Article: The Ascetic Life of the Ultrarunner, by Miriam Díaz-Gilbert

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert’s article describes how her experience training for a highly rigorous sport can be compared to Christian ascetic practices. Here are the article’s introductory paragraphs:

The early Christian ascetic body. The modern-day ultrarunner body. What kinship do they share? This personal narrative explores the similarities between the two and how the ascetics’ treatment of the body resonates with my spiritual ritual as an ultrarunner.

The early Christian ascetic experienced a demanding and difficult life of self-discipline, self-denial, prayer, fasting, repentance, and celibacy. The goal of the ascetic life was spiritual development, spiritual edification, and uniting body and soul with God. Paul introduced the practice of asceticism to Christianity by using athletic terms that emphasized the “self-sacrifice, discipline, and self-control” required in living as a purposeful and unwavering Christian. Christian ascetics such as Antony of Egypt, Evagrius Ponticus, Francis of Assisi, Catherine of Siena, and Teresa of Avila, among others, are often described as athletes. As an ultrarunner, I draw strength and inspiration from their example and recognize our bodily connection. Today’s ultrarunners are literal ascetic athletes who engage in extreme, meaningful bodily experiences and practices very similar to the ascetics. Ultrarunning has a distinct spiritual dimension that lends itself to solitude and reflection, and is a kind of embodied spiritual practice that I call “ultrarunning spirituality.”

Ultrarunning is defined as running any distance beyond the standard 26.2-mile marathon. The most common are 50 and 100 miles, and 50 and 100 kilo-meters (31 and 62 miles). Six-hour, 12-hour, 24-hour, 48-hour, and multi-day races of five or more days are also ultramarathons, referred to as “ultras” or endurance runs. For the uninitiated, the thought of running a standard 26.2-mile marathon, let alone an ultramarathon, is unimaginable. This sentiment is understandable. As a young girl watching the Olympics, I was in complete awe of marathoners who ran 26.2 miles. They appeared to have super powers and to be superhuman. Now, as an adult, I have evolved from a marathoner to an ultra-endurance runner, and have experienced the exhilarating suffering and joy of this chosen path.

Achieving the feat of running such grueling distances requires discipline, training, and a love of exercise. These key words: discipline, training, and exercise define asceticism (taken from the Greek word askesis). The Greek, Latin, and Semitic roots of these words have historically been used to interpret the language of Christian discourse including “asceticism,” which is used to refer to athletic training and physical discipline, and to describe spiritual endeavor.

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert’s bio from the article:
Miriam Díaz-Gilbert is ABD in Christian Spirituality from LaSalle University, where she earned her MA in Theology & Ministry and was inducted into Theta Alpha Kappa. She has been running ultramarathons fourteen years. She recently completed her 23rd ultra and 9th 50-mile ultra endurance run. She currently teaches Spirituality & Healing at Rowan University. As an adjunct professor at Neumann University and Manor College, she taught theology and religious studies. She is also working on her memoir—Come What May; I Want to Run. The title comes from 2 Samuel 18:23.

The article’s citation:

Miriam Díaz-Gilbert. “The Ascetic Life of the Ultrarunner.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 18, no. 2 (2018): 201-217.

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Essay: Apocalypses and Mystical Texts: Investigating Prolegomena and the State of Affairs, by Pieter G. R. de Villiers

In this essay which introduces a volume of essays exploring the nature and origin of Jewish mysticism and its relation to Christian mysticism, Pieter de Villiers describes modern developments in the study of Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical texts.  Here is his summary of the essay:

Early Jewish and Christian apocalyptic and mystical texts have a complicated history of interpretation. Eventually, many were discarded or neglected by faith communities, only to resurface and, ironically, to become a central theme of research in Jewish and Early Christian studies in modern times. The contemporary interest in both these collections of texts is the outcome of scholarly research of many centuries. Initially this research responded to the rediscovery of texts, but gradually it intensified as scholars came to appreciate their importance for the interpretation of biblical times. Of the two collections, apocalypses received more attention than mystical texts because faith communities had to account for the inclusion of Daniel and Revelation in the Hebrew and the Christian Scriptures while other apocalypses were excluded. This was not easy, given the large number of apocalypses that were in circulation. Over time, research on them became complex, not only because of new manuscript finds, but also because of the many debates about their nature, contents and function.

Mystical texts received less attention in biblical scholarship. It was only from the second half of the twentieth century that mystical texts were researched in more depth and explored as significant phenomena in the religious discourse of antiquity, especially in apocalypses. Research into mysticism resulted from the discovery of mystical texts and the realisation that they offered vital clues for the interpretation of apocalypses.

This essay also illuminates how apocalyptic research offers a significant hermeneutical key to the interpretation of Judaism and Christianity. This selective overview of a complicated history of reception will focus on how apocalyptic research, once it became a discipline within the academic discourse in late modernity, overcame its initial ignorance of mystical texts to embrace them as vital clues for its understanding of apocalypses. It analyzes the hurdles that apocalyptic research had to overcome to determine its relevant sources and, also, the process that ultimately led to its discovery of the intricate interaction with mystical texts.

The article then analyses the history of mystical research in modern times, with attention to the work of Gershom Scholem, who noted how the mystical experience was expressed primarily and uniquely through the notions of a heavenly ascent motif, supported by other motifs like the throne, angels in attendance and the seven heavens. It then discusses the contribution of Ithamar Gruenwald who accepted Scholem’s thesis of a shared mystical experience and tradition that stretched from apocalyptic texts to Hekhalot traditions. Unlike Scholem he traces the earliest post-biblical traces of Merkabah mysticism to apocalyptic literature and biblical texts. It then investigates how scholars reacted against this research by pointing out the many differences between mystical texts in the various historical periods, thereby challenging the claim that they reflect a unified development. Attention is then given to various readings within Jewish scholarship of mystical texts. There is, firstly, the interpretation of Idel, who, unlike Scholem and many other scholars, specifically embraced the notion of unio mystica as unitive factor and regarded it as central in mystical texts. Mysticism, he states, “seeks contact, and even unification, with God, in an experiential and subjective manner.” Idel’s work was criticized by Schäfer, who regarded it as an attempt to theologize mystical experience by interpreting mystical texts in terms of their shared spiritual contents. The essay then analyses religious practices as a key characteristic of mystical texts before focusing on the role and nature of experience in mystical thought. The article is concluded with a discussion of the common ground between all the different mystical texts.

Here is the essay’s citation:

De Villiers, Pieter, G. R. “Apocalypses and Mystical Texts: Investigating Prolegomena and the State of Affairs.” In Apocalypticism and Mysticism in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, edited by John J. Collins and Pieter G.R. de Villiers, 7 ff. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018.

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Article: Mimesis: The Substructure of Hermeneutical Methodology in Christian Spirituality, by David B. Perrin

Following up on an earlier article about research methodology in Christian spirituality, David Perrin focuses on the need for research to go beyond phenomenological description of the object being studied (e.g., a text or a work of art) and explore the object’s effects on a person’s life in ways similar to what the Christian tradition has called transformation or conversion. Here is the article’s abstract:

This article, based on the philosophical hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, proposes a theoretical model that helps explain the substructure of hermeneutical methodology used in research as well as in general studies in Christian spirituality. Ricoeur goes beyond the phenomenological approach, which seeks a “thick description” of the phenomenon, text, or object being studied, to understand why and how these works can not only be observed, described and interpreted, but taken back up into a life such that the “story of the past” in turn becomes “the story of the present” — our story, our living reality. Ricoeur’s analysis of mimetic theory thus takes an “ontological” turn — new being is posited as the result of hermeneutical inquiry. This article will be of particular interest for those engaged in research methodology in Christian spirituality.

Here is the article’s citation information:

David B. Perrin (2018) “Mimesis: The Substructure of Hermeneutical Methodology in Christian Spirituality,” Studies in Spirituality 28, 85-115.

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Article: Reading Ruusbroec in Argentina: Darkness, Loss and the Common Life, by Douglas E. Christie

After Douglas Christie visited La Perla, a site in Argentina infamous for its role as a place of torture and death during that country’s “Dirty War”, he turned to the writings of  Jan van Ruusbroec and Michel de Certeau to help him reflect about his experience. His essay is an exploration about the deep sense of darkness, loss, and absence he encountered there. Instead of reacting with despair and hopelessness, Christie found the experience “unexpectedly fruitful.” Here’s a paragraph from the essay’s concluding section:

I began these reflections at La Perla, standing before the black door, among los desaparecidos. A more abysmal absence it would be difficult to imagine. Nor can anything be said to account for all that has been lost here or give it meaning. Silence here is a gesture of respect. Still, in this particular context, absence and silence have proven unexpectedly fruitful—”compassion and a common shared suffering with all” seeding deep practices of social and political solidarity. Voices arising from the silence to bear witness. I was not alone that day at La Perla. There were others present with me in this place—colleagues, students, and many others unknown to me. All standing vigil together in the darkness. This, it seems to me, is part of what it means to respond to the absence and loss that afflicts us: to descend into the abyss, to inhabit with one another “the dark silence in which all the loving are lost,” and to bear witness from that place of darkness and silence.

Here is the article’s citation:

Christie, Douglas E. “Reading Ruusbroec in Argentina: Darkness, Loss and the Common Life.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 18, no. 2 (2018): 131-151.

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Book: Apocalypticism and Mysticism in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity, edited by John J. Collins/ Pieter G. R. Villiers / Adela Yarbro Collins

Co-edited by SSCS Past President Pieter G. R. de Villiers (who is also a contributor), this essay collection explores how Christian mysticism drew on late Hebrew and Aramaic texts and the Greek philosophical tradition for its early development. Here is the book’s “aim and scope”:

The nature and origin of Jewish mysticism is a controversial subject. This volume explores the subject by examining both the Hebrew and Aramaic tradition (Dead Sea Scrolls, 1 Enoch) and the Greek philosophical tradition (Philo) and also examines the Christian transformation of Jewish mysticism in Paul and Revelation. It provides for a nuanced treatment that differentiates different strands of thought that may be considered mystical. The Hebrew tradition is mythical in nature and concerned with various ways of being in the presence of God. The Greek tradition allows for a greater degree of unification and participation in the divine. The New Testament texts are generally closer to the Greek tradition, although Greek philosophy would have a huge effect on later Christian mysticism. The book is intended for scholars and advanced students of ancient Judaism and early Christianity.

Here is the book’s citation information:

Collins, John J, Pieter G. R Villiers, and Adela Yarbro Collins, eds. Apocalypticism and Mysticism in Ancient Judaism and Early Christianity. Ekstasis: Religious Experience from Antiquity to the Middle Ages, 7. Berlin: De Gruyter, 2018.

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Article: Spirituality and Belief: Implications for Study and Practice of Christian Spirituality, by Diana L. Villegas

In this open access article, Diana Villegas, author of The Christian Path in a Pluralistic World and the Study of Spirituality, argues for the importance of theological reflection in a time when multiple spiritual paths are available within and outside traditional religions. Here is the article’s abstract:

The aim of this article is to show the inherent connection between spirituality and belief and the significance of this for the study and practice of Christian spirituality. John Hick, a scholar of religion, argues that religions arose in human culture in order to offer beliefs and practices that respond to the human quest for meaning and transcendence. Assuming spirituality refers to consciously living life in terms of such beliefs and rituals, then religion’s function in culture is to provide a spirituality. Based on the latter theory, I argue for the importance of theological or confessional reflection regarding contemporary belief, given that theology reflects on the beliefs of a religion and at its best helps persons understand and integrate their beliefs into the living of life at a particular historical-cultural moment. In our contemporary globalised, pluralistic culture the influence on spiritual practice of multiple sources of wisdom is common, as shown by sociological studies discussed in this study. This cultural context calls for identification, understanding and interpretation of the beliefs of Christians, as well as study regarding how these beliefs fulfil the purpose of religion in human culture, namely offering ways of living with suffering, evil and questions about the meaning of life. I argue such study fulfils both practical and theoretical functions.

The article is freely available. Here is its citation:

Villegas, Diana. “Spirituality and belief: Implications for study and practice of Christian spirituality” HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies [Online], Volume 74 Number 3 (27 August 2018).

 

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Article: Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor, by Kimberly F. Baker

In an article which provides two historical examples of how the Christian practice of charity is rooted in the rich theological tradition of the early church, Kimberly Baker emphasizes the importance of understanding the relationship between giver and receiver. Here is the article’s abstract:

In their preaching on care for the poor, Basil and Augustine call for a transformation of one’s relationships. While the Roman patronage system rested on relationships of privilege and dependency, Basil and Augustine cultivate a different type of relationship between the giver and receiver of charity, a relationship based not on status and need but on a shared life and identity. For Basil, that relationship is rooted in the common humanity of all people, regardless of economic or social status. Giving is natural in Basil’s worldview because humanity shares in a common human nature and thus holds all goods in common. Those who fail to share with others risk cutting themselves off from their human nature. Basil’s call to care for the poor is a call to recognize that to be human is to share in what is κοινός, held in common. And for Augustine, the relationship of giver and receiver is grounded in Christ. In loving others, Christians come to discover Christ not only present in them, by virtue of their baptism, but also present in those they serve, wherever there is human need, as promised in Matthew 25. Augustine draws the attention of Christians to those in need, including those outside the usual ties of kinship and citizenship, and even church membership, and teaches them to see in the poor, people of dignity, defined not by dependency but by Christ’s loving solidarity. In laying claim to a common bond between giver and receiver, Basil and Augustine offer a counter-cultural social vision in which giver and receiver are defined not by power or need, but by mutuality and love.

The article’s citation:

 “Basil and Augustine: Preaching on Care for the Poor.”  In Studia Patristica XCV: Papers Presented at the Seventeenth International Conference on Patristic Studies held in Oxford 2015, vol. 21, edited by Markus Vinzent, 251-259.  Leuven: Peeters, 2017.

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