13 CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
CATALYST SUGGESTION SHEET #13
IS SPIRITUALITY RELEVANT TODAY IN AUSTRALIA?
The Australian poet, Les Murray, answers this question very well:
While (the Christian) vision is no longer the dominant one (in Australia), and may never have been, neither is any other at the moment. There is as yet no other vision abroad in our society which commands the same authority as ours does, the same sense of being the bottom line, the great reserve to be called on in times of real need. Many of the themes of the rallies are necessary problem solving and little more, and much in the spiritual supermarket is fair weather stuff, adjuncts to a prosperity which may now be vanishing. Unbelief, once a daring and rather aristocratic gesture, must now have exhausted most of its glamour; it is certainly no longer exclusive, or particularly rebellious. Much the same could be said of sexual indulgence, pornography and the like. Having by now surely lost most of its flavour of forbidden fruit, sexual licence has to justify itself in terms of whatever real satisfaction it can give; its utility as a bait to draw people out of traditional ways and beliefs, and if possible into new allegiances, must by now also be wearing thin. And it will be difficult at the very least, for the cult of unremitting youthfulness and physical beauty to survive in the era of aging populations which it has helped to produce. By now liberal humanism is as badly fragmented by dissension as our witness ever was, and its fiercest adherents are often covertly uneasy at its lack of gentleness, its readiness to force the facts and its desolate this-worldliness. Its unrelenting adulthood forces people onto the thorns of tragic complexity and the strange intractability of the world, and often when people who subscribe to it relax for a moment, their eyes are seen to contain an almost desperate appeal: please prove us wrong, make us believe there is more to it than this, show us your God and that Grace you talk about. We are more widely judged on our own best terms than we think, and more insistently expected to be the keepers of the dimension of depth than we find comfortable. (Les A. Murray, "Some Religious Stuff I know About Australia" in D. Harris et al, eds., The Shape of Belief: Christianity in Australia Today, Lancer, 1982, pp. 25-26 of pp. 13-28.)
WHAT IS SPIRITUALITY?
Spirituality is living relationships - with the Great Mystery (however we name that), with ourselves, with other people and with the created world. Spirituality is at the heart of being human. This fourfold relating finds its unity in the Source of all Unity - the One we call, in our Western English language tradition, God. A healthy spirituality is a living and deepening integration of those relationships and goes on integrating them in a never-ending journey of discovery.
We cannot live a fully human life without spirituality. Nor can we live an entirely private life with spirituality. Of its very nature, spirituality is communal, finding its fullest expression in love. "Private spirituality" is a contradiction in terms. An authentic spirituality will have us constantly moving in a self-transcending way, always going beyond ourselves, always seeking to ground life in the Great Mystery rather than mere ego or ideology or project. It will seek to heal and build relationships, it will proceed by way of facilitation rather than conquest, and it will be recognised by the grace and freedom it brings to the market place of human endeavour. Spirituality is mutuality, living life as dialogue, attentive, listening. It will, in the end, always see life as a mystery to be lived rather than a problem to be solved.
FOUNDATIONAL SPIRITUALITY AND SPECIAL SPIRITUALITIES
It is helpful to distinguish between foundational spirituality and special spiritualities. Foundational spirituality is a theoretical construct, containing all - and only - the essential features of spirituality. No human life can contain all the essential features, fully expressed, fully lived. Special spiritualities are the lived instances of spirituality, expressing some of those essential features. While special spiritualities do not explicitly and fully express all the essential features of spirituality as such, neither do they express any features that would be contrary to those essential features. The major religious and cultural traditions of the world have many special spiritualities as part of their traditions. Within Catholicism, for example, we have, among others, the special spiritualties of the Benedictine, Carmelite, Franciscan and Jesuit traditions. Special spiritualties provide ways of developing a rich and well-grounded personal spirituality that suits a certain temperament, lifestyle or phase of development. However, some special spiritualties may in fact be obstacles for certain people who are not suited to the ways of that special spirituality.
THE DISTINGUISHING MARKS OF CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY
Christian spirituality is a special instance of spirituality as such. While it shares with any authentic spirituality the fourfold relationship, it has its own way of expressing and fulfilling that. The distinguishing marks of an authentic Christian spirituality might be indicated as follows:
Christian spirituality will first and foremost be Christ-centred. Jesus of Nazareth, whom we believe to be Son of God, embodies in His life, action, person and teachings the ultimate source, measure and reference for all that claims to be "Christian". In particular, through His death and resurrection - the Paschal Mystery - we are set free from that which prevents us coming to be what God made us to be. Through Him, with Him and in Him we live. All else that is specifically Christian about spirituality is already implicit in the reality of Jesus Christ. Therefore we say that Christian spirituality:
finds its beginning and end in God’s will and God’s action in the world and God’s liberating love for each of us (rather than in our will, our achievements or what we must or must not do);
will focus on grace before personal effort;
will be grounded in the Word and will draw wisdom and insight from the way the community of the baptised has heard, understood and lived the Word through the ages;
will give a central place to the Cross and what Thomas Merton has called "the paschal rhythm" of life; Christian spirituality is necessarily a paschal spirituality;
will find in the Eucharist - the community’s celebration of the Paschal Mystery - a central and guiding action, a lodestone as it were;
will be ecclesial, serving the community, always seeking the unity of the Body of Christ, finding its fullest expression in and with the assembly of the baptised;
will be eschatological, marked by the conviction that history, under the power of God’s Spirit and with our cooperation, is moving towards a consummation of all things in Christ, that the Kingdom is ultimately much more than any political, social, economic ideology could envisage;
will be incarnational, daily moving more deeply into the human condition and the human situation, always working through Him, with Him and in Him to bring about the freedom of creation so that eventually all that is might come to be what it is called to be in the will of God.
SUGGESTIONS FOR REFLECTION AND DISCUSSION
Describe "spirituality" in your own words.
What has been your experience of "spirituality"?
Describe how you relate with God.
Which of the four relationships needs most attention in your life at the moment? Why?
How would you describe your experience of specifically "Christian spirituality"?
Who is Jesus Christ for you?
What area of specifically "Christian spirituality" would you like to give more attention to?
What would you say has been the most significant factor in the development of your own spirituality?
What does it mean for you to say that "Christian spirituality" is ecclesial?
What does it mean for you to say that "Christian spirituality" is eschatological?