Dissertation: Friendship with the Saints: A Practical Theological Reading of Teresa of Avila as a Spiritual Companion, by Tara Soughers

Combining the approaches of practical theology and spirituality studies, Tara Soughers explores the writings of Teresa of Avila on spiritual companionship. When understood within their historical contexts, the writings of the saints can offer a great deal to contemporary practice of spiritual companionship, and Sougher’s analysis of Teresa’s texts provides a case study of how that might be so. Here is the dissertation’s abstract:

This dissertation is a practical theology study of spiritual companionship with the saints, working with Teresa of Avila as a case study. Teresa’s writing reflects a robust understanding and practice of spiritual companionship with saints. While contemporary literature on spiritual companionship exists and the notion of friendship with saints can be found in some theological works on the communion of saints, practical theology studies that attend to the rich potential and theological meaning of friendship with saints have been lacking. This dissertation seeks to fill that gap, arguing that the relationship of saints to contemporary Christians is one of companionship within the communion of saints. This allows saints to serve as spiritual companions to contemporary Christians in ways that are analogous to contemporary personal relationships of spiritual companionship. This is an interdisciplinary study, working across disciplines of practical theology and spirituality studies while deeply engaging historical studies. Due to the importance of historical context in spirituality studies and concerns with issues of appropriation, the practical theology methodology is modified, strengthening the historical theology movement. The dissertation provides a textual and historical-contextual analysis of Teresa of Avila’s understandings and practices of friendship, including friendship with the saints. Current literature on spiritual companionship is explored and brought into a mutually critical dialogue with Teresa’s own descriptions—demonstrating common themes of journey and intimacy, affirmation and challenge, and personal transformation and growth in relationship with God. These themes are placed in dialogue with two contemporary understandings of the communion of saints, Anglican theological reflections based on liturgical practice and Elizabeth Johnson’s systematic treatment, yielding a model for companionship with saints that is grounded in norms of mutuality, deep knowledge, mutually critical dialogue, and living with differences. These norms suggest personal practices of companionship as well as contemplative pedagogical techniques for teaching the saints in an academic setting. The dissertation thus presents a practical theology study of spiritual companionship with the saints, rooted in a deep historical-contextual dialogue with Teresa of Avila. It seeks also to demonstrate the value of increased attention to historical studies in practical theology methodology.

The dissertation is freely available in Boston University Libraries’ institutional repository, OpenBU.

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Syllabus: Spirituality and Comedy

As Anita Houck points out in her introduction, the two main elements of her course are not often considered as complementary or even closely related. SSCS members can check out the resources she uses to get her students to think otherwise. Here is her overview of the course:

Christianity has often been resistant to areas of life we associate with comedy, such as laughter, play, and joy; as Hugo Rahner asks, “May a Christian laugh, when he has heard our Lord’s warning, ‘Woe upon you who laugh now; you shall mourn and weep’ (Luke 6.25)? May a Christian go on merrily playing when a stern and strict choice has to be made for eternity?” This course will investigate the relationship between comic dimensions of human life and Christian spirituality. Since spirituality requires self-implication, a significant part of the class will involve participating in spiritual practices, as well as two experiential events outside of class; and since contemporary Christian spirituality is deeply shaped by engagement with other traditions, the course will also consider ecumenical and inter-religious engagement.

Copies of the syllabus are available to SSCS members by contacting the blog moderator.

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Essay: ‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’ Rainer Maria Rilke and the transformations of poetry, by Mark S. Burrows

In this essay, Mark Burrows, Poetry Editor of the SSCS journal Spiritus, explores Rilke’s focus on the role of the imagination in our inner transformation. Our fragmentary lives can be made whole through the power of the kind of archetypal imagery one can find in poetry. Here’s a portion of Burrow’s introductory paragraph:

Poetic language . . . is dynamic. One might even say that it is determinative of change, of the kind of interior change that alters the way we inhabit our lives and our world. But how does one ‘find’ such images for this journey of growth? Where do they come from? Rilke turns to such questions in a poem written a few years later, in 1902, describing poets as artists who are ‘enclosed in themselves’, and thereby ‘gather images both murmuring and deep’: ‘They go out and ripen through metaphor’, as he suggests, ‘and remain alone their whole life’ (Die Gedichte 243 ). The poet, in Rilke’s mind at least, must accept a life of solitude, the experience of Einsamkeit that sug­- gests both ‘aloneness’ and a sense of loneliness at once. The poet’s capacity to attend to this phenomenon has something of the eremitic about it, and indeed this conviction seems to shape the collection of poems Rilke wrote after returning from Russia in the fall of 1899 – The Prayers, later published as The Book of Monastic Life.

Here is a citation for the essay:

Burrows, Mark S. “‘Like a word still ripening in the silences’: Rainer Maria Rilke and the Transformations of Poetry.” In Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word, edited by Mark S. Burrows, Jean Ward, Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, 107-116. New York: Routledge, 2017.

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Book: Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word, ed. by Mark Burrows, Jean Ward, and Malgorzata Gregorgzewska

Mark Burrows, Poetry Editor of the SSCS journal Spiritushas co-edited this multi-author collection of essays which one reviewer has described as “an important resource for students of Christian spirituality.” According to the book’s introductory blurb:

This book explores the much debated relation of language and bodily experience (i.e. the ‘flesh’), considering in particular how poetry functions as revelatory discourse and thus relates to the formal horizon of theological inquiry. The central thematic focus is around a ‘phenomenology of the flesh’ as that which connects us with the world, being the site of perception and feeling, joy and suffering, and of life itself in all its vulnerability. The voices represented in this collection reflect interdisciplinary methods of interpretation and broadly ecumenical sensibilities, focusing attention on such matters as the revelatory nature of language in general and poetic language in particular, the function of poetry in society, the question of Incarnation and its relation to language and the poetic arts, the kenosis of the Word, and human embodiment in relation to the word ‘enfleshed’ in poetry.

The table of contents, Preface, and much of the Introduction by Burrows is available in a Preview PDF linked on the publisher’s page for the book.

Citation for the book:
Burrows, Mark S, Jean Ward, and Małgorzata Grzegorzewska, eds. Poetic Revelations : Word Made Flesh Made Word. The Power of the Word, Volume 3. London: Routledge, Taylor & Francis Group, 2017.

Citation for the quoted book review:
Staudt, K. H. “Poetic Revelations: Word Made Flesh Made Word (The Power of the Word III) ed. by Mark Burrows, Jean Ward, and Malgorzata Gregorgzewska (review).” Spiritus: A Journal of Christian Spirituality, vol. 17 no. 2, 2017, pp. 263-265.

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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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Article: The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same, by David B. Perrin

David B. Perrin, former president of the SSCS, recently published “The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same.” A shorter version was presented at the Biennual International Conference of The Society for the Study of Christian Spirituality: Prayer without Ceasing: Perspectives in Spirituality Studies (June 2017) which took place in Kloster Kappel, Switzerland, a seminar hotel and education center of the Protestant Reformed Church of Canton Zurich. Those interested may reference the article in the journal indicated or e-mail the author for a copy.

David B. Perrin, “The Trinity Who Prays and Engages Others to do the Same,” Vol. VIII, No. 2, July 2017, Vinayasādhana: Dharmaram Journal of Psycho-Spiritual Formation, Dharmaram College, Bangalore, India, 28-41.

Here is the article’s abstract:

A Christian understanding of prayer, at the popular as well as the academic level, frequently holds up Jesus Christ as the model for interpreting what it means to pray. Think, for example, of the oft-cited text of Matthew 6:9-13: “This then, is how you should pray ….” But beyond reciting a prayer to the God of Jesus, as Jesus himself did often, how is prayer to be understood as an integral part of daily human life? What does it mean to “pray always,” as Paul admonishes in 1 Thess 5:17 “pray without ceasing” and many mystics and faith-filled Christians have instructed over the ages? This article, rather than focusing on the life of Jesus as a singular reality to engage an understanding of Christian prayer life (although stories from Jesus’ life are included), engages the communitarian life of the Triune God as the model for living and interpreting Christian prayer and how it is lived in the everyday life of the Christian. As such, the article frames Christian prayer as essentially informed by and lived through the prayer of the community of the Trinity – a community of life that is present in human moments of joy and celebration as well as moments of failure and disappointment. God, who is One, draws the Christian richly into Divine Life through the prayer of the Trinity to be the pray-er, as Jesus was. Of singular importance in the journey of being drawn into the life of the Trinity is the consideration of prayer as “self-realization” through “self-transcendence” as understood by Bernard Lonergan and others in the history of Christian spirituality.

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Article: Continuous Prayer in Catherine of Siena, by Diana L. Villegas

Diana Villegas has published an article on continuous prayer in Catherine of Siena. It’s freely available as an open access article in HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological StudiesShe gave a presentation of essential parts of the 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. Here is the article’s abstract:

Catherine of Siena offers considerable wisdom regarding continuous prayer. However, this wisdom is not well known because it is scattered among her texts, including over 373 letters, and is expressed in images and metaphors, the product of oral communication by a 14th-century woman with no formal education. Through a literary analysis of original texts, I will show the interconnection among the meanings of her symbolic communications, offering a narrative about continuous prayer. I will explore the meaning of inner cell and time spent in this cell for knowledge of self and God. I will show how this dual knowledge results in transformation of the deepest motivation at the core of the person. Living consciously and for God’s kingdom out of this transformed core of the self constitutes continuous prayer.

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