Category Archives: SSCS Conference

Paper: Towards Wholeness: Christian Wisdom and Prayer Today, by Christopher Morris

Christopher Morris presented his paper in June at the third Biennual International Conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality: Prayer without Ceasing: Perspectives in Spirituality Studies. Attended by 70 participants from fourteen countries and five continents, the conference took place in Kloster Kappel, Switzerland, a seminar hotel and education center of the Protestant Reformed Church of Canton Zurich. Here is the paper’s abstract:

Christian wisdom…is the rediscovery of the Christ-event in the context of this larger, dynamic and interrelated world of reality. (Bruno Barnhart)

This paper will develop the Christian wisdom perspective of the Camaldolese Benedictine monk Bruno Barnhart who died in 2015. He defines wisdom as participatory knowing: a knowing that is personal, experiential and tending towards union with that which is known. Barnhart argues that from its beginning Christianity expressed itself as ‘wisdom’ and that a participatory approach was central for the first twelve centuries. Intrinsic to theological discourse therefore was deep personal engagement (and transformation) and this was related to the practice of prayer. As Evagrius of Ponticus stated in the fourth century: The true theologian prays, and to pray is to do theology truly.

This wisdom approach then began to wane with the advent of scholastic theology and the ongoing emphasis on objectivity leading to an increasing separation between the knower and that which was known. Despite these developments Barnhart believes that today’s plural and global context is ripe for the rebirth of a Christian wisdom approach. His approach entails four movements (the Sapiential Awakening, the Eastern Turn, the Western Turn and the Global Turn) and maintains participatory knowing as its defining feature (in continuity with early Christianity) while at the same time integrating (and confronting) the developments of history and especially the dominance of a purely rational approach to knowing.

The paper will argue that Barnhart’s approach offers two interpretative principles: unity and generativity. It will propose that they suggest a path towards wholeness that attempts to reimagine the Christ-event in today’s larger, dynamic and interrelated world.’ It will explore how this perspective might offer insights into ‘prayer without ceasing’ today with reference to the notions of ‘lived experience and self- implication’ from the discipline of Christian Spirituality and which may be understood as parallel to Barnhart’s participatory approach.

SSCS members can obtain a copy of the paper by contacting the blog moderator.

Paper: Pilgrimage Sanctification through Effective Communication, by Nico de Klerk

Nico de Klerk, in his paper presented at the SSCS meeting held in Johannesburg, South Africa in May 2015, describes the importance of spiritual practices for the Reformed Church, in particular the practice of pilgrimage. His essay makes the following two statements:

  • Pilgrimage has a lot more potential for spiritual life than we can imagine.
  • By “modernising” the pilgrimage concept we can enrich our spiritual lives with His grace and presence.

De Klerk’s purpose is first to describe the current place of pilgrimage in the Reformed tradition, and then to begin suggesting ways of communicating the meaning of pilgrimage for the spiritual life. To quote from his paper:

Given the Reformed traditions Calvinistic background we have a challenge in terms of skills for what I would like to call: “spiritual communication”. Communication in a spiritual context towards self, others and God. In this I would like to be practical and share some of the practical things I am doing and experimenting with, in a while. The foundation will still be the personal relationship between the individual and God. Question is can we explore pilgrimage to be more influential than what it is currently?

SSCS members can request a copy of de Klerk’s paper from the moderator.

Paper: Medical Science and Spirituality in Dialogue, by Marlene Martin

Marlene Martin’s paper, presented at the SSCS meeting held in Johannesburg, South Africa in May 2015, reports on research that found “that there are those who exercise a spirit or attitude of entitlement to healing and perfect health and this spirit of entitlement is spiritually destructive to the Christian, to the pastor ministering to him and to the medical doctor responsible for his treatment.” Any SSCS member can request a copy from the moderator. Here’s the abstract for Martin’s paper:

The theme of this particular conference is an exploration of Holiness. I therefore felt that Pope John Paul II’s paper on the Theology of the Body gave relevance to a discussion related to Medical Science and Spirituality. Holiness, the Pope points out is always expressed through the body. All human communication, argues Pope John Paul II, is conducted through our bodies; it is how we share our spiritual dimension. He argues that Jesus taught us this lesson when He pronounced “this is my body which is given up for you”.  It was also in this body that He expressed his love for his Father and it was the sacrifice of his body that brought about our redemption

Paper: The Difference Bhaskar’s Philosophy of Meta-Reality Makes for Post-Secular Holism and the Makings of Holiness, by Dudley Alexander Schreiber

The SSCS meeting held in Johannesburg, South Africa in May 2015 was a wonderful opportunity for scholars of Christian spirituality to share their research. This paper is the first of several that will be posted on this blog as a way of sharing papers given at the meeting beyond the the physical event itself. Any SSCS member can request a copy from the moderator. Here’s the abstract for Schreiber’s paper:

Of no small concern, dualism in Western mind – reaching a zenith under the philosophical discourse of modernism, has enacted a wounding of perception/knowledge, wherein we are delivered into a transformation-devoid demi-reality of intractable antinomy and dichotomous relations in world society. Liberating discourse on being and spirituality is the holy work of philosophers under a loose co-operation here aptly called post-secular holism. The work is foundational and new, legitimizing a more conciliatory relationship between the sacred and profane, a negotiation important to recent conversations and here enriched by Bhaskar’s re-conceptualization of co-presence and transcendence said to emerge from non-dual, sui generis ground states or conditions upon which the world of duality, splits and enmity, nevertheless depends. It is hoped, this excursion into meta-theory and philosophy of meta-Reality, may empower our contemporary reach for the “holy”.

Paper: The Awe-Filledness of Awfulness: Experiencing God in Suffering

This post is another in a series of posts describing papers delivered at the “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” conference held at the University of Notre Dame earlier this summer.  The paper described below was by Hans Gustafson, Associate Director, Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning, Adjunct Professor, Theology University of St. Thomas (Minnesota) and St. John’s University (Minnesota).  A copy of the paper is available by contacting the moderator. The paper’s abstract follows:

This paper assumes a pansacramental spirituality which maintains that God can be experienced in all things, including the often disturbing experience of suffering. Here spirituality refers to the lived religious experience of a particular individual in the world, and sacramentality refers to that element of the Christian tradition which accounts for the presence of God in the world (in some manner). As such, sacraments mediate between God and world. This broad view of sacramentality entails an infinite number of potential sacraments. As a result, I do not intend to reduce sacraments to a fixed number (whether one believes in seven sacraments or two). In this way, all things hold the potential to mediate God in the world. Therefore, I propose a pansacramental understanding of the cosmos in which God is experienced via pansacramental spirituality. In wrestling with the challenge of taking seriously the possibility of the sacramental (re)presentation of God in all kinds of suffering, I realize that the claim that God is sacramentally revealed in suffering can potentially scandalize classical Christianity and its tenets. However, any serious pansacramental spirituality should not be shy about maintaining the possibility that suffering authentically reveals God in sacramental fashion. Drawing on the theologies of five thinkers, I offer a constructive proposal for approaching the spiritual experience of God in suffering. They consist of Aquinas’ classical theology, Martin Buber’s sacrament of suffering, Abraham Heschel’s and Jürgen Moltmann’s theology of divine pathos, and John Polkinghorne’s realized eschatological panentheism. If the sacraments represent God in time and space, and invite participants to commemorate God’s acts in history, and if all things serve as potential sacramental mediators, then how does suffering function as a sacramental mediator of God in the world? This is the question I tackle with the assistance of the aforementioned thinkers.

Paper: ‘Holy, Solemn, Humble Awe’ in the Spiritual Writings of Susanna Anthony

Another paper from the recent SSCS conference “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” at the University of Notre Dame, this time by Tom Schwanda, associate professor of Christian Formation and Ministry at Wheaton College.   Here is the abstract:

Healthy and balanced Evangelical spirituality in the eighteenth century included a deep awareness of the depravity of the human condition as well as the liberating experience of God’s grace.  Susanna Anthony (1726–1791), a Congregationalist woman from Rhode Island, was recognized as an exemplar of this noteworthy piety.  Her extensive letter and diary writings compiled by her pastor Samuel Hopkins, a disciple of Jonathan Edwards, as the Letters and Character of Susanna Anthony has been ranked among the top one hundred writings of eighteenth–century Evangelicalism.  Her memoirs are a prime example of the tension between holy fear and doubt of one’s salvation and the grateful assurance of divine love.  She records both the frustration that her life is not maturing in sanctification to the extent that she desires or feels God expects but also the assurance that she is loved and accepted in the presence of this holy God.  These experiences of “holy, solemn, humble awe” were not limited to the early years of Anthony’s spiritual pilgrimage but felt at various points throughout her life as she intentionally sought to grow in holiness.  Anthony’s processing of this paradox is often resolved through her prayerful conversation with God and expressed in her mystical language that soars with the contemplative transports of love and delight to heaven.  Significantly, Anthony’s spiritual writings reveal that grace sustained and relieved her from the abyss of fear and points to a balanced spirituality built upon the foundation of gratitude for God’s redeeming presence.

Paper: To Praise and Live as ‘Love’s Apprentice’: The Poetry of Anne Porter

This paper by Dana Greene was presented at the recent SSCS conference “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” at the University of Notre Dame.   Here is the abstract:

Anne Channing Porter’s poetry gives witness to an inner life nurtured by a love of the natural world and purified by suffering from a turbulent marriage.   At age eighty-two she was named a National Book Award finalist for her first collection of poems.  In these she aims for transparency and the revelation of mystery inherent in everyday life.  A convert to Catholicism, Porter rejected  the designation “religious” poet, nonetheless her poems  combine a contemplative seeing, an incarnational awareness of spirit in matter, and a prophetic urgency to live as “Love’s apprentice,” responding with compassion toward those of “humble goodness.”

Paper: The Reformation Recovery of the Wrath of God

This paper by Ralph Keen was presented on June 30 at the recent SSCS conference “Wondrous Fear and Holy Awe” at the University of Notre Dame.  SSCS members may contact the blog’s moderator for a copy of the paper.  Here is an excerpt:

“If the Scholastic understanding of the process of justification seemed to elevate the human capacity for merit, the early Evangelical challenge to it elevated the working of grace and denied the possibility of meriting salvation. In the theological anthropology of the Reformers, the loss of original righteousness and the inability to gain merit in the eyes of God is met with a divine anger that strikes terror into the believer and sends him or her to the consolation of the gospel. Embracing this consolation does not banish the fear of God’s wrath: it is a protection against being consumed by such fear. The experience of grace is incomplete without such fear.

“In the following discussion I would like to point out some features of divine wrath and the fear of it as they appear in the work of some Reformers, in the hope of clarifying the centrality of this adversarial experience in the Christian life. In recovering what they saw as the Pauline doctrine of justification, the Reformers retrieved a conception of divine wrath crafted during the centuries in which the church was under persecution and the course of history was the divine plan executed through flawed human instruments. As with their Pauline and Patristic predecessors, the Reformers gave material force to the biblical language of a wrathful deity, throwing it into relief as an experience genuinely threatening to the equanimity of the believer.”