, there is the reference of pastor, which is meant to provide all forms of protection to the religion and personal belief. From the message of Bible, I have been encouraged to become a pastor to overcome my barrier in gaining ultimate spiritual knowledge and experience of God.

From the words of the Bible it is clear that becoming of a pastor is directly connected with gaining all forms of knowledge that help to deal with the issue of restlessness[7]. The Bible have used the term “Tend the Flock of God” and “Act as Shepherd” to clearly describe the concept related to pastor knowledge. As I have been able to accustom myself with all the relevant concepts, I deeply felt connection with all the forms of messages that are related with that of God. With the past experience of my life, I become aware about the fact that with traditional Roman Catholic delegations it is often quite challenging for the common person like me to easily reach out and feel the spirit of Almighty. However, with feeling of pastor, I have been easily be able to connect with all the messages related to God that can be received and understood by people at all level.

From a very early period in my childhood, I have been thriving to reach out to God in a very simple and effective manner. I have also attempted various ways to easily reach out and connect my spirit with sensation of The Almighty. I failed in numerous occasions to reach out to the God and being a part of the Roman Catholic society.  However, in the later period as I become aware about the concepts related to Pastor, I really felt attracted as it being one of the easiest ways to reach out to the almighty and connect with the spiritual world.

One of the major challenges that I faced while becoming a pastor is due to the fact that most of the other people have become highlighted about the negative aspects within the Roman Catholic society. The head of the church or the bishop, also have given me enough advice that has inhibited my path of becoming a pastor. However, I do believe I have a clear sense of concept within myself understanding that has helped me to preach about the techniques related to spiritual journey of becoming a pastor.

I can strongly suggest about the fact that modern version of Bible with various verse and phrases related to that of pastor has been highly effective, in reaching out to the people of the modern society. This helps them to easily reach out and connect their personal life with that of spiritual journey and feeling the presence of Almighty. With the power of the almighty that is being easily sent out to the people of modern society, the popularity of the concept related to that of pastor. The modern society of human beings also have the trend to follow the path of protestant, which have become popular with that of the concept of countering the policy related to that of Roman Catholic beliefs.

This concept of protestant has been one of the bases of developing my motivation of becoming a pastor[8]. By inheriting this concept, it is possible for me to deal with all forms of challenges that are associated while following the path of traditional Christianity to reach out to the almighty. There are also several parts of complementary services that are associated with reaching up to the almighty by following the concepts of pastor. It also provided me the opportunity to directly oppose the irrational sayings that has been mentioned in the gospel. Working together with several types of preachers, who have directly encountered and questions the saints of the Roman Catholic Church I have been able to gain enough motivation that has helped me to reach out to the Gods. With the power of the almighty and the power of the preachers, it is easily possible for me to overcome all forms of mental and psychological barriers that have been implanted within my belief from an early period of childhood.

The concept of non-Episcopal belief is also one of the major parts of becoming a pastor that has encouraged me to reach out to the god[9]. This type of feeling has helped me overcome all my personal fears that are the result of all forms of personal experience. I can very strongly say that becoming a pastor is one of the crucial and significant step my life that has help me to gain personal level of spiritual journey. Now I do not have to depend upon traditional beliefs to preach God and make journey and spiritual beliefs. The Pentecostalism and the message that are delivered along with its principal have helped me to overcome all types of traditional beliefs. Hence, the following guidelines also have helped me over my path of dealing with all forms of spiritual challenges. I also have been able to emphasize upon my personal path of spiritual journey that has easily helped to deal with the major forms of challenges that I have faced due to my personal issues.

Conclusion:

I have read the Bible and have attended the Church, and yet I was unable to seek spiritual solace, at least I thought so. The spiritual aridity residing my heart could not have been removed, had I not been pushed to embrace a new religion that would completely alter the way I perceive the reality around me. I have realized over the years that there is no point in merely reading a Bible, but it is important to develop an understanding of the spiritual forces guiding one’s mind, and the same is possible only when one is able to feel the spiritual forces with the help of his heart. My family was not Pentecostal, and they subscribed to the Roman Catholic view, and yet I was unable to feel content with the religious rituals as practiced in the Catholic Churches. I could not feel the presence of the Holy Spirit. Hence, at times of distress, I could hardly feel the spiritual guiding force, leading me to the path of light. I would often feel deserted, as I would not be able to sense the spiritual force being present around me. It is no wonder that I have already preached “fire and brimstone” since such a long time, and I have been guiding my followers to perceive the Holy Spirit in their lives, in their actions, during each moment of the day. I believe that only a selected few who are being “chosen” or “called” by the Holy Spirit can ever enter into the “faithful” ministry of our Lord, and I have been one of them. I take immense pleasure in the realization that I was being called into the ministry and I was able to preach my first sermon shortly at a very young age. I have already spent a total of 18 years preaching as a “Pentecostal” preacher. It is such a beautiful experience how I have taught the “Jesus Only” doctrine known as the “Apostolic Faith” (United Pentecostal Church) over the years, and have been one of the reasons behind the spiritual enlightenment of my followers. Just like any other Clergy of the Catholic Church, I could become a skilful preacher, who knows each Biblical sentence and its allegorical implications, and yet remains unaware of the creative, passionate and engaging way of communicating the spiritual forces to the followers. I have been able to derive immense satisfaction from being a Pentecostal Pastor, as it has allowed me to fulfil the deep, spiritual needs of my congregants in the most dynamic and spiritually enriching way. I did not wish to become a Pastor simply to preach the Gospel, something any Christian would know, but to stir the spiritual emotions of my congregants, and to exercise a tremendously powerful spiritual experience on their minds. As a Pastor, I am working on to reach the people on an emotional plane, through speaking in tongue preaching, as well as praise music. I think that it is important to preach in a way so that we can passionately convince the hearers of the relevance of Scripture, while also inspiring intellectual exploration in them and applying the balm of healing, transformative grace than any speech can ever achieve.
 

References

Anderson, Allan Heaton. An introduction to Pentecostalism: global charismatic Christianity. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

Johnson, Rutherford. “Geographical and cultural insights into the Episcopal Church and the crisis in the Anglican Communion.” Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies Volume (2015).

Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 2014.

Lochrie, Karma. Margery Kempe and translations of the flesh. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

Pasquale, Gianluigi. “The Influence of Protestant theology on the catholic «historia salutis»’s concept. Theological debate in Europe.” Služba Božja: liturgijsko-pastoralna revija 57.1 (2017): 65-76.

Rabens, Volker. The Holy Spirit and ethics in Paul: Transformation and empowering for religious-ethical life. Vol. 283. Mohr Siebrek Ek, 2013.

Sæbø, Magne, ed. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. III: From Modernism to Post-Modernism: Part 2: The Twentieth Century-From Modernism to Post-Modernism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.

Smith, Kathleen E. “An old cathedral for a New Russia: The symbolic politics of the reconstituted church of Christ the Saviour.” Religion, State and Society: The Keston Journal 25.2 (1997): 163-175.

Synan, Vinson. The century of the Holy Spirit: 100 years of Pentecostal and charismatic renewal, 1901-2001. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2012.

[1] Smith, Kathleen E. “An old cathedral for a New Russia: The symbolic politics of the reconstituted church of Christ the Saviour.” Religion, State and Society: The Keston Journal 25.2 (1997): 163-175.

[2] Lochrie, Karma. Margery Kempe and translations of the flesh. University of Pennsylvania Press, 2012.

[3] Synan, Vinson. The century of the Holy Spirit: 100 years of Pentecostal and charismatic renewal, 1901-2001. Thomas Nelson Inc, 2012.

[4] Rabens, Volker. The Holy Spirit and ethics in Paul: Transformation and empowering for religious-ethical life. Vol. 283. Mohr Siebrek Ek, 2013.

 

[5] Anderson, Allan Heaton. An introduction to Pentecostalism: global charismatic Christianity. Cambridge University Press, 2013.

 

[6] Sæbø, Magne, ed. Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. III: From Modernism to Post-Modernism: Part 2: The Twentieth Century-From Modernism to Post-Modernism. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2014.

 

[7] Keener, Craig S. The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament. InterVarsity Press, 2014.

 

[8] Pasquale, Gianluigi. “The Influence of Protestant theology on the catholic «historia salutis»’s concept. Theological debate in Europe.” Služba Božja: liturgijsko-pastoralna revija 57.1 (2017): 65-76.

 

[9] Johnson, Rutherford. “Geographical and cultural insights into the Episcopal Church and the crisis in the Anglican Communion.” Journal of International Business and Cultural Studies Volume (2015).

Christian Spirituality

 

MTh Applied Theology and MA

 

This course has a number of aims…some of them, mine.

  • To enable you to understand the nature of the academic study of spirituality and successfully complete this module
  • To encourage you in those practices of prayer that will deepen your discipleship
  • To participate in experiences of worship and prayer that will relate to the study of spirituality and broaden your suite of options when it comes to your own daily devotions
  • To enable you to establish/re-establish/explore/experiment with daily prayers — in this first half through the daily office.

 

So, this is more than a module in your MA/MTh, and especially for those of you in ministry, or undergoing initial formation for ministry, this module takes you somewhere near the heart of ministerial formation.

 

  1. Introduction to Spirituality

 

 

“Spirituality as lived experience can be defined as conscious involvement in the project of life integration through self-transcendence toward the ultimate value one perceives.” [1]

 

— Spirituality is a life-long project, not a doctrine or set of practices. Nor is it simply an academic discipline, although it embraces all of those.

 

— For Christian believers it is the orientation of life towards the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in the power and under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, with the aim of increasing conformity to Christ. There are other guiding principles in a person’s life (such as consumerism, or the idolatry of family, or the pursuit of power) but these are not spiritualities.

 

— The process is one of self-transcendence, not self-fulfilment, or a narcissistic self-absorption. Plenty of “spirituality” is just that — narcissistic and self-centred — a concern for self-realization — but any Christian spirituality worth its name must remember the words of Jesus that he who wants to keep his life will lose it, and the one who loses his life, will find it. Rather than spirituality being a way of ‘finding’ oneself, it is the project of being given away in devotion to God and his world.

 

— It involves the whole of life, not just a set of prayerful practices, such as lectio divina, or contemplative prayer. It embraces the body as well as the spirit, relationships with others as well as with God, concern for the world as well as an orientation towards eternity.

 

Too often, an older tradition of spirituality was formulaic, and too narrowly focused upon the individual’s relationship with God (but as the roots of that tradition were in the religious communities of the monastic tradition, perhaps the relational dimension was taken for granted — they were living in a far closer community than most contemporary Christians are likely to experience. ) There is always a tendency to take what begins alive and fresh in the Spirit, hot-minted from the furnace of vital religious experience, and attempt to make it more widely available by regulation or prescription (think of the way the Pharisees took a 2nd century BC religious revival and by Jesus’ day had reduced it to legalism, or the way in which the Evangelical “Quiet Time”, so vital an experience of the Word and the Spirit for an earlier generation had become quite formulaic until charismatic renewal revitalised it for some.

 

The term spirituality is often used today in the vernacular as a contrast to ‘religion’ (in the same way that some Evangelicals if asked whether they were religious would reply ‘no’ — the term is used to contrast the personal relationship with Jesus Christ that lies at the heart of Evangelical piety and spirituality with the more formulaic or nominal religious practice.) In the wider world of post-modernism, spirituality is seen as the interior practices of meditation, prayer or mindfulness severed from any requirement to subscribe to a set of pre-existing doctrines, or affiliation to a religious tradition or church. From 1987–2000 David Hay demonstrated that the proportion of people who did not attend a place of worship but believed in a ‘spiritual reality’ increased from 29% to 55%.[2]  Paul Heelas and Linda Woodhead argue that this is an evolution of religion to a more contemporary ‘holistic spirituality’ — although at the same time, religious belonging also seems on the increase in many places around the world, so it is probably just a Western post-Enlightenment phenomenon in reaction to the prevailing materialist accounts of existence. Retreat houses and Catholic spirituality centres often supply a bridge between the two worlds of ‘religion’ and ‘spirituality’, enabling spiritual seekers to find a place to access ‘spirituality’, without conforming in any way to Roman Catholic religious beliefs or practices (offering workshops on the enneagram, mindfulness or meditation and silence for instance. This makes them seem dubious in the eyes of committed Evangelicals, but perhaps they offer a way of entry into the church for some who would not otherwise draw near.)

 

The term ‘spirituality’ is fairly recent in its current meaning. The Latin word ‘spiritualitas‘, relate to the word pneumatikos in Paul’s writings, meaning of the Spirit. It is not the opposite of ‘physical’ (soma, or corpus) but of ‘flesh’ (sarx, caro) — everything contrary to the Spirit of God. This usage continued until the 12th century and the rise of scholasticism. The word began to take on the meaning of intelligent humanity (as opposed to non-rational creatures), and especially the clergy. It only came to be used of the spiritual life in 17th century France, and then sometimes in a pejorative sense. It disappeared again until the end of the 19th and start of the 20th centuries, when it appeared again in French. From there it passed into English usage from translation.

 

Even then, it was really only after the Second Vatican Council in the early 1960s that the term spirituality came to replace earlier descriptors such as ascetical theology or mystical theology — and even now some of those terms persist. While there is the Bloomsbury Guide to Christian Spirituality (2012), and the New SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality (2005) Blackwells publishes The Wiley Blackwell Companion to Christian Mysticism (2013).

 

The term ‘mysticism’ is similarly relatively modern. In 17th century France la mystique is the first use of this term in its current meaning — a heightened awareness of the presence of God. ‘Mystery’ has an earlier usage in the New Testament and in the 6th century a Syrian, known as Pseudo-Dionysius, adopted the term ‘mystical theology’, and generally the great Christian mystics are simply those who practice the whole of their Christian life with a particular intensity. So, we might say that mysticism — the appropriation of the presence of God in experiences beyond speech — is a particularly intense form of Christian spirituality, and one way towards the experience of Christ that others find through alternative routes (charismatics through the experience of the baptism in the Spirit, or Puritans through the experience of assurance of faith, or St Paul in Romans 8:15–17, “When we cry ‘Abba! Father!’ it is that very Spirit bearing witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ — if, in fact, we suffer with him so that we might also be glorified with him.”

 

 

  1. Academic Discipline

 

Until the rise of Scholasticism in the 13th century, the integration of theology and spirituality was entire. Theology was done in the monasteries, and then in their outposts in the fledgling Universities. Spirituality was theology lived out, and theology was the articulation of the relationship with God. Benedict’s Rule integrated work, prayer and study in a way that the rise of rationality with Abelard’s generation of theologians began to pull apart. So, we have the current phenomenon of being able to hold a University post in one of the theological disciplines (Biblical studies, or systematic theology, for instance) while possessing no personal faith, let alone disciplines of prayer etc. This would have been unthinkable, even long after the Enlightenment had theoretically dismantled the link between personal faith and academic study.

 

In reaction to this, spirituality became by the 18th Century a non-academic set of devotional practices or pietism, and in some quarters — especially from the 20th century — the pursuit of mysticism and mystical prayer.

 

In the 1970s and 80s a new discipline began to be developed called “Spirituality” — the academic study of the spiritual traditions and practices, and of which this course is an immediate example. The reasons were complex, and included the desire to integrate theology and practice, the recognition of a much wider movement in society that was interested in self-fulfilment — with contributions from psychotherapy, a dissatisfaction with a hegemonic materialism, the concern for the environment and the discovery of Eastern religious experience from Buddhism especially. Even those least exposed to the historic practices of retreats, personal spiritual direction and contemplative prayer were exposed to this through a much more generous ecumenism. Influential for Evangelicals in the 1970s and 80s were Richard Foster’s Celebration of Discipline[3], with a forward by the charismatic Anglican David Watson; the writings of Brother Ramon — an ex-Baptist then Franciscan; and the evangelical Anglican, Joyce Huggett’s book introducing contemplative prayer, Listening to God [4]. For a more Anglo-Catholic world, people like Ken Leach wrote about spiritual direction alongside a passion for working with drug-abusers and a left-wing social conscience, and Harry Williams combined theology and spirituality in, for instance, The True Wilderness, and his auto-biographical Some Day I’ll Find You.[5]

 

By the 1990s Spirituality had become a particular sphere of research and publication, distinct from moral or pastoral theology, on the one hand, and from psychology or pastoral counselling, on the other. It is in this context 20 years on, that spirituality is taught in many theological institutions and faculties.

 

A particular development that I have recognised and utilised in my work on ministerial formation is the relationship between ethics and spirituality, accessed through the ‘virtues.’ In fact, spiritual theology was for a long time in Catholic thought a sub-set of moral theology — the spiritual person was the moral person — but by understanding how persons are formed in a tradition through the practices of that tradition, we can fruitfully integrate character development (growth in courage, humility, obedience, patience etc.) with spiritual development (growth in faithfulness, prayerfulness, worship, contemplation etc.)

 

There a number of differing approaches, or organising principles, to the academic study of spirituality — and you will need to decide which of these you wish to utilise in your own essay, and at this level, briefly justify why you have chosen them.

 

  1. The most common approach is the historical — spirituality becomes the study of the traditions and ‘masters’ of the spiritual life, in large part. So, distinct from the more familiar historical themes of church history, or the historical development of doctrine, or the development of the worship of the church (liturgical history), the historical approach explores the lived experience of Christians. For instance, where an older narrative of the Reformation in Britain assumed the bankruptcy of popular religious practice, the study of religious behaviour in the immediate pre-Reformation kingdoms of England and Scotland reveals a very lively and devout faith. This study of spirituality re-shapes the narratives of the Reformation, and makes it impossible to argue for ‘the true faith’ of Luther replacing a failed religious life of Late-Medieval Catholicism that was both decadent and decayed.[6]

 

So, this approach will study the founders of new traditions, such as St. Benedict, St Francis of Assisi, or St Ignatius of Loyola; or the mystical texts of Richard Rolle, Julian of Norwich, St John of the Cross or Bonaventure. It will relate spirituality to the other forces shaping the church culture of the times, with especial impact upon those more recent traditions such as Evangelicalism, charismatic Christianity or the re-discovery of Celtic monasticism in the second half of the 20th Century.

 

  1. Another approach is to ally the study of spirituality to the practices that inform discipleship or ministerial formation. It is closer — but distinct from — practical theology. Here spirituality is studied primarily in order to deepen the life of the individual or community, rather than to debate the evidence of its research with those in other theological arenas.

 

  1. An alternative approach is to situate the study of Christian spirituality within the broader anthropological sphere of “spirituality” as a pan-religious or ubiquitous phenomenon. Thus, parallels might be drawn between the practices of meditation in Zen Buddhism and Christian contemplative prayer, or the spiritual experience of demonic forces in Pentecostalism and African primal religion.

 

 

 

  1. Phenomenology of Spirituality.

 

The varieties of practice of the Christian church globally and throughout time are many. One way of categorising them is to distinguish between those that seem to rely primarily upon human effort and those that appear to be more divine in influence — this ancient categorisation is between the “active” and the “contemplative” approach.

 

Another means of understanding the differences is to place different approaches along a spectrum from the unknowable, hidden or imageless pole of the apophatic emphasis, to the richly imaginative approach that utilises one’s own experience, or art and music — the kataphatic emphasis.

 

Another begins with the particular charism or ‘USP’ of differing Catholic traditions (Carmelite, Ignatian or Franciscan, for instance) or Protestant denominations (Methodist, Baptist or Pentecostal spiritualities.) The impact of ecumenism means that such an approach must be hedged around by the awareness that there is a great deal of sharing of experience across traditions now. So, a Baptist might as well be a practitioner of contemplative prayer as the older ‘Quiet Time’ with its emphasis upon Bible study, use the Celtic Daily Office or the more ‘Catholic’ Order for Baptist Ministry’ offices, go on retreat or have a Spiritual Director, speak in tongues and encounter God primarily in the large ‘celebration’.

 

Spiritualities have been distinguished according to the ‘state’ of the individual (married/single; cloistered or dispersed; alone or in community; ordained or lay) or according to the particular nature of the person’s gender, sexuality, age or ethnicity. So, there is interest in black spirituality[7], in women’s spirituality[8], in young children’s spirituality[9] and in homosexual spirituality[10].

 

Two schemata for organising the different types of spirituality are those of Philip Sheldrake and Richard Foster. These typologies of spirituality recognise particular styles and practices within a shared tradition, or across the traditions.

 

(i)         Sheldrake identifies four types: (a.) “ascetical-monastic”— it sees self-denial, austerity and withdrawal as the way to grow; (b.) the “mystical” — desire for the immediacy of the presence of God though contemplative prayer; (c.) the “active-practical” — finding God in the midst of the everyday; and (d.) the “prophetic-critical” — an explicit commitment to social transformation).

 

(ii)        Foster’s typology distinguishes between (a.) the contemplative tradition; (b.) the holiness tradition (the virtuous life); (c.) the charismatic tradition; (d.) the social justice tradition; (e.) the Evangelical tradition (focussing upon the Word) and (f.) the incarnational tradition (the sacramental life.)[11]

 

  1. Post-modern Christian Spirituality

 

Bringing a number of these themes together we can identify some current trajectories that both the practice of spirituality and its research is taking.

 

  1. Spirituality as a free-standing set of practices, cut loose from the moral and dogmatic traditions of the church. In hospital chaplaincy there is offered “spiritual care” by chaplains, and this must be available to all, irrespective of their religious beliefs and affiliation. At its best this opens up a missional sphere and a door-way by which the Christian faith can be introduced, but more often it results in a ‘spirituality-lite’ form of religious narcissism, freed from the troubling demands of either the moral requirements of the Christian faith, or the tenets of faith that shape the belief of the Christian.

 

  1. Particular Practices are dislodged from their accompanying theological or religious roots. So, from the East yoga and tai chi are widely practiced without identifying with either Hindusim or Chinese religious traditions; mind-emptying meditation and mindfulness with their roots in Buddhism are practised as aids to personal well-being, while the monastic lectio divina or walking the labyrinth are now common-place in centres for retreat. This aids the ‘pick ‘n mix’ character of postmodern spirituality, but perhaps also avoids the depths that come from truly inhabiting a tradition over a long period. Post-modern spirituality is profoundly eclectic.

 

  1. The language of ‘spiritual journey’ reflects the rootless and migratory character of contemporary culture, easily bored and forever looking for the next new thing. This accompanied by a pragmatism that privileges what works, and what works quickly. It is the polar opposite of Benedict’s emphasis upon stability.

 

  1. Accompanying the mix of religious soils within which post-modern pick-‘n-mix spirituality is cultivated is the pervasive influence of psychology and its emphasis upon different psychological types (introspective/extrovert, for instance.) While this has some value in helping a person to discover where they might helpfully start a spiritual exploration, and match prayer type with personality type, for instance, it can also re-inforce the highly personalised and privatised character of post-modern spirituality.[12]

 

  1. The attraction of both Celtic Christianity and Native North American spirituality lies in their connection to the earth, to ecology and to a connected-ness between spirituality and religious traditions that pre-date the coming of Catholic Christianity — perceived as patriarchal, abusive and dogmatic.

 

  1. Where all such influences are viewed with dismay or scepticism, the response has often been an appeal to a re-discovery of practices. This is the way for Stanley Hauwerwas [13] and Dorothy Bass[14], as well as Paul Goodliff[15]!

[1] Sandra M. Schneiders, Christian Spirituality: Definition, Methods and Types. in (ed. Philip Sheldrake, The New SCM Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. London: SCM Press, 2005. pp. 1–6. 1

[2] cited in Philip Sheldrake, Spirituality. A Brief History. 2nd edition. Chichester: Wily-Blackwell. 2013. 5.

[3] Richard J. Foster, Celebration of Discipline. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 1980. cf. his Freedom of Simplicity. London, SPCK, 1981.

[4] Joyce Huggett, Listening to God. London: Hodder, 1986.

[5] H.A. Williams, The True Wilderness. Glasgow: Collins Fount, 1965; — Some Day I’ll Find You. Glasgow: Collins Fount, 1984. Harry Williams taught theology at Cambridge then became a member of The Community of the Resurrection at Mirfield (an Anglo-Catholic Community with a strong left-wing tradition that remains to this day an Anglican Community and Theological College.)

[6] cf. Eamon Duffy, The Stripping of the Altars. Traditional Religion in England 1400–1580. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1992. 2nd Edition 2005. This is the seminal work for this narrative.

[7] Robert Beckford, Jesus is Dread: Black Theology and Black Culture. London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 1998.

[8] Ursula King, Women and Spirituality: Voices of Protest and Promise. London: Macmillan, 1989.

[9] Gill Goodliff, Spirituality and Early Childhood Education and Care, in (eds) Marian de Souza, Jane Bone and Jacqueline Watson, Spiritualities across Disciplines: Research and Practice. Springer International Publishing Switzerland, 2016. 67–80. — Young children’s expressions of spirituality in creative and imaginary play. In (eds.) Gill Goodliff, Natalie Canning, John Perry and Linda Miller, Young Children’s Play and Creativity: Multiple Voices. London: Routledge, The Open University, 2018. pp.68–82.

[10] the many writings of John J. McNeill.

[11] Richard Foster, Streams of Living Water. London: HarperCollins, 1999.

[12] M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Travelled. A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978 was hugely popular mix of spirituality and psychology. cf. M. Scott Peck, In Search of Stones, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996. He describes himself in that book as a ‘nondenominational Christian’ (p.113), but he really admires the Quakers.

[13] See, for instance, Stanley Hauerwas, Performing the Faith. Bonhoeffer and the Practice of Nonviolence. London, SPCK, 2004.

[14] Dorothy Bass, Practicing our Faith: A Way of Life for a Searching People. San Francisco: John Wiley. 2nd Edition, 2010

[15] Paul W. Goodliff, Shaped for Service. Ministerial Formation and Virtue Ethics. Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, Wipf and Stock, 2017.