Book: Ordinary Saints: Lessons in the Art of Giving Away Your Life, by Stuart C. Devenish

SSCS member Stuart Devenish’s book, Ordinary Saints, offers a definition of sainthood applicable to the people we encounter in our everyday lives who are deeply committed to living out the Gospel message. Here is the book’s abstract:

In the post-Christian age, after the death of institutional religion, is there any place left for holy people to live as lovers of God? Yes! God’s favorite way of making himself present in the world is through the righteous lives of his holy people. This is a book about saints (defined as activated disciples), who are alive now, and whose everyday goodness announces that God is at work in the world.

Saints are blood-bought, love-steeped, twice-born, re-made people who are Christianity’s living witnesses. Like Jesus, their Master, they are the message, the messenger, and the working model of the kingdom of God. In following Jesus, ordinary saints are invited to give away their lives and spend out of their resources to convey the substance of their faith to a waiting and watching world.

If ever there was a time when Saints need to live courageously for Christ in the world, it is now. But it will take conviction, credibility, and a great deal of audacity. Ordinary Saints explores what it means to be a saint in the 21st-century, by exploring the depth-dimension of saints’ lives, bodies, emotions, values, and relationships.

It offers the simple recipe that if God exists, if the Bible is true, if Jesus saves … What’s going to prove it are the lives of ordinary saints. Thinking of the great saints of the early era of Christian history, St Augustine asked himself, “If they, why not I? – If those men and women could become saints, why cannot I with the help of Him who is all-powerful?”

Stuart Devenish, Ph.D., is the Director of Postgraduate Studies at the School of Ministry, Theology, and Culture, Tabor College of Higher Education, Adelaide, Australia.

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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.

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Paper: Spirituality and Culture in Interaction: The Illustrative Recurring Debate on the Role of the Oldest Testament in Christian Theology and Broader Culture, by Christo Lombaard

Christo Lombaard‘s paper was presented at the inaugural Lumen Research Institute Conference held at Excelsia College, Sydney, on 4th and 5th October 2016. According to the Foreword in the conference proceedings, “The conference considered a broad range of theory, scholarship and research at the interface of theology, spirituality, culture and well-being with a core emphasis on how theology and spirituality can contribute to a richer understanding of culture and well-being – and vice versa.” Here is the abstract for Christo’s paper:

During the past two years, an ancient controversy – running from the first to second century theologian Marcion via, in more modern times, for instance contemporaries Adolf von Harnack’s culture-critical theology and Friedrich Delitzsch’s Babel-Bibel oppositioning, to Zimbabwean theologian-politician Canaan Banana’s call for an Africanized Bible, to British rationalist Richard Dawkins and others – has resurfaced anew with the Berlin theologian Notger Slenczka: that the Old Testament in/and the Christian canon is reconsidered. The options proposed range from excluding the Old Testament from the canon to altering its scope to revising its contents. These proposals and some of the culturally related reasons for them are in this contribution taken into review. Is it however not perhaps precisely the “non-harmonious” characteristics of the Hebrew Bible, and by extension the Christian Bible, which have contributed to the resilience of the Jewish faith, to the influence of the Old Testament in Christianity, and to the intellectual-cultural contributions of these texts in the Judean-Christian spheres of influence across two millennia?

SSCS members may obtain a copy of the PDF version of the Proceedings of the Spirituality, Culture and Well-Being Conference by e-mailing the CSS moderator.

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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.

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Paper: The Spirituality of Óscar Arnulfo Romero, by David B. Perrin

David Perrin‘s paper was presented at the University of Notre Dame during its annual conference “Romero Days” (March 24-28, 2017).  The annual conference brings together scholars from around the world who do research directly on Romero or are connected to some aspect of his life journey. Here is the paper’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 conference is a theological analysis, one of many possible others, of how such a change, such a conversion, can be framed within the tradition 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 and spirituality of a mystic, martyr and saint indeed.

SSCS members can obtain a copy of the paper by contacting David by e-mail.

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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.



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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.

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