The roots of Christian Spirituality.
I am in the chapel, looking forward to more pearls of wisdom from David Runcorn. Spirituality is fast becoming the highlight of my week because it is here where we really get to wrestle with God and ourselves in a really gritty and honest but live-enhancing way.
So what does 'spirituality' mean? It is relatively new in the context of theological thinking and programmes like this one are relatively new in colleges. Sometimes it connotes more a Catholic sense of intimacy with God. But it is also about exploration of our inheritance, the mystical inheritance. It reminds us of the practices of monks who were known alongside clergy as the 'spiritualities'.
Where do we come across this word now? We certainly find it outside Church circles. The church does not have a monopoly on spirituality. Spirituality is cosmic. It is personal but it is never private. It speaks of ecology, it is cosmic in a way which has helped the church to catch up on green issues. It also encompasses our relationships and energies. It encompasses everything.
People will claim that they are not religious but they have a spirituality. Spirituality makes up our DNA. In Christianity it takes on a new context but we have been spiritual since we were created. Sometimes our longings get misplaced but it is fundamentally about who God has made us to be.
So what is distinctive about Christian spirituality?
If it has a colour for you, what colour would it be? If it were a dance what would it look like? For Jo and I it would be purple and a perichoretic dance, full of lots of circles and movement. What kind of texture would it have? A soft, luxurious velvet, perhaps.
We look at Ephesians 1:3-10.
3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. 7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace 8 that he lavished on us. With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment—to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ. David quotes from the passage of scripture which I have been analysing for the last two days. Wow! Yesterday I spent two hours looking at the word 'beloved'.
And so in this remarkable passage, spirituality is about enormous celebration and blessing, it leaves us as people of celebration. We have the wonder and the dance and the praise, the generous glory of God's gift which fills creation and he has chosen us. We have the language of adoption. Christian spirituality is deeply personal because he is calling us by name. It is intentional. God draws us in to a living relationship, into his household, our inheritance. It is about a revelation rooted and worked out in history and time and not in abstract ideas. It is about redemption. It is through his blood, to the enormous cost of God.
We will go through liberation, redemption, suffering, death and resurrection as we travel towards and never away from the cross.
It is costly. It is a narrow way and those who find it are few. We have to keep knocking, we have to face warfare and struggle and we will often be left in the dark.
It is about our destiny in God and nothing will be left out. It is the entire cosmos Christ holds together. It is gratuitous gift, something given with no regard, it is pure gift. There is no tag, there is nothing required in return. Spirituality is a gift, God chooses to love us this way.
Thank you, Father!
It is lavish, gift, goodness, grace. It's all just washing through. God gave us all this from the beginning and assured us it would come to fullness in Christ.
We are finite and fallen and so we often do not know how to handle it. At times we look for it to be safely packaged. It can become tribal. All Christian spirituality is a continuing act of reconciliation.
So where have the fault-lines fallen?
What are we going to do about it? We need to seek to pray beyond a tribal faith and we need to pray that we seek something other than a tribal faith! We must worry less about crossing fault-lines!
David Gillet - 'We can begin to benefit...from the pluralism of our age. It is something to be welcomed as a gift and opportunity from God. It is not something to be feared and rejected as an unwelcome feature of our culture.'
Be prepared to widen your horizons, David suggests. Many theological ordinands do not get placed in evangelical churches. What will we learn? We will realise that we can integrate, enter into this spirituality without feeling disarmed. But we need to learn. We are called to learn and to live beyond the tribes - this is our calling in Christ. Our God is not a tribal God!
Tribal faith keeps us safe but there is a challenge to break out of this, actually this speaks to me about my post entitled 'Going home'. There lies my tribal faith.
How else might we redeem our spiritual footprint? 'How great thou art' is one expression of a kind of homage to God. How much are we we creating pastoral idylls with our hymnody and thinking? Can we write an urban verse in the creation hymns that we sing. if you can write a rhyming verse - there's a bar of chocolate in it for you from David Runcorn.
We need to challenge the fault-lines and resist splitting the world. God is in all creation. Let's not 'chocolate box' it. God is not more in the mountains than the supermarkets! Fantastic.
The universe in its entirety gives glory to God.
Maximus the confessor said in the smallest thing we can contemplate the trinity. It's actual existence speaks of the creator God, it's meaning speaks of the logos and its life is the life of the Spirit. That is wonderful.
Clement said the incarnation needs to be put back into the whole scheme of creation ...everything in effect exists as a great movement of incarnation...it is all fulfilled in him. Clement is explaining that God is doing more than a rescue job for the whole world.
How else might we redeem out spiritual expression?
We have split Spirit and matter. This was exacerbated by a kind of Greek philosophy the results with which we are still living. There is a disembodied sense of the spiritual which is unhealthy. We are not to triumph over matter. We are not to abdicate matter. If we do we will pass Jesus who is going the other way. Spirituality is about taking flesh, it has to be embodied. Christ took flesh!
The place of the body in prayer is a place that we are slowly discovering. Consecrate each part of your body before you pray. Your body is not the enemy. Mime your prayers. I do this. Particularly felt I had to when I was so full of the Holy Spirit after New Wine. That was a wonderful time in my prayer life- that season!
Out of your heart flows running waters, living streams. Indeed!
The home of the Spirit is not the realm of the intellect, it is in the guts, a place of conflict, confusion, desire and vulnerability. Oh yes!
There is a question here for charismatic renewal. Incarnational or ecstatic (lit: 'out of matter'). Out of the sacramental renewal wave, people realised that all creation was a part of the renewal. Wimber's American Quaker revitalist movement led a move towards the ecstatic but we need to think about the place for renewal now. Will it look more cosmic and less ecstatic in the individualistic, escaping matter sense of the expression.
I wonder if it can be both and indeed David agrees that the two can be integrated. I guess this is wholeness where there is integration. I ask about Paul's more mystical 'third heaven' experiences, but I am reminded by David that he was very rooted too, very earthy, very fleshy in his sufferings. Paul Spirituality was a spirituality that was not disembodied and we we do experiences the 'third heaven' moments, we are to celebrate them as pure gift.
We are reminded that the personal life of prayer is not private, it is personal but it is is corporate because even alone, we pray to our father.
How else might we redeem our spiritual expression?
We must avoid splitting our wholeness into mind verses heart. Praying in a context of academic study as we are, we should be aware that we put unhealthy splits where there are none. All prayer is theology and all theology is prayer, it is all mystical, whatever is going on in brains ,we pray from our guts. We are not to split the mind from the heart. Sometimes this is often split on gender lines too and through history men have found it harder to engage with that which is not of the mind.
Objective, academic or emotional in response? We should not ask these questions. They do not exist. We wonder about the brain when we are engaging in stuff of the emotion. We should talk instead about the emotional mind. What we are doing is engaging with emotion when we are studying.
Thoughts, feeling, passions, relationships, all these things in Christ come together so that we live whole-heartedly for God. We need a profound understanding about what it feels like to 'know'.
In the present discussion on the web about faith, those choosing new bishops will decide that they want someone of orthodox faith and teaching but what do we mean by this?
Faith should be exploratory and not pinned into something tribal. David Runcorn feels it too narrow to be tied down. Ortho means right and doxo means glory, so orthodox actually means that you are filled with the glory of God. This is wonderful.
Prayer and theology are inseparable says Clement.
The session draws to a close, but I feel like I could have sat discussing these things forever!