Article: Building Global and Intercultural Studies in Christian Spirituality, by Claire E. Wolfteich

In this brief essay introducing readers to the articles contained in a supplemental issue of Spiritus, Claire Wolfteich writes “This … issue presents a sampling of the global and intercultural scholarship in spirituality that is, in many ways, a leading edge of our discipline.” A former president of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality, Prof. Wolfteich describes recent efforts by the Society to expand its membership to include a more internationally diverse representation of scholars. By creating an International Relations ad hoc Committee (IRC), the Society will pursue the following goals:

. . . to expand the international connections of SSCS so as to engage diverse contexts of spirituality scholarship; to build constructive exchanges between SSCS and international scholars; to welcome more international members; and to develop a more fully international presence/impact.

The Society’s other major effort to engage with scholarship on a global level has been a series of biannual conferences, which have thus far taken place in the US (2013) and South Africa (2014). A third will be held in Switzerland this coming June. Information about these meetings is available. Some of the papers given at the first two conferences are described in CSS blog posts; some of the presenters have made their papers available to SSCS members and the corresponding blog posts have a link for requesting a copy.

 

 

Article: Divine Opacity: Mystical Theology, Black Theology, and the Problem of Light-Dark Aesthetics, by Andrew Prevot

In this essay, Andrew Prevot, Assistant Professor of Theology at Boston College, tackles the issues raised for Black Christians who practice their religion in a tradition which has often used darkness as a metaphor for evil and ignorance. While seeing value in the darkness of God in apophatic mysticism and the blackness of God in black theology, Prevot argues for a third theological approach. He writes:

Instead of opting for either mystical theology or black theology, I propose a constructive synthesis of the two, not unlike that found in the works of James Noel.There are several reasons to prefer such a unified approach. On the one hand, mystical themes of unknowing, cruciform experience, and transformative closeness with God play important roles in the black spiritual and cultural traditions that inform black theology. Greater attention to mystical theology could help black theology better appreciate these aspects of its own sources. On the other hand, unlike other mystical traditions, black theology draws needed attention to the historical tribulations of darkly colored bodies and God’s loving concern for them. Moreover, black theology emphasizes a point that mystical theology seems to leave ambiguous, namely that God is not the secret agent behind these experiences of oppression but rather the liberator who promises victory over them. The first section of this article argues that a unified approach to mystical theology and black theology is conceivable because it is already to some extent actual, as Howard Thurman (among others) illustrates. This section makes the case that black theology is best understood not as a tradition separate from mystical theology but rather as critical continuation of it that develops it in ways that are vital for the whole church.

Having identified the possibility of a unified approach to mystical theology and black theology, I shall then turn in the second section to consider certain obstacles that arise for such an approach. First, there is a danger of equivocation. Despite some interconnections, the darkness of God that mystical theology associates with unknowing and purgative suffering is not synonymous with the blackness of God that black theology associates with liberating solidarity. “Dark” does not equal “black.” To address this concern, the second section investigates the similar and different ways that these traditions employ darkness and blackness theologically. A second obstacle emerges from this investigation: in different ways, mystical theology and black theology are able to affirm the darkness and blackness of God theologically only because they define darkness and blackness in terms of some sort of negation—whether this mainly means apophasis and ascesis, on the one hand, or oppression, on the other. The problem is thus that the dark and the black do not seem dissociable from the negative even in those Christian traditions that appear best equipped to challenge such an aesthetic assumption.

In the third section, I seek to address this problem by pursuing a phenomenological disclosure of the night and of darkly colored human flesh, as well as a theological interpretation of these positive phenomena as beautiful avenues of possible encounter with God. A positive theology of this kind, which includes darkness and blackness in its affirmative praises, is crucial to any potential overcoming of the aesthetics of white supremacy. Although mystical theology and black theology have made strides in this direction, they have not sufficiently specified the need for such a via positiva of darkness and blackness or developed it phenomenologically.

The final section of this paper argues that, although such a via positiva is necessary, it remains insufficient without an interrelated via negativa that can give a spiritually viable interpretation to the opacities of black life that are also phenomenally manifest. The unknowing, suffering, and oppression that have fallen on black human beings in a very particular way because of the aesthetics of white supremacy demand theological attention. The approach to mystical theology and black theology that I recommend seeks the liberating presence of the hidden God in these “opaque” circumstances, that is, in intersecting modes of darkness and blackness that have been caught up in the negations of history.

The article is available for free to SSCS members who receive online access to and a print copy of the journal Spiritus as membership benefits. Others can get the article through their library’s interlibrary loan service using this citation:

Prevot, A. “Divine Opacity: Mystical Theology, Black Theology, and the Problem of Light-Dark Aesthetics.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 16 no. 2, 2016, pp. 166-188.

News about the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana – Jesuit University in Bogotá, Colombia

The International Relations Committee (IRC) of the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality wants to promote the work of the Society by facilitating interaction between people and institutions across the world that are involved in the study of Spirituality. Diana Villegas, who lives in Colombia and recently joined the IRC, hereby offers a first report on her recent experience on work that is being done on Spirituality in Colombia. Readers who live and work in South America and who want to learn more about the Society or who want to share their interests and research are invited to contact Diana (dianavilsa@gmail.com).
Pieter G.R. de Villiers
President, SSCS

News about the Pontificia Universidad Javeriana – Jesuit University in Bogotá, Colombia
~Diana Villegas

The Theology Faculty of the Javeriana University has a solid commitment to research in spirituality, though currently professors of spirituality and research groups in spirituality are under systematics, one of three specialties in the theology department. (The others are Biblical studies and theology of action, most equivalent to practical theology.) Several professors focus on spirituality. Edith Gonzalez is interested in mysticism and did doctoral work on the Beguines. Rosana Navarro did her doctoral work on the spirituality of Etty Hillesum and continues to research her work. Hermann Rodriguez works on individual and community discernment in the tradition of Ignatius of Loyola. Orlando Solano has worked on the theology and spirituality of Gregory of Nyssa and Jorge Zurek specializes in Carmelite spirituality.

Professors Navarro, Rodriguez, Solano and Zurek together with a group of graduate students are engaged in an innovative group research project to analyze Latin American publications on liberation spirituality and examine development in teaching on this topic. The investigation is divided into four periods coinciding with the dates of the Latin American Bishops Conferences beginning with the Medellin conference which was strongly influenced by the emerging Liberation Theology. Two articles have been published in a peer reviewed journal corresponding to two periods, 1968 to 1979 (from the Medellin to the Puebla Conference) and 1979 – 1992 (Puebla to the Santo Domingo Conference). Two more articles are planned, one covering the period between 1992 (Puebla) and 2007 (the conference in Aparecida, Brazil); and a final article covering 2007 until the present.

The two published articles are:

Estupiñán, Miguel Ángel; Hoyos-Camacho, Adriana Alejandra; Navarro-Sanchez, Rosana Elena; Rodríguez-Osorio, Hermann; Solano-Pinzón, Orlando; Zurek-Lequerica, Jorge Antonio. “El despertar de la espiritualidad de la liberación: Evolución de sus expresiones desde Medellín hasta Puebla.” Cuestiones teológicas 40, no. 94 (2013): 405-31. http://www.scielo.org.co/pdf/cteo/v40n94/v40n94a06.pdf

Gómez-Díaz, Jairo; Hoyos-Camacho, Adriana Alejandra; Navarro-Sanchez, Rosana Elena; Rodríguez-Osorio, Hermann; Solano-Pinzón, Orlando; Zurek-Lequerica, Jorge Antonio. “El sentido teológico de una espiritualidad en camino: La espiritualidad de la liberación entre Puebla y Santo Domingo.” Cuestiones teológicas 43, no. 99 (2016): 149-74. https://revistas.upb.edu.co/index.php/cuestiones/article/view/6872/6283

 

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.