Category Archives: Articles

Article: Two Ways of Seeing: The Challenge of Julian of Norwich’s Parable of a Lord and a Servant, by Philip Sheldrake

In an article appearing in the latest edition of Spiritus, Philip Sheldrake explores one of the central passages in Julian of Norwich’s Revelations, the parable of a lord and a servant. Sheldrake argues that Julian is using the parable as a an exemplum as a way of showing how she can hold two contrasting beliefs, her often quoted “Every kind of thing will be well” with a central belief of the Church: “one article of our faith . . . that many creatures will be damned.” Here are the article’s opening paragraphs:

In what is described conventionally as the Long Text of Julian of Norwich’s Revelations of Divine Love, or A Revelation of Love, Chapter 51 is the longest chapter. In important ways it is also the heart of the text and a key to Julian’s major theological insights and teachings. The chapter outlines a parable of a lord and a servant and then reflects upon this narrative in challenging ways. The parable is presented as God’s answer to Julian’s various anxieties about how to understand her own experience of daily sinfulness in the light of her growing sense of God’s lack of blame.

In Chapter 45 of the Long Text, Julian outlines her background problem that is a result of her visionary experience. How is she to reconcile the “judgment of Holy Church” that “sinners sometimes deserve blame and wrath” with the fact that “I could not see these two in God”? However, “to all this I never had any other answer than a wonderful example of a lord and a servant, as I shall tell later, and that was very mysteriously revealed.” By “example,” Julian means an exemplum of the kind that medieval preachers used to illustrate their message.

Here is the article’s citation data:

Philip Sheldrake. “Two Ways of Seeing: The Challenge of Julian of Norwich’s Parable of a Lord and a Servant.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality 17, no. 1 (2017).

Article: Spirituality in Contemporary Ireland: Manifesting Indigeneity, by Bernadette Flanagan and Michael O’Sullivan

The article‘s two authors, Bernadette Flanagan and Michael O’Sullivan, write that scholars of Christian spirituality need to look beyond classical Christian texts to understand developments in contemporary spirituality.  In the case of contemporary spirituality in Ireland, we need to explore practices that predate the advent of Christianity in that country. They introduce their approach in the following excerpt:

… this article will focus in particular on an ethnographic/historical account of how the inter-spiritual blend of indigenous tradition and Christianity is a characteristic feature of an emerging spirituality in Ireland.

In other words, many have responded to the crisis of credibility of religious institutions by wedding a Christian upbringing with pre/early Christian spiritual practices, which are orally available from living older generations in Ireland. The significant emerging spiritual practices that will be reviewed in this article will be the revitalization of Pilgrim paths; the visitation of Holy Wells; the restoration of Pattern Days, celebration of the four key festivals of the Celtic calendar; the engagement between Old and New Monasticism and the turn to public celebrations of ancient Celtic festivals. For some people these new expressions are a retrieval of a neglected stream within Catholicism; whereas for others the new expressions are a mark of separation from the past.

Here’s the article’s citation data:

Flanagan, B. & O’Sullivan, M. “Spirituality in Contemporary Ireland: Manifesting Indigeneity.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 16 no. 3, 2016, pp. 55-73.

A subscription to Spiritus is one of the benefits of membership in the Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality.

Article: Holistic Health Care and Spiritual Self-Presence, by Michael O’Sullivan

In this freely available article appearing in a 2016 issue of Religions, Michael O’Sullivan argues for the importance of spirituality in healthcare. In so doing, he explores the meanings of “spiritual” and “health,” concluding that “Providers of healthcare are dealing, not simply with people faced with wellbeing or healthcare challenges, but people formed by narratives to do with being on a journey about the meaning of their lives.” The article’s abstract follows:

In this paper, I present evidence of the developing interest in spirituality in healthcare and treat three questions it raises: (1) what makes a person and a life spiritual so that a strictly medical model of health and care won’t do?; (2) what is the scope of healthcare?; and (3) what makes care in healthcare ‘spiritual’ precisely? In addressing the first question I attend to the etymological roots of “spiritual” and articulate how the notion of “spiritual” in Pauline biblical texts is being retrieved today in spirituality studies and research but in a way, also, that does not attach it strictly to religious affiliation. In addressing the second question, I highlight the holistic meaning of healthcare by first attending to the etymological roots of health. I then show that adequate healthcare also requires reflection on the notion of the good and illustrate what I mean by interpreting a biblical narrative. In addressing the third question, I draw on lived experience to illustrate how care-providers may need enhanced religious literacy to read and respond to care-seekers irrespective of their own personal beliefs. However, I also argue that what makes care distinctively spiritual in the first instance has less to do with the subject matter of the care—the what of the care—and more to do with how carers act, with, that is, the self-presence of the carers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

 

Article: The Clash of Transcendence and History: The Conversion of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Part I, by David B. Perrin

David’s article appeared within a year after Archbishop Romero was beatified, the final stage before sainthood in the Roman Catholic Church. Here’s 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.

Here’s the complete citation information:
David B. Perrin, “The Clash of Transcendence and History:  The Conversion of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, Part I,” Vol. VII, No. 1, January 2016, Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 53-62.

Part II will appear in the July 2016 edition of Vinayasādhana.