Blog: Ecozoic Cafe

For the past several months, I’ve been experimenting with another blog which may be of interest to followers of this one. I’m calling it Ecozoic Cafe, and I’ve copied its About page below. All feedback is welcome!

Jonas Barciauskas,
Christian Spirituality Studies blog moderator


Why the title Ecozoic Cafe?

Ecozoic is a term proposed by Thomas Berry (1914-2009), C.P, Ph.D., a Catholic priest of the Passionist Order and a scholar of cultural history and world religions. Berry intended Ecozoic to indicate a new era where humanity can choose to live in greater harmony with the earth than it has in recent centuries. Ecozoic is less a scientific term identifying a past geological age (e.g., Cenozoic) than one offering a hopeful vision for our current and future time. According to Berry and his co-author Brian Swimme in their book The Universe Story, the Ecozoic is “a new mode of human-Earth relations, one where the well-being of the entire Earth community is the primary concern.” (The Universe Story, p. 15)

More information can be found on the web about what might be meant by the Ecozoic Era (see Ecozoic Times for example). Discussions on this blog will explore various threads in contemporary Christian and other spiritualities which can contribute toward realizing the kind of earth community envisioned by Berry and others.  Humanity needs to understand and experience itself to be in deep spiritual relationship with the earth before it can  address the challenge of climate change in any meaningful way, and there are many signs suggesting that such an understanding is beginning to emerge.

As for the Cafe part of the title, there are few better ways to stimulate creative thinking and conversation than a good cup coffee (or the beverage of your choice). Please feel free to leave a comment by clicking on the “Leave a comment” link at the end of each post.

(See also the first blog post.)

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Article: Icons: A Case Study in Spiritual Borrowing between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Emergent Church, by Dann Wigner

Dann Wigner used a qualitative empirical approach to gather the data for this article about the spiritual borrowing of Eastern Orthodox icons by several emergent churches. He selected three communities identifying themselves as emergent churches where he “observed multiple services and meetings, interviewed thirty-eight members or regular attendees, and conducted documentary research on their podcasts and blogposts which composed their archives of sermons and public conversations.” Wigner also familiarized himself with the literature on spiritual borrowing within the larger Emergent Church (EC) movement. Here is some text from his concluding paragraphs:

In conclusion, icons were appropriated on the basis of experimentation through a perspective that EC practitioners are appropriating a practice as a container which can then be “emptied” of old theology and “filled” with new content which reflects their own distinctions. Consequently, the central observation of the study is the confirmation that the EC is appropriating the Orthodox icon by investing this practice with their own theological content.

Thus, this article contributes to the investigation of spiritual borrowing by illustrating an in-depth case study of the process of a mystic practice moving from one tradition to another. In the purview of theology, this detailed analysis of the process of appropriation and reinterpretation of icons has displayed the relationship of the practice to both the source of Eastern Orthodoxy and the new context of the EC. Close scrutiny of the spiritual borrowing process and these theological connections displays effectively how a spiritual practice can be changed when divested of theological content, and then filled with new theological content in a specific instance.

Here is the article’s citation:

Wigner, Dann. “Icons: A Case Study in Spiritual Borrowing between Eastern Orthodoxy and the Emergent Church.” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 18 no. 1, 2018, pp. 78-101.

SSCS members can view the article for free. More about SSCS membership is available here.

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Article: Stories, Hermeneutics and Maturation in Christian Life, by David B. Perrin

Storytelling plays a significant role in the spiritualities of many religions. In this recently published article, David Perrin explores how stories help shape a person’s character as well as his or her spiritual life within the Christian tradition. Here is the article’s abstract:

Everybody loves a good story. Whether it is told on the big theater screen, performed as an opera, or read from the tattered pages of a favorite childhood story book, we all enjoy participating in story-telling and story-receiving in differing ways throughout our lives.  Stories have that effect on us: they take us to the action, transform us into one of the participants, and draw us into the intrigue that seeks to be resolved.  In Christian life, many texts that have come down to us in the traditions act upon us in the same ways: they take us to the heart of the action. They transport us into their world so we can take part in what the text is all about.  This is not to suggest that the Christian texts are fiction, as I described story-telling above.  But, fiction or not, texts in general – and the dynamics that play out in the life of the individual and community when reading them – hold many things in common. Texts play a central role in the development of Christian life, conversion, and character formation, since these texts bring us to absorb a world of values and action that reflect the long-standing wisdom of the Christian traditions and our relationship with God.  This article explains, from a textual hermeneutical perspective, why and how “reading” texts and stories of all kinds contribute to personal spiritual-human development and, in turn, character formation in Christian life. 

Here is the article’s citation:

David B. Perrin, “Stories, Hermeneutics and Maturation in Christian Life” Vol. IX, No. 1, January 2018, Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 35-57.

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Book: Pilgrim River: A Spiritual Memoir, by Kenneth Garcia

Nature played a major role in Kenneth Garcia’s spiritual journey, as it has for many others seeking ways to follow a spiritual path. An accomplished essayist, Garcia has written a book one reader described as “at once luminous, tragic, and hopeful.” Here is the book’s blurb:

Pilgrim River candidly narrates one man’s wandering but sincere attempt to come to terms with the overpowering experience of God—a journey from unbelief to nature mysticism in the deserts and mountains of Nevada and Utah, to sojourns through the country of marriage and the republic of letters, and finally to the Catholic Church. The road followed is crooked, plagued by a lack of spiritual guides and mentors, by isolation, depression, by a failed first marriage; but present throughout is a groping toward spiritual fulfillment alternately tortured, hopeful, and bathed in luminescence. Many spiritual seekers—including those who consider themselves “spiritual but not religious”—will benefit from the telling of this unorthodox journey to Christianity.

The book’s citation:

Garcia, Kenneth. Pilgrim River: A Spiritual Memoir. [S.l.]: Angelico Press, 2018.

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Dissertation: “Not of This World”: Christian Devotional Literature as Minority Discourse, by J. Stephen Pearson

Pearson’s dissertation draws on scriptural, devotional, and theological texts to argue that the Christian community has historically been a minority within its larger social, cultural, and political context. Here is the abstract:

This dissertation re-reads the history of Western Christianity in order to reconsider notions of Christianized culture and politics. Using concepts from contemporary ethnic studies, I examine devotional works from the Western Christian tradition to expose a thematic thread that depicts the Christian community as a cultural minority: Exile in Patrick of Ireland; Minor Literature in Richard Rolle; Borderlands in Catherine of Genoa; Nationalism in George Fox; Contact Zones in Thomas Merton; and Diaspora in Kathleen Norris. I try to demonstrate that works from mainstream Christian writers can be profitably interpreted using minority discourse: though the authors were not ethnic minorities, their faith gave them a minority position in the world. My analyses are built on scriptural teachings about minority identity from the Book of Daniel, in which the community must learn to live in a foreign culture, and from the Gospel of John, in which Jesus teaches the disciples that they are no longer “of” the world.

Alongside these analyses, I examine the multicultural aspects of Christian missionary work, showing how from its origins Christian history demonstrates a plurality of Christianities, as missionaries adapted their teachings for new cultures and as converts around the globe adopted Christianity on their own terms and developed new forms of Christian theology that use their historical and cultural situations to interpret the scriptures and vice versa. After arising in the poly-cultural Middle East, Christianity quickly spread into Europe, Africa, Asia and, eventually, the Americas, recasting its story for each new cultural context and thereby creating multiple Christianities. At the same time, theologians such as Augustine, Luther and Kierkegaard argued for radical distinctions between religious and political communities. For these theologians, the community of believers differs in essence from the secular political-cultural community; as a result, there can be no expectation of a Christian government or of a Christian culture. It can therefore be said that Christians are commanded by their scriptures, theologians and spiritual masters to embrace a minority status within their own cultures so as to minister to the world without being compromised by it.

The dissertation is freely available as a PDF in Athenaeum@UGA, the digital repository of the University of Georgia.

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Dissertation: The Art of Trinitarian Articulation: A Case Study on Richard of St. Victor’s De Trinitate, by Todd Vasquez

In his examination of Richard of St. Victor’s De Trinitate, Todd Vasquez explores the various ways in which the 12th century theologian and spiritual writer expressed his understanding of the Trinity. More than just a straightforward exposition of doctrine, the Victorine’s major work is a complex treatise that calls for a careful reading to appreciate its various forms of trinitarian expression. Here is Vasquez’s abstract:

Richard of Saint Victor deliberately constructs his treatise De Trinitate with trinitarian structures to sustain the hearts and shape the minds of his readers with the contemplation of the Trinity. His work fits within a genre of writing in the Middle Ages where the formation of the theological apprentice was at the heart of crafting one’s theological work. And while probably not unique among other compositions on the Trinity, Richard imbues his treatise with some “trinitarian dimensions” that make us appreciate the level of his creativity as a theologian and the impact these further dimensions had upon his readers’ spiritual formation.

Richard’s work has three major levels. Level one is a linear argument for the Trinity. It begins by establishing that God is one substance, then that God is three persons, and finally how the unity of divine substance fits with the triunity of persons. That is one level. And to read the work the first time is to encounter and be taken by this argument. Level two is the style and structure with which that argument is made. In addition to arguing for the Trinity, Richard argues for the Trinity “trinitarianly”; and to discover Richard’s deliberate use of triads and an organization to his treatise reflective of its main subject matter is to find delight in another dimension of the work. It is to read the work again—a second time—with a view to how this linear argument is designed and organized. Finally, in addition to the linear argument and its structure, there are also “allusions” such as Richard’s attempt to make his triadic structures appropriate to each person of the Trinity. So while at the level of (a) argument/content he makes a case for the Power, the Wisdom, and the Goodness of the Divine, and at the level of (b) structure he builds with triads, he also appropriates the (c) significance for each person of the Trinity: Power of the Father, Wisdom of the Son, and Goodness of the Spirit.

The dissertation consists of three sections: Section I, “Introduction & Background,” establishes the context for the thesis; Section II, “Articulating the Trinity ‘Trinitarianly’ for the Formation of Souls,” argues the main thesis; and Section III, “Objections & Response,” handles objections and is followed by a brief conclusion. The introductory section answers questions leading up to a detailed study of the structuring of Richard’s De Trinitate. Section II develops the substance of the thesis in chapters 4 and 5. Chapter 4 argues for the structural dimension of the thesis and is divided into five parts. Part one, “Inventional, Ordering Devices,” shows how Richard structures his written works in accordance with their main objects of study in order to aid his readers’ contemplation. Part two, “Breadth: Beginning with the End in Mind” looks at the broader horizon of Richard’s De Trinitate by showing how the Power-Wisdom-Goodness triad structures the linear layout of the treatise. Part three, “Depth: Richard’s Trinitarian Structures in Book III,” looks at the detail of Richard’s work in book III where his trinitarian structuring is the most ornate. In part four, “Perspective: Additional Trinitarian Structures and Triads,” we show the declining intricacy of these trinitarian structures and triads in the rest of the work. And part five, “Book VI and Discovering De Trinitate in Relief” brings all of these dimensions together to reveal Richard’s treatise as a work of art still attached to the marble from which it was carved and discovers the method by which he “drew out” contemplations from his previous work. Then, in chapter 5, “Forging These ‘Trinitarian Dimensions’ in the Faithful,” we show how Richard uses these forms to shape the trinitarian consciousness of his readers and consummate trinitarian love within his community. Section III takes up objections to the thesis and gives a response, concluding that neither forms of meditative practice in the 12th century nor borrowing paradigms from theological predecessors accounts for the trinitarian structuring of De Trinitate. We fittingly end our work with a summary of our findings and a meditative reflection on the “craftsmanship” and “artistry” of Richard as a “constructive theologian.”

The dissertation is freely available from Loyola eCommons of Loyola University Chicago

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Syllabus: New Testament Spirituality

Describing his recent revision of this syllabus, David Rensberger of Columbia Theological Seminary in Decatur, Georgia, writes “I did update the structure at a number of points this time around. ‘What to do about Jesus’ is a question in any course that surveys the NT; this time I reformulated that session in light of how Jesus shows up in the spiritual-vs.-religious debate.  I also added a new segment on discipleship and revamped the selection of materials from Paul.” Here is the course description:

The spirituality of the biblical writings has not been the subject of much study in modern times, at least not in critical biblical scholarship. The methodology for such study is thus still in a relatively early stage, and the results that ought to be expected are still an open question. Are we just looking to add one more item, “spirituality,” to the repertoire of critical scholarship, alongside the historical, literary, sociological, and ideological characteristics of the biblical writers? Or are we seeking something more, something that goes beyond the supposed objectivity of critical study to let the subject matter of the text actually impinge on our lives?

This course will work toward the latter of these two possible aims; but we cannot get there without attending to the former. Students will be encouraged to be creative and innovative; to bring all of themselves to the endeavor; to raise questions that are true to the New Testament texts and their writers, but also break through into our lives as readers of the texts today. However, this will not be an inquiry without form or limits, or an exercise in pure subjectivity, simply asking how a text “speaks to my heart.” Critical study of the texts will be presupposed. We will be asking what there is in the texts, as critically analyzed, that raises and addresses issues of spirituality. This course can only provide an introduction to some of the themes of New Testament spirituality in its major writings. Yet we hope to gain a grasp of the spiritual values and transformative potential of the texts, as one possible outcome of studying them critically.

Thus the aims of the course will be (1) to perform adequate exegesis of the texts so as to understand their spirituality; but also (2) to open ourselves to the transformative possibilities of the texts—not just to grasp the spirituality of the New Testament writings, but to be grasped by it.

A copy of the syllabus is available to SSCS members by contacting the blog moderator.

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