Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Christian Spirituality

Yesterday the Center for Christian Spirituality hosted a panel presentation along with a question and answer session on the topic "What is Christian Spirituality?"  The Center for Christian Spirituality is housed at St. John's Episcopal Church near downtown Mt. Pleasant.  I was asked to be one of the five panelist. 

The task was and remains an intriguing one - what is christian spirituality?  Each of the panelists approached the question with a different perspective sharing in many ways from the religious traditions from which they came and from personal experiences. 

My presentation centered around the holiness movement that helped give shape to the Free Methodist Church.  The goal, as Free Methodists would understand it and as I concur with, is that we reach a state of glorification.  Those in the eastern church could understand this as deification, or in roman terms, complete union with the trinity. 

This has led the holiness churches to at times run from things which could hinder a persons progress toward union with God, and at times to become legalistic.  Yet the grace of the Gospel is that as we read Jesus and encounter Jesus, he reminds us that His life is one of grace, and an embracer of life, a healer of the wounded.    Thus at the moment we are a community that anticipates the incarnation to be embodied in the church, often a church that is not yet complete, yet remains a work in progress, being made holy by the Lord. 

In the past we tended to define Christian Spirituality by what one did not do.  Today we often define Christian Spirituality by what one does, or what resources one takes advantage of.  Underlying both however is the teleological doctrine of glorification, mystic union with the triune God.  We look for it in the future, we long and pant for it now, we receive all we can with thanksgiving, and rejoice in God's great mercy. 

What do you think Christian Spirituality is?

1 comment:

rcwollan said...

In our time, "spirituality" is a notoriously nebulous word. This can cause many well meaning Christians to start down questionable paths because they have been informed by questionable sources (even if some of those sources include their churches and pastors). Too many church leaders have been educated in feel-good, warm-fuzzy, New Age sorts of spiritual practices with the goal being some form of self-actualization or internal peace rather than union with Christ. Thankfully, we have in recent decades had the likes of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, Henri Nouwen, and others who are helping post-moderns connect with a genuinely Christian spiritually that has its roots in the ancient church and biblical Judaism.

Jason you are "spot on" in identifying the goal of Christian spirituality: Holiness, union with God. So, spirituality is truly a very practical thing-- the "how to" of achieving that goal. Real Christian spritiuality can never be about some higher meditative plane or transcendental experience. Rather, it is annoyingly concrete and weaves itself into the very warp and woof of our daily routines. It is not magical or mystical (although there is great mystery how God uses such mundane practices to infuse His grace and very life into us) in the sense that we just need to stumble upon the right words or formula to gain access to God. Instead, it is as unexciting as choosing to set your alarm in order to get up before everyone else so that you can practice silence, solitude, and recite the daily office. It's not sexy, or wrought with mystical visions-- lightening bolts usually do not come flying out of your fingers, or out of a clear blue sky during, say, the reading of that day's Psalm!!
But I suppose the mundane, routine, daily-ness of it all is precisely the point. If the God of the universe cannot be united to us there, what value does He really have for us?

Christian spirituality is the practices handed down to us by our fathers and mothers in the faith that facilitate the inflow of God's grace and very life into our daily lives so that we may be transformed steadily into living icons of Christ.