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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