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.
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.
Retired Professor in Religious Studies at the University of South Africa and now Research Associate in the Faculty of Theology and Religion at the University of Pretoria, J.S. Krüger writes that his book does not depend on any single academic discipline nor is it based in a particular religious tradition. According to the author,
This investigation listens to the wise and enlightened of the past and the present in all cultures, religions and mystical traditions; the visionaries and explorers of the inner world. The days of monocultural, monoreligious isolation are numbered – our time is crying out for a new, inclusive-pluralistic, totalistic vision, appropriate to the cultural conditions of today and the foreseeable tomorrow, beyond the mere rehashing of traditional views and dogmas. The various wisdom traditions are not to be mingled, but respected in their individual integrity. I also assume some continuity among the various mystical traditions evolved by humanity, and among the great mystics who are conspicuous among that differentiated but continuous stream.
Information about the book on the publisher’s website includes an abstract. The book is freely available through open access.
Citation: Krüger, J.S. Signposts to Silence. Metaphysical Mysticism: Theoretical Map and Historical Pilgrimages. HTS Religion & Society Series Volume 2. Cape Town; Durbanville: AOSIS, 2018.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
Janet Ruffing begins her article by describing some of the questions facing Christian spirituality studies today. For Ruffing, practice begins with an inner experience of God followed by reflection and interpretation to discern its meaning. She then shows how mystical texts, theology and scientific disciplines can inform our understanding of spiritual practices. Here are the essay’s opening paragraphs:
As we reflect on the field of Christian spirituality over the last twenty-five years, . . . . methodological and definitional questions, philosophical questions, theological questions, and interdisciplinary contributions to our field remain in flux. We have witnessed a weakening of an assumed relationship between practicing a religion and spirituality in the West. And we have experienced an exponential growth in a variety of empirical approaches to the study of spirituality in psychology, business, neuroscience, health, and other social science approaches. It is timely that we ask whither is our field going?
In my reflections with you, I offer some preliminary remarks about the praxis of spirituality. Why do we engage in practices that facilitate deepening our experience of God and then shaping our basic relational life commitments, ministries, work, social and cultural life in response to this self-revealing God whose face is turned toward us as unconditional love and mercy?
Ruffing, Janet K. “The Praxis of Spirituality: Experiencing God and Responding to that Relationship,” in Transforming Spirituality. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Soeterbeeck (the Netherlands) 6 and 7 May 2016, Studies in Spirituality 28 (2018): 47-63.
Dale Schlitt’s article describes a particular medieval church’s history, showing how its architecture was designed to express a trinitarian spirituality. Here is the article’s abstract:
This article is a study of and reflection on the spiritual, indeed Trinitarian, significance of the Royal Chapel of Saint-Denis, located in the suburbs of Paris. The chapel was renovated around 1140 under the leadership of Abbot Suger, who commented at length on its architectural meaning and spiritual message. So renovated, the chapel marks the beginnings of Gothic architecture. The study notes the chapel’s past and present contexts. It considers both architectural and literary evidence suggesting that Abbot Suger intended to create a truly ‘Trinitarian space’. The study focuses at length on various aspects of the façade and the interior of the chapel which help those who visit it to appreciate the trinitarian character of the space he has created. The study suggests that the arched roof of triangles and the side walls, with light spreading down upon those within the chapel, have provided a sense of being embraced by the Trinity and that they can continue to do so. Abbot Suger has, as his commentaries and other considerations confirm, left an architectural gem in testimonial to experience of the Trinity. Within it the worshipping community provides the fullest testimonial to that experience.
Schlitt, Dale M. “Abbot Suger: A Trinitarian Space,” in Transforming Spirituality. Proceedings of the International Conference held at Soeterbeeck (the Netherlands) 6 and 7 May 2016, Studies in Spirituality 28 (2018): 189-209.