Does identifying the genre of a spiritual work simply place it in a literary category where it can be compared to other works in the same genre? Or does knowing the genre help the reader come to a deeper understanding of the work than she would have if genre were ignored? David Perrin explores this latter possibility in this essay appearing in an essay collection honoring Bernard McGinn’s contributions to the study of mysticism. Here is the essay’s abstract:
Sensitivity to the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross is important, since genre research indicates that the determination of genre is an attempt not only to look back and classify the text in the phase of its production and current state, but also to recognize genre as a form for the production of new meaning which, by its very nature, looks to the future. Genre thus points the reader in a particular direction concerning the meaning of a text and is itself a judgment about its meaning. How one approaches genre – whether as a classification tool (which leaves the text at a distance from the current reader) or as a form for the production of meaning (engagement of the current reader in mining fresh insights for living today) – will determine how the contemporary reader/interpreter approaches the Spiritual Canticle in a current reading. The key question explored in this article is thus the following: is the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle merely a function of John of the Cross’s style, the content of the work, its structure, meter, the various themes within it, and so on? Or does genre contribute more substantively to a current understanding of this text? Following the literary theory and philosophical hermeneutics of Paul Ricoeur, this book chapter studies the literary genre of the Spiritual Canticle in the latter framework.
Perrin, David B. “The Literary Genre of the Spiritual Canticle of John of the Cross.” In Mysticism and Contemporary Life: Essays in Honor of Bernard McGinn, edited by J. Markey and J.A. Higgins, 53-67. Herder & Herder, 2019.
In this article, David Perrin focuses on “the self” as a term with profound meaning for Christians. If, according to Christian theology and spirituality, a believer is made made in the image of God, how does one’s self reflect the imago dei? Perrin proposes to answer this question from the perspective of everyday life. Here is the article’s abstract:
The word “self” comes up frequently in everyday language. We talk about “self-respect,” “myself,” “self-determination,” “self-help,” “yourself,” “him/herself,” and so on. All of these expressions refer to the subject of investigation of anthropology: the human person and what it means to be human. Thus, in everyday language when we refer to “self” or “person” or “human being,” often we are referring to the same reality. What is the nature of the self that we so often mention in everyday language? From the perspective of Christian spirituality how does the self reflect the “imago Dei” — the image in which human beings were created? This article takes a critical look from multiple perspectives at the concept of “the self” and seeks to understand its deeper meaning in everyday language use and in Christian anthropology with respect to the imago Dei. The article concludes with a description of the Christian imago Dei from three fundamental profiles. These profiles are understood as specific dimensions of the self that take on particular importance in our everyday living: 1. The Transcendent Self; 2. The Narrative Self: The Self as a Story Told; and 3. The Body Self. Together, these three profiles help us understand how the imago Dei is lived out in the ordinary experiences of daily life and assist us in constructing a specifically Christian anthropology.
Perrin, David B. “The Nature of the Self: Christian Anthropology Revisited,” in Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, 10, no. 2 (July 2019), 23-41.
In this article, the author Glen Scorgie describes how 19th century Swiss evangelical missionaries to Canada introduced a contemplative form of shared scripture reading which led to mystical experience and conversion. Here is the article’s abstract:
This article examines the understanding and use of Scripture in the evangelistic endeavors of “awakened” pietistic francophone Swiss Protestant missionaries in 19th-century French Canada (after 1867, Quebec). It begins by sketching the roots of this transatlantic initiative in Le Réveil, the Continental francophone expression of the Second Evangelical Awakening. It then shows how within this movement historic Protestant Bible-centeredness converged with an intensified pietistic expectation that receptive contemplation of Scripture (especially in conversational settings) could evoke profoundly experiential and transforming encounters with the divine. The records of the Swiss missionaries also display a mystic-like apprehension of Scripture’s luminosity, and of conversion as a comprehensively illuminating and radiant experience. This account challenges the assumption that mystical tendencies necessarily lead to privatized spirituality, while illustrating how a distinct form of evangelical spirituality stimulated missionary endeavor and shaped missionary practice.
Here is the article’s citation:
Scorgie, Glen G. “Bible Study as Luminous Converting Encounter: Swiss Pietist Initiatives in 19th-Century French Canada.” Journal of Spiritual Formation and Soul Care 12, 2 (2019): 198-211.
The book is a spiritual resource drawing on the lived wisdom of holy figures such as Teresa of Kolkata, Francis de Sales, Raymund Nonnatus, and Hildegard of Bingen. According to Gerald O’Collins, SJ, ““Perrin’s . . . accessible language, the questions he raises, his appeal to lived experiences, the choice of saints to accompany prayer, and his very practical advice converge to produce an admirable guide.” Here is a summary of the book:
David B. Perrin, Ph.D., former President of the SSCS, has just published a new book: The 20-Minute Retreat: 18 Sessions with the Saints to Nourish Your Faith Life. The book contains a series of thoughtful, faith-filled meditations for people who seek to find space for prayer and reflection at their own pace and in their own time. Explore such themes as leadership, sin, justice, prayer, blessing and the cross with selected companion saints who have walked these paths and can guide us on the way.
The book is published by Twenty-Third Publications in the United States under the title: 20-Minute Retreats With the Saints and by Novalis Books in Canada under the title: The 20-Minute Retreat.
This essay by Glen G. Scorgie appears in Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice which according to the publisher “offers a distinctly evangelical consideration of the benefits of contemplation.”
In their introduction to the volume, the book’s editors write that Scorgie
. . . addresses Christian contemplation in relation to other religions’ contemplative traditions. Scorgie rightly notes that it is important to enter into comparison with the other religious practices, not for the purpose of adjusting our own practices (as if Christianity lacked the internal resources to consider its own spirituality), but to attend to the differences. Israel continually practiced things their foreign neighbors did, at the very call of God, and yet there was always a distinct difference that uniquely formed the purpose, telos, or nature of the Jewish appropriation. . . . After engaging in a broad sweep of comparative analyses with other religious traditions, Scorgie focuses in on the distinctively Christian features of Christian contemplation.
Scorgie, Glen G. “A Distinctively Christian Contemplation: A Comparison with Other Religions,” in Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, edited by Kyle C. Strobel and John H. Coe, 259-282. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
This essay by Tom Schwanda appears in Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice which according to the publisher “offers a distinctly evangelical consideration of the benefits of contemplation.”
In their introduction to the volume, the book’s editors write that Schwanda’s essay
. . . introduces the reader to criticisms of contemplation and spiritual formation that have arisen in popular-level online discourse. Unraveling these criticisms, and showing how they are not based on actual views held by evangelicals, Schwanda continues by giving four features of what might be called classical evangelical statements of contemplation. Turning to figures from both Reformed and Wesleyan camps, Schwanda outlines the views of Jonathan Edwards, Susanna Anthony, Sarah Jones, and Francis Asbury on the nature and task of contemplation, revealing a deep vein of contemplation in the very foundation of evangelical spirituality.
Schwanda, Tom. “’To Gaze on the Beauty of the Lord’: The Evangelical Resistance and Retrieval of Contemplation” in Embracing Contemplation: Reclaiming a Christian Spiritual Practice, edited by Kyle C. Strobel and John H. Coe, 95–117. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2019.
This essay appears in Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, a multi-author collection of essays described as “an expansive view of the Protestant reception of mysticism, from the the beginnings of the Reformation through mid-seventeenth century.” Tom Schwanda begins his essay by saying that he will be using the language of “contemplative-mystical piety” which he defines as “the grateful and loving beholding of God through God’s mighty acts and Scripture, in which one experiences union and deepening communion with Jesus Christ through the power and guidance of the Holy Spirit.” The essay contributes to current research in Puritan mysticism by taking a close look at two important Puritans, Paul Baynes and Richard Sibbes, thereby “seeking to demonstrate their appreciation for medieval mysticism in the development of their own contemplative-mystical piety.”
Schwanda, Tom. “Paul Baynes and Richard Sibbes.” In Protestants and Mysticism in Reformation Europe, edited by Ronald K. Rittgers and Vincent Evener, 369-388. St. Andrews Studies in Reformation History. Leiden: Brill, 2019.
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Central to this article’s discussion about the development of modern spirituality is the notion of “the social.” According to the article’s author, Marc De Kesel, a modern understanding of “social” emerged when the term “subject” became more identified with a human being than with the divine subiectum. Here is an excerpt from the opening paragraphs:
What then is ‘spirituality’? And why has it, despite its obvious connotation with religion and religiosity, a generally more appreciated place than religion? What grants spirituality, contrary to religion, such a positive fame within the social?
Instead of entering the question via a reflection on spirituality, this essay take a different, in some sense opposite direction and approaches spirituality via the problem of ‘the social’. What happened to the social that it reacts positively with respect to spirituality, but rather negatively with regard to religion? What happened to the social that made it so difficult for traditional religion to find its place in it, while spirituality seems to feel more at home there?
De Kesel, Marc. “Spirituality & the Social: Some Reflections on the Basics,” in Transforming Spirituality. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Soeterbeeck (the Netherlands) 6 and 7 May 2016, Studies in Spirituality 28 (2018): 65-81.
Many of us would agree that green spaces in urban environments offer a welcome respite from the often hectic pace of city life. In Chad Thralls‘ article, we find an argument for considering a city park as a setting for a spiritual pilgrimage. Here is his article’s abstract:
The paper begins with an appreciation of the ‘turn to nature’ seen in recent scholarship in Christian spirituality, and then proceeds to offer a suggestion how this rich literature might be made relevant to those who connect with God through the natural world, yet live in cities far removed from wilderness areas. An urban park is often an oasis of green in a ‘desert’ of streets, sidewalks, and buildings. By offering access to natural scenery, parks provide relatively quiet spaces in stark contrast to the noise and distractions of the city surrounding them. To understand their spiritual use, the paper claims that parks serve as pilgrimage sites in cities because they provide spaces where it is possible to find a degree of solitude and access to scenic natural features such as trees, flowers, and small bodies of water. Using the author’s experience as an example (and Victor and Edith Turner’s work on pilgrimage as a guide), the paper concludes that walking out of Manhattan’s street grid into The Ramble, a wooded section at the heart of Central Park, can facilitate a transition of attention inward from the concerns of everyday life to the presence of Christ in the heart.
Thralls,Chad. “Urban Parks as Sacred Places: Pilgrimage, Solitude, and Access to Nature,” in Transforming Spirituality. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Soeterbeeck (the Netherlands) 6 and 7 May 2016, Studies in Spirituality 28 (2018): 211-231.