Published in the Fall 2014 issue of Spiritus (v. 14, n. 2, pp. 166-186), Tara Sougher’s article explores how academic study of a spiritual writer’s works can lead to a personal relationship with the author. An earlier version of this article was awarded the 2012 Founders’ Circle Award by the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality and was presented at its Annual Meeting. Here is the article’s abstract:
What might it mean to describe a historical figure—a saint —as a spiritual companion? Although spiritual companionship with contemporaries has been well described, analogous relationships with the saints have not been. Separated by time and space from contemporary Christians, saints may seem to be unlikely spiritual companions for Christians today. Yet, saints and other historical figures often continue to influence those still living, providing a continuing relationship across the ages, a relationship theologically supported by the doctrine of the communion of saints. Although not present physically, their writings and the stories of their lives, like those of contemporary companions, may have a significant impact on those who encounter them, even centuries later. This is true not simply for contemporary Christians whose forms of worship and piety include devotions to the saints; it can also be true even for those who engage in a more academic study of these figures, for a deep and sustained reading of the works of a historical figure can also bridge the gap of time and space. Through such deep study, a relationship with the author may develop. Unlike traditional understandings of relationships with saints, which have often been described as relationships of patronage or benefaction, the relationships developed in this way are more likely to be described in terms of friendship or companionship. If a relationship with a saint is to be seen as one of spiritual friendship or companionship analogous to that between contemporary Christians, it might be expected to share certain characteristics with such relationships, including a sense of mutuality or of a shared journey. This essay will suggest how a close reading of the writings of a saint can facilitate the development of such a relationship.