Essay: ‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’ Rainer Maria Rilke and the transformations of poetry, by Mark S. Burrows

In this essay, Mark Burrows, Poetry Editor of the SSCS journal Spiritus, explores Rilke’s focus on the role of the imagination in our inner transformation. Our fragmentary lives can be made whole through the power of the kind of archetypal imagery one can find in poetry. Here’s a portion of Burrow’s introductory paragraph:

Poetic language . . . is dynamic. One might even say that it is determinative of change, of the kind of interior change that alters the way we inhabit our lives and our world. But how does one ‘find’ such images for this journey of growth? Where do they come from? Rilke turns to such questions in a poem written a few years later, in 1902, describing poets as artists who are ‘enclosed in themselves’, and thereby ‘gather images both murmuring and deep’: ‘They go out and ripen through metaphor’, as he suggests, ‘and remain alone their whole life’ (Die Gedichte 243 ). The poet, in Rilke’s mind at least, must accept a life of solitude, the experience of Einsamkeit that sug­- gests both ‘aloneness’ and a sense of loneliness at once. The poet’s capacity to attend to this phenomenon has something of the eremitic about it, and indeed this conviction seems to shape the collection of poems Rilke wrote after returning from Russia in the fall of 1899 – The Prayers, later published as The Book of Monastic Life.

Here is a citation for the essay:

Burrows, Mark S. “‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’: Rainer Maria Rilke and the Transformations of Poetry.” In Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word, edited by Mark S. Burrows, Jean Ward, Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, 107-116. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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Book: Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word, ed. by Mark Burrows, Jean Ward, and Malgorzata Gregorgzewska

Mark Burrows, Poetry Editor of the SSCS journal Spiritushas co-edited this multi-author collection of essays which one reviewer has described as “an important resource for students of Christian spirituality.” According to the book’s introductory blurb:

This book explores the much debated relation of language and bodily experience (i.e. the ‘flesh’), considering in particular how poetry functions as revelatory discourse and thus relates to the formal horizon of theological inquiry. The central thematic focus is around a ‘phenomenology of the flesh’ as that which connects us with the world, being the site of perception and feeling, joy and suffering, and of life itself in all its vulnerability. The voices represented in this collection reflect interdisciplinary methods of interpretation and broadly ecumenical sensibilities, focusing attention on such matters as the revelatory nature of language in general and poetic language in particular, the function of poetry in society, the question of Incarnation and its relation to language and the poetic arts, the kenosis of the Word, and human embodiment in relation to the word ‘enfleshed’ in poetry.

The table of contents, Preface, and much of the Introduction by Burrows is available in a Preview PDF linked on the publisher’s page for the book.

Citation for the book:
Burrows, Mark S, Jean Ward, and Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, eds. Poetic Revelations : Word Made Flesh Made Word. The Power of the Word, Volume 3. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Citation for the quoted book review:
Staudt, K. H. “Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word (The Power of the Word III) ed. by Mark Burrows, Jean Ward, and Malgorzata Gregorgzewska (review).” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 17 no. 2, 2017, pp. 263-265.

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Article: Spirituality, Mothering, and Public Leadership: Women’s Life Writing and Generative Directions for Spirituality Studies, by Claire W. Wolfteich

Based on her presidential address given to the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality during the annual meeting of the American Academy of Religion in November 2016, Claire Wolfteich’s article in Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality describes the challenges posed by modern life to pursuing a spiritual practice. As a scholar of practical theology and spiritual formation (and as a mother!), she wants to explore the spirituality of mothers and mothering in today’s super-busy world. Here is the article’s abstract:

The history of Christian spirituality is filled with extraordinary models of holiness, tantalizingly different from contemporary everyday contexts such as the Desert Fathers who sit on pillars far from civilization, medieval women who find Jesus in an anchorage, Russian pilgrims who wander endlessly to learn how to pray, and young women who flee their comfortable homes to enter convents and then levitate amidst a soul-searing, heart-piercing union with God. I love to read and teach these classics, and as a practical theologian I seek to engage them in transformative and life-giving ways. But as I have studied and taught Christian spirituality for two decades, I, a laywoman, wrestle with the gaps between these texts and everyday practices: How do we address the hermeneutical silences that certain groups in particular encounter vis-à-vis classic texts? How do we, as scholars of Christian spirituality, retrieve, adapt, name, and/or construct a fund of spiritual vocabulary, imagery, and practice rich enough, resonant enough, moving enough, to speak to and to give voice to contemporary people? More specifically, as a mother of three children who permit little time for solitude or wandering over Russian steppes, I wonder: where do mothers find ourselves, those of us whose spiritual landscapes are not deserts or convents, our primary practices not often including pilgrimages or retreats? In a blog published in The New York Times, Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg describes her parallel experience, a difficulty in framing everyday mothering as spiritual practice, vis-à-vis Jewish traditions of spirituality: “There is a not-very-implicit assumption that someone else, somewhere, is in charge of the sticky, cuddly, needy, emotional little humans who evidently impede a person’s ability to live a life of spiritual service.”1 Noticing how few mothers people the classic texts of Christian spirituality, noticing the near absence of children in these spiritual itineraries, I ask: How articulate more fully the complexity of mothering as a dimension of Christian spirituality, as a spiritual practice? How might we identify and critically engage maternal spiritual wisdom (or lack thereof) from the Christian tradition?

SSCS members have free access to Spiritus. If obtaining it by interlibrary loan, here’s the article’s citation:

Wolfteich, C. W. “Spirituality, Mothering, and Public Leadership: Women’s Life Writing and Generative Directions for Spirituality Studies.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 17 no. 2, 2017, pp. 145-164.

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Article: The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same, by David B. Perrin

David B. Perrin, former president of the SSCS, recently published “The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same.” A shorter version was presented at the Biennual International Conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality: Prayer without Ceasing: Perspectives in Spirituality Studies (June 2017) which took place in Kloster Kappel, Switzerland, a seminar hotel and education center of the Protestant Reformed Church of Canton Zurich. Those interested may reference the article in the journal indicated or e-mail the author for a copy.

David B. Perrin, “The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same,” Vol. VIII, No. 2, July 2017, Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 28-41.

Here is the article’s abstract:

A Christian understanding of prayer, at the popular as well as the academic level, frequently holds up Jesus Christ as the model for interpreting what it means to pray. Think, for example, of the oft-cited text of Matthew 6:9-13: “This then, is how you should pray ….” But beyond reciting a prayer to the God of Jesus, as Jesus himself did often, how is prayer to be understood as an integral part of daily human life? What does it mean to “pray always,” as Paul admonishes in 1 Thess 5:17 “pray without ceasing” and many mystics and faith-filled Christians have instructed over the ages? This article, rather than focusing on the life of Jesus as a singular reality to engage an understanding of Christian prayer life (although stories from Jesus’ life are included), engages the communitarian life of the Triune God as the model for living and interpreting Christian prayer and how it is lived in the everyday life of the Christian. As such, the article frames Christian prayer as essentially informed by and lived through the prayer of the community of the Trinity – a community of life that is present in human moments of joy and celebration as well as moments of failure and disappointment. God, who is One, draws the Christian richly into Divine Life through the prayer of the Trinity to be the pray-er, as Jesus was. Of singular importance in the journey of being drawn into the life of the Trinity is the consideration of prayer as “self-realization” through “self-transcendence” as understood by Bernard Lonergan and others in the history of Christian spirituality.

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Article: Continuous Prayer in Catherine of Siena, by Diana L. Villegas

Diana Villegas has published an article on continuous prayer in Catherine of Siena. It’s freely available as an open access article in HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological StudiesShe gave a presentation of essential parts of the paper in June at the third Biennual International Conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality: Prayer without Ceasing: Perspectives in Spirituality Studies. Here is the article’s abstract:

Catherine of Siena offers considerable wisdom regarding continuous prayer. However, this wisdom is not well known because it is scattered among her texts, including over 373 letters, and is expressed in images and metaphors, the product of oral communication by a 14th-century woman with no formal education. Through a literary analysis of original texts, I will show the interconnection among the meanings of her symbolic communications, offering a narrative about continuous prayer. I will explore the meaning of inner cell and time spent in this cell for knowledge of self and God. I will show how this dual knowledge results in transformation of the deepest motivation at the core of the person. Living consciously and for God’s kingdom out of this transformed core of the self constitutes continuous prayer.

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Paper: Towards Wholeness: Christian Wisdom and Prayer Today, by Christopher Morris

Christopher Morris presented his paper in June at the third Biennual International Conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality: Prayer without Ceasing: Perspectives in Spirituality Studies. Attended by 70 participants from fourteen countries and five continents, the conference took place in Kloster Kappel, Switzerland, a seminar hotel and education center of the Protestant Reformed Church of Canton Zurich. Here is the paper’s abstract:

Christian wisdom…is the rediscovery of the Christ-event in the context of this larger, dynamic and interrelated world of reality. (Bruno Barnhart)

This paper will develop the Christian wisdom perspective of the Camaldolese Benedictine monk Bruno Barnhart who died in 2015. He defines wisdom as participatory knowing: a knowing that is personal, experiential and tending towards union with that which is known. Barnhart argues that from its beginning Christianity expressed itself as ‘wisdom’ and that a participatory approach was central for the first twelve centuries. Intrinsic to theological discourse therefore was deep personal engagement (and transformation) and this was related to the practice of prayer. As Evagrius of Ponticus stated in the fourth century: The true theologian prays, and to pray is to do theology truly.

This wisdom approach then began to wane with the advent of scholastic theology and the ongoing emphasis on objectivity leading to an increasing separation between the knower and that which was known. Despite these developments Barnhart believes that today’s plural and global context is ripe for the rebirth of a Christian wisdom approach. His approach entails four movements (the Sapiential Awakening, the Eastern Turn, the Western Turn and the Global Turn) and maintains participatory knowing as its defining feature (in continuity with early Christianity) while at the same time integrating (and confronting) the developments of history and especially the dominance of a purely rational approach to knowing.

The paper will argue that Barnhart’s approach offers two interpretative principles: unity and generativity. It will propose that they suggest a path towards wholeness that attempts to reimagine the Christ-event in today’s larger, dynamic and interrelated world.’ It will explore how this perspective might offer insights into ‘prayer without ceasing’ today with reference to the notions of ‘lived experience and self- implication’ from the discipline of Christian Spirituality and which may be understood as parallel to Barnhart’s participatory approach.

SSCS members can obtain a copy of the paper by contacting the blog moderator.

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Article: Metodologia ermeneutica nella spiritualità cristiana: fenomenologia e interdisciplinarità, by David B. Perrin

David B. Perrin, former President of the SSCS, is pleased to share information about the following recent publication “Metodologia ermeneutica nella spiritualità cristiana: fenomenologia e interdisciplinarità” available in the online academic journal Mysterion: Rivista di Ricerca in Teologia Spirituale, Anno 10 Numero 1 (2017), 5-21.  You will have guessed that this publication is in Italian but the synopsis below is in English.  The article was first presented at a conference at the Teresianum University, Rome, Italy in May 2013.  You may access the article online at

This article examines how hermeneutical methodology offers the researcher in Christian spirituality a way to understand “movements of meaning in life” such that the meaning of human existence within the movement of the Divine in the world can be discerned.  In order to accomplish this task as it applies to Christian spirituality, hermeneutical methodology pushes the researcher beyond a singular conceptual framework, theological or other, to advance and adjudicate the results of research projects.  Furthermore, hermeneutical methodology evaluates the perspective (bias and prejudice) of the researcher as a positive contribution to the research analysis.  As such, the article explains why the study of experience as experience – the formal object of study in Christian spirituality – is seen as the door to seeing new and exciting ways that the Divine is active in “making all things new.” (Rev. 21:5)

Also available in English.  See: “Hermeneutical Methodology in Christian Spirituality,” Theoforum 44 (2013), 317-337 or contact

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