Here are a few thoughts that have been bouncing around my head around the topic of Christian Spirituality with an eye toward its Anglican expression.
1) Spirituality is the cultivation of the habits of living out the Gospel. “Cultivation” is a set of ideas, beliefs, doctrines, and practices oriented around forming habits. Thus, spirituality is not simply an “idea” thing or a head thing—it’s a “doing” thing with head components.
2) The core of the Gospel as far as spirituality is concerned is that God, in Jesus, is reconciling the whole world to himself. This is fundamentally what we’re aiming at. God is calling all things back to himself, to the original created goodness of everything, that is part and parcel of Christ’s victory over sin, hell, and the grave.
3) Our habits align with God’s purpose of reconciliation when we are participating in love of God and love of neighbor. God wills for us to live in union with him. However, living in union with God and his will is only possible when we are living in union with our neighbors–as well as the rest of the created order. (Cf. 1 John: how can we say we love the God whom we do not see, when we are not loving our brothers and sisters whom we do…)
4) A key part of an authentic spirituality is a ruthless quest for reality. In order to act with love towards God and neighbor, we have to understand the true nature of these relationships, where and how we compromise them, and be committed to engaging the ways that we compromise them. Real spirituality is not a form of spiritual escapism (although there are false forms that may be); real spirituality is not a flight from reality—it is a flight towards it.
5) As a result, an authentic spirituality has to take both sin and evil seriously as components of life that compromise our relationships with God and one another. Part of facing reality means acknowledging ways that personal sin, corporate sin, and societal sin hinder and sabotage our relationships with God and one another. A number of spiritualities floating around in the Church recently tend to downplay sin—particularly personal sin—preferring instead to rest on the strength of our original created goodness. In no way do I want to deny that we were created good and have the image of God within us. However, to suggest that our everyday ways of being and relating naturally reflect these doesn’t match reality.
6) Encountering reality is an unsettling experience. It’s easier to talk about reality than it is to face it, acknowledge it or experience it. Indeed, one of the many functions of human societies at all levels is to create insulators that conceal reality from us. And we collude with them in ignoring it. What exactly am I talking about when I say reality? Well—that’s a big topic that I’m not going to tackle now, but I’ll just give you two examples. First, American society works hard to insulate us from the reality of death. We buy meat from the supermarket in convenient packages. We have specific places—hospitals and hospices–where sick people go and where death is suppose to happen. Second, society works hard to keep us entertained. Between mass media, professional sports, games on our smarts phones, you name it—there is a tremendous industry around giving us diversions. But diversions from what? From silence? From being alone with ourselves and with each other? Why are these spaces and silences so threatening to us—and to the powers that be?
7) Insofar as spirituality involves moving past these insulators and encountering reality as it is, it must always contain counter-cultural elements. Because of the social character of these things that insulate us from reality, an authentic spirituality will have to have counter-cultural components precisely because it must lay bare that which society wants to hide.
8) Engaging reality requires disciplines of triangulation. Because of the variety of things that insulate us from reality—social constructs, our own personal habits of self-deception—we need habits and practices that will ground and re-orient us to what is really real and to what our purpose is. The reading of Scripture, praying the psalms, works of mercy and justice, sitting in silence, confessing our sins to God or to another—these things help us get the perspective necessary to apprehend that which is real and of value. Any one of these on their own can be subverted into just another form of pious insulators; they need to be used in combination.
I love this, but I don’t understand what “disciplines of triangulation” means. (One minor spelling goof: in paragraph 6, ‘suppose’ should be ‘supposed.”
Good stuff here. I find #7 to be particularly apt.
I like #8 as well – the fact that any spiritual practice can become just a “pious insulator” if not done in combination with others. It’s all too true, and it’s really amazing – isn’t it? – how much effort it takes to get past all the self-deception and all the insulators!