Article: “O Sweet Cautery”: John of the Cross and the Healing of the Natural World, by Mary Frohlich

In her article for Horizons: The Journal of the College Theology Society (v. 43, n. 2, Dec. 2016, pp. 308-331), Mary Frohlich  argues for the value of the great 16th century Spanish mystic’s spirituality in meeting today’s ecological challenges. In the article’s abstract, Mary writes

Contrary to what may appear in a superficial understanding of his spirituality, John of the Cross strongly affirms the goodness of creation and its capacity to mediate the presence of God. He specifically identifies the web of mutual interactions among creatures as a primary manifestation of divine love, and he affirms that the more a person participates in God, the more he or she participates fully and joyfully in this community of creatures. Activation of creation’s full capacity to mediate divinity, however, depends on the full fruition of the human person in God. Experientially, this involves a lengthy process of a back-and-forth rhythm between the glimpse of God in creation and the complete renunciation of dependence on creaturely knowledge in favor of faith. John’s writings invite us to participate in the healing of the natural world by pursuing this contemplative rhythm all the way to its fruitional climax.

Essay: Rewilding Christian Spirituality: Outdoor Sacraments and the Life of the World, by Lisa E. Dahill

Lisa Dahill contributed this essay to the collection she co-edited with Jim B. Martin-Schramm, Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016; pp. 177-196). In it, she addresses the problem of “the disconnection between much of contemporary human life from the living reality of the natural world.” In an early paragraph, she describes the goal of her essay:

This essay is my response to . . . the cries from all over Earth of those already suffering the effects of climate change and global economic injustice, and the great call echoing from the planetary systems necessary for the flourishing of life as we know it. How does Christian spirituality creatively cherish and respond to the new “Eaarth” we inhabit, the new geological age we have entered? Here I outline a Christian spirituality of biocentric sacramental reimmersion into reality: “rewilding” Christian spiritual practice for the Anthropocene. To summarize at the outset: I believe that Christian ecological conversion requires new and re-prioritized physical, spiritual, and intellectual immersion in the natural world. Thus I will argue for restoration of the early church’s practice of baptizing in local waters, for new forms of outdoor Eucharistic life, and for reclaiming primary attention to the Book of Nature alongside our attention to the Book of Scripture.

Note: Lisa’s use of the term “Eaarth” is based on Bill McKibben’s book, Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 2011).

Book: Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril, edited by Lisa E. Dahill and Jim B. Martin-Schramm

Former SSCS President Lisa Dahill has co-edited Eco-Reformation: Grace and Hope for a Planet in Peril (Eugene, OR: Cascade Books, 2016), a book of essays by sixteen Lutherans writing about climate crisis. Taking next year’s 500th anniversary of Luther’s posting his 95 theses as their cue, the essayists explore the theme of a new theological reformation which addresses the ecological challenges facing the world today. Here is the publisher’s blurb:

In 2017 Christians around the world will mark the five hundredth anniversary of the Reformation. In the midst of many appeals for reformation today, a growing number of theologians, scholars, and activists around the world believe Reformation celebrations in 2017 and beyond need to focus now on the urgent need for an Eco-Reformation. The rise of industrial, fossil fuel-driven capitalism and the explosive growth in human population endanger the fundamental planetary life-support systems on which life as we know it has evolved. The collective impact of human production, consumption, and reproduction is undermining the ecological systems that support human life on Earth. If human beings do not reform their relationship with God’s creation, unspeakable suffering will befall many–especially the weakest and most vulnerable among all species.

The conviction at the heart of this collection of essays is that a gospel call for ecological justice belongs at the heart of the five hundredth anniversary observance of the Reformation in 2017 and as a–if not the–central dimension of Christian conversion, faith, and practice into the foreseeable future. Like Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, this volume brings together critical biblical, pastoral, theological, historical, and ethical perspectives that constructively advance the vision of a socially and ecologically flourishing Earth.

Article: Authentic Subjectivity and Social Transformation, by Michael O’Sullivan

In his article appearing in the open access journal HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, vol. 72, no. 4 (2016), Michael O’Sullivan stresses the significance of the Second Vatican Council in establishing a deep connection between Christian spirituality and engagement in social justice. The article’s abstract follows:

Holiness in the Christian tradition has often been understood in a way that devalues embodiment and practical engagement with the world of one’s time. The latter understanding, for example, led to Marx’s critique and repudiation of Christianity. Both interpretations of holiness can be understood as mistaken efforts to express the dynamism for authenticity in contextualised human subjectivity. Vatican 2 opposed both views by addressing itself to all people of good will, declaring that everyone was called to holiness, and that authentic Christian identity involved solidarity with the world of one’s time, especially those who are poor. Vatican 2, therefore, provided an authoritative faith foundation for holiness expressed through social commitment and for viewing social commitment on the part of people of good will in whatever state of life as a form of holiness. This vision was also the conviction of leading spirituality writers of the period, like Thomas Merton, and inspired liberation theologians and the Latin American Catholic bishops at their conference in Medellín a few years after the Council. The argument of this article is that the emergence and development of a non-dualist Christian spirituality is grounded methodologically in the correct appropriation of the common innate dynamism for authenticity in concrete human persons and lived spiritual experiences consistent with and capable of enhancing this dynamism.

The full article is available here.

Essay:The Intersection of Sacramentality and Materiality: Testimony, by Rebecca A. Giselbrecht

Prof. Giselbrecht’s essay which appears in Sacramentality and Materialty: Locating Intersections (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016, pp. 183-190), a volume she co-edited with Ralph Kunz, begins with reference to the verbal exclamations of Mary and Hannah when they experienced God’s Spirit opening their wombs. She goes on to argue that their words were the result of the meeting of sacrality and materiality, a profound speech event, a testimony, that was at one with the experience of miraculous conception.

Not only was the theotokos [Mary] compelled by the light to speak of the light; all those who come into contact with the light are obliged to express what they have experienced, because at the intersection of materiality and sacrality the word became flesh. When men and women bear the light within, they must bear witness to it. . . . Testimony is an affirmation of the absolute as a matter of faith; it is a reflection of Trinitarian prayer. A look at the Reformer, Heinrich Bullinger (1504-1575) and his commentary on Romans 10 and a really short explanation of Paul Ricoeur’s hemeneutic of testimony will help to further clarify my point.

Essay: Interiority and Christian Spirituality: Why Our Inner Lives Are Not Quite as Inner as We Might Like to Think, by John Swinton

In this essay appearing in Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016), John Swinton challenges readers to reconsider certain common terms used in the scholarship of spirituality. In an early paragraph, he writes:

The approach I want to take is slightly different from the standard theological and philosophical discussions of interiority and materiality. My central focus will be on two groups of people whose perspective is rarely engaged with discussion around interiority and materiality: people with profound intellectual disabilities and people with advanced dementia. I want to use the life experiences of these two groups of people to offer a challenge to accepted views about interiority and to open up conversations about spirituality, embodiment, inwardness and action.

Essay: Embodied Knowing and the Unspeakable Sacred: Practice in Christian Spirituality, by Claire E. Wolfteich

In an essay appearing in Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2016), Claire Wolfteich proposes to expand scholarship in spirituality beyond the more common approach of studying texts to exploring spiritual practices. She writes

I will address the theme of materiality and sacrality from the perspective of practical theology and spirituality studies. Spirituality scholarship has yet to address fully the important to turn to practice, lived religion, and material religion – as noted, for example, by Arthur Holder’s critique of the dominance of spiritual “classics” texts as focus of study within the field.* . . . Practical theology, on the other hand, clearly makes “practice” a central category of theological inquiry and embraces empirical research to unfold local, everyday, embodied religion. . . . I argue for the study of everyday, embodied practices such as work and mothering as important foci for the study of Christian spirituality while also advancing a conception of mystical practical theology that leaves space for the unspeakable sacred.

*Holder, Arthur, “The Problem with ‘Spiritual Classics’,” Spiritus 10, no. 1 (Spring 2010): 22-37.

Article: The Clash of Transcendence and History: The Conversion of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Part II, by David B. Perrin

The second part of David’s article on Oscar Romero has been published in Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation (July, 2016: Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 60-76). Here is the article’s abstract:

Óscar Arnulfo Romero y Galdámez (1917-1980), a Salvadoran bishop, lived during a time of great political and civil turbulence.  The local Roman Catholic Church, regrettably, did little to quell the suffering of its people.  Romero, in the earliest part of his episcopacy and similar to the bishops around him, fell into this space of complacency.  Quite remarkably all of this was to change for Romero in a radical way with the turn of events in 1977.  At this time Romero changed from an introverted conservative to an outspoken champion of his people.  This article is an analysis of how such a change, such a conversion, can be framed and understood within the traditions of Christian spirituality: in the clash of transcendence and history, that is, an understanding that God meets God’s people in the events of their lives – even tragic ones as is witnessed in the people of El Salvador – is conversion wrought.  What is special about Romero’s conversion in the clash of transcendence and history is the similarity of it with the lives of those whom the Church has come to know as “mystics.”  Romero, in the end, gave his all to become the very Face of God, for his own people but as importantly for those of Latin America and now for the whole world.  The sign of a mystic, martyr and saint indeed.

SSCS members wanting a copy of both parts of the article can contact the author.

Essay: Gazing at the Wounds: The Blood of the Lamb Imagery in the Hymns John Cennick, by Tom Schwanda

Appearing in the volume Heart Religion: The Reshaping of Protestant Piety, The Sources and Nature of British Pietism, 1690–1860 (edited by John Coffey, Oxford University Press, 2016, pp. 113­–137), Tom’s essay explores a theme found in many hymns by John Cennick, (1718 –  1755) an early Methodist and Moravian evangelist. Here’s Tom’s summary:

Eighteenth–century evangelical hymnody reveals a fascination for the blood and wounds of Jesus Christ.  This chapter explores this development by comparing the hymns of two Moravians, John Cennick and Count Zinzendorf.  Cennick is little known today but was the author of some of the most popular hymns of the eighteenth century.  Zinzendorf was the leader of the Moravians and known for his extravagant language of devotion to the side wound of Jesus.  Hymns were one of the primary texts of evangelical spirituality and tended to focus on the heart for the stimulation of affections and deeper formation.  This essay traces the historical roots for the blood of the lamb imagery.   While neither author was aware of the medieval sources that Caroline Walker Bynum analyzes in her book, Wonderful Blood, Cennick traced his inspiration to an Ignatian text and Zinzendorf to early German Lutheran pietistic sources.  “Gazing at the Wounds” provides a contemplative approach to studying these hymns and suggests ways that the metaphor was intended to shape its readers.  The chapter concludes that while there were numerous similarities between Cennick and Zinzendorf, that Cennick’s more moderate poetic imagery has continued to inspire contemporary evangelical hymnody.

Article: Authority in Spiritual Direction Conversations: Dialogic Perspectives, by David Crawley

David Crawley’s article (Journal for the Study of Spirituality 6:1 (2016): 6-19) offers a way of understanding what happens during spiritual direction by focusing the role of authority. Here is the article’s abstract:

The dynamics of authority within spiritual direction relationships are more complex than is often acknowledged. This is especially so in relation to the ways in which meaning is co-authored by directors and directees in their conversations. This paper proposes that authority in such contexts be thought of as ‘authority’, comprising three main elements: presence, ownership and play. The literary theory of Mikhail Bakhtin is used to highlight the dialogic character of all meaning-making, and to illuminate the ways in which these three facets of authority function in conversation. These insights are applied to specific aspects of spiritual direction practice, showing how these may support or subvert directees’ own authority as they seek to make meaning of their lives in partnership with their directors and with God.