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.


Essay: Spiritual Capital and Authentic Subjectivity, by Michael O’Sullivan, SJ

Michael O’Sullivan’s essay appeared in Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections, pp. 49-57. Drawing on the research of Alex Liu and others, Michael argues for the importance of  the fourth of the four capitals (material, intellectual, social, spiritual) within the context of modern society.

In an article in The Tablet (25 May 2013), (Cardinal Kurt) Koch, president of the Pontifical Council for Christian Unity, is quoted as saying that Europe needs a “spiritual currency besides the euro.” Koch in this quote is recognizing, it seems to me, that there can be such a thing as spiritual capital, and that there can and indeed needs to be resources rich in spiritual value we can draw from and for the sake of meeting the needs of our world and enhancing  its wellbeing. He is calling for the people of Europe to work out the meaning and value of this currency so that they can dialogue, relate, and cooperate on a shared spiritual basis and with a common spiritual way of proceeding.

Essay: Theorizing Christian Spirituality: The Sacred, Identity & Everyday Practices, by Philip Sheldrake

Philip Sheldrake’s essay appears in Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections (2016, pp. 27-40). Here is Philip’s opening paragraph:

My fundamental contention is that Christian spirituality cannot transcend the realm of materiality or escape the limitations of historical context. However, the way “spirituality” has sometimes been presented masks certain anti-material theological positions represented by a number of polarities. These express a hierarchy of values. Examples are interiority versus social existence, the experiential versus action (encouraging the separation of spirituality and ethics), and an elevated spiritual realm versus the mundane. I wish to begin by mentioning briefly two core issues – the nature of the sacred and the question of inwardness. I then want to suggest that an important corrective is the theological notion of “sacramentality.” Finally, the main part of this essay will concentrate on the multidisciplinary thought of the French Jesuit scholar, Michel de Certeau. De Certeau was a major figure in the development of the modern study of Christian spirituality and of mysticism. However, my focus will be on how his later social scientific work on The Practice of Everyday Life, including essays on the city, was influenced by spiritual values.

Book: Sacrality and Materiality: Locating Intersections, edited by Rebecca Giselbrecht and Ralph Kunz

This book, co-edited by SSCS member Rebecca Giselbrecht and published this year by Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, contains essays by other SSCS members. Here’s a summary from the publisher’s website:

Christian theology traditionally regards the sacramental as the polar opposite of the profane. The polarity is a memorial of contemporary desacralization, profanization, and sacralization that stands as a portal to the story of modern reality. In our liminal space, we neither de-sacralize our environs nor re-sacralize the world. The lines are blurred and our perception of spirituality is neither immanent nor transcendent.
This conference volume seeks to reply to the questions: Where does the sacred intersect with the material? What happens when they meet?

Rebecca is the Director of the Center for the Study of Christian Spirituality, a research network for scholars located at the Theological Faculty of the University of Zurich.

Book: Thinking Prayer: Theology and Spirituality amid the Crises of Modernity, by Andrew Prevot

Published in 2015 by the University of Notre Dame Press, Andrew Prevot’s book argues for prayer having a crucial role to play in theology today. He grounds his argument in the work of a number of recent thinkers in philosophy and theology. Here’s the publisher’s description of the book:

In Thinking Prayer, Andrew Prevot presents a new, integrated approach to Christian theology and spirituality, focusing on the centrality of prayer to theology in the modern age. Prevot’s clear and in-depth analysis of notable philosophical and theological thinkers’ responses to modernity through the theme of prayer charts a new spiritual path through the crises of modernity.

Prevot offers critical interpretations of Martin Heidegger, Hans Urs von Balthasar, Jean-Louis Chrétien, Johann Baptist Metz, Ignacio Ellacuría, and James Cone, among others, integrating their insights into a constructive synthesis. He explains how doxological and contemplative forms of prayer help one avoid dangers associated with metaphysics, including nihilism, conceptual idolatry, and the concealment of difference. He considers the powerful impact that the prayers of oppressed peoples have on their efforts to resist socioeconomic and racialized violence. The book upholds modern aspirations to critical freedom, while arguing that such freedom can best be preserved and deepened through prayerful interactions with the infinite freedom of God. Throughout, the book uncovers the contemplative dimensions of postmodern phenomenology and liberation theology and suggests how prayer shapes liberative ways of thinking (theology) and living (spirituality) that are crucial for the future of this crisis-ridden world.

More information about the book can be found on the publisher’s website.