Towards a Phenomenologically Grounded Understanding of Christian Spirituality in Theology


Historically, spirituality and religion have been distinct but inseparable aspects of one phenomenon.  Separate implies something essentially unrelated to the subject, while distinction implies something discernibly different but still related to the subject in its’ unity.  Religion has historically been and continues to be one of the primary sociological contexts in and through which spirituality as a phenomenon is observed.  Still there is a discernable distinction between them as even within a given religion there might be differing spiritualities according to the particular tradition that later arose within that religion.  For example, within Christianity the way in which spirituality is expressed within Eastern Orthodoxy is very different than how it is expressed within Latin Catholicism.  The sacramental emphases of Catholic traditions are very different than the evangelical traditions of Protestantism.  Within Buddhism there are various schools and traditions such as Theravada, Mahayana and Zen.  Within Judaism there is orthodox, conservative, and reform traditions.  Similarly there exists within Islam different expressions such as the Shi’ite and Sunni as well as the more mystical Sufi tradition.  Each tradition claims fidelity to its’ founder and are more or less recognized by the distinct traditions as religious adherents and fellow travelers - albeit with differing emphases.

Increasing secularization particularly in the Western world has challenged all religions as they begin to adapt and respond to the modern world.  Scientific developments, new interpretive methods for history, the advent of sociology, psychology and the social sciences have all had their effect on religions’ self-understanding.  One of the effects of increasing secularization is that there has been a fracture between religion and spirituality. One hears frequently from people that they consider themselves spiritual but not religious.  Today spirituality and religion have become dichotomized in the minds of many.  Spirituality often represents something personal, positive, and liberating while religion something bureaucratic, negative and oppressive (Schneiders 1999:1). One sees this trend in Canada.  Stats Canada reports that at the time of 1961, less than 1% of Canadians claimed to have no religion.  By 1991 this proportion had increased to almost 13% (Clark 1998:6). Yet, Reginald Bibby’s Project Canada Survey indicated that 81% of Canadians still believe in God implying that although church attendance has declined most people retain their belief in God (Bibby 1995:130).  

 Spiritual self help books continue to be best sellers as people find ways to appropriate their understanding of God in our contemporary world.  People increasingly seem to seek spiritual fulfillment outside of the bounds of traditional religion.  Even within religion, as Schneider points out, people interested in spirituality often turn to guidance to theology programs rather than to institutionalized religion and many people very interested in the church are highly suspicious of both theology and spirituality (Schneiders 1999:1).

 Given the contemporary posture with respect to religion and the disquieting resonance associated with that term, it is beneficial for academic purposes to detach the wholesome and life-giving aspects of spirituality from the garments that have historically clothed it.  Spirituality, as an acknowledged human phenomena, needs to begin to develop its’ own contemporary methodologies in order to explicate this phenomena and contribute to the body of knowledge in a scientific or academic milieu.  This challenge is recognized within the emerging specialty of spirituality.  Everet Cousins in the preface to Christian Spirituality – Origins to the 12th Century writes that in the context of modern scholarship spirituality has not been extricated from the history of religions, the philosophy of religion and theology.  Its central focus, its categories and concepts, and its distinct methodology have not been established to the point of being commonly accepted as conventions (Mcginn 2000: xiii).

In this paper I will look at how Christian spirituality today is often conceived of in a phenomenological or existential context and why that context is the preferred one for understanding spirituality in our post-modern world.  Of course we need to be clear what we mean when we use the term spirituality.  By placing spirituality in the context of existential lived reality, I am removing it as an abstract idea or theory and grounding it in an observable phenomenon.  First, however it is helpful to briefly explore the relationship between religion and spirituality.

Relationship Between Spirituality and Religion

Disquieting resonance notwithstanding religion is tied intimately with spirituality and is necessary in order to begin to understand spirituality in a coherent fashion.  It is a mistake to demonize religion.  Religion is simply the sociological expression of a common faith.  The difference today is that religion is no longer recognized as the exclusive expression of spirituality.  I will explore the other contexts later.  The point I wish to underscore at the outset however is that religion is certainly a very important context for spirituality.  We cannot separate spirituality from its’ religious expression as every existential human expression, including spirituality, has a sociological and psychological context through which it is both received and expressed.  Schneiders writes,

“Religion, as those who specialize in its study tell us, is a notoriously difficult term to define…What seems to mark religions is that they are cultural systems for dealing with ultimate reality, whether or not that ultimate reality is God, and they are institutionalized in patterns of creed, code and cult.  In some way, religion is about the human relationship to the sacred, the ultimate, the transcendent, the divine. These are not strictly equivalent terms but religion is basically a system for dealing with that which transcends the individual or even the social entity” (Schneiders1999: 4-5).

In Christianity the specific sociological entity that mediates the faith has a particular biblical name - the ecclesia.  Exploring all the various understandings of the ecclesia has become a specialty in and of itself in theology; named appropriately enough “ecclesiology”.  Differing interpretations of Scriptural texts, differing historical, political and philosophical movements, various charismatic or reform minded leaders have all contributed to the diverging manner in which Christians understand the ecclesia as an organizing principle for the faith.  While acknowledging the importance of denominational categories and the essential this dimension has for the faith, it is important in the specialty of spirituality to self-consciously maintain a posture outside of them.

 . Arguably the only ecclesiology that spirituality as a specialty within theology presupposes is a Pauline one.  By that I mean Paul’s vision for the ecclesia as being a universal, christologically conceived human solidarity in which there is no longer any opposition between Jew and Greek, slave and free (cf. Gal. 3:28).   Avery Dulles in his groundbreaking work Models of Church writes:

“The Church of Christ does not exist in this world without an organization or structure that analogously resembles the organization of other human societies.  Thus I include the institutional as one of the necessary elements of a balanced ecclesiology.

The most distinctive feature of Catholicism, in my opinion, is not its insistence on the institutional but rather its wholeness or balance (and here one might indulge in some playing on the etymology of the word “catholic” as the Greek equivalent for “universal”).  I am of the opinion that the Catholic church, in the name of its “catholicity,” must avoid falling into a sectarian mentality.  Being “catholic,” this Church must be open to all God’s truth, no matter who utters it.  As St. Paul teaches, it must accept whatever things are true, honorable, just, pure, lovely, gracious, and excellent (cf. Phil. 4:8)” (Dulles 1974:14).

Debates around ecclesiology while necessary and legitimate are foreign to a rigorous examination of spirituality within the scope and history of Christianity as it has existed for the last 2,000 years.  In surveying the literature associated with Christian spirituality one very rarely comes across any apologies for the various ecclesiologies that are extant within Christianity today.  This is understandable and to be expected.  An authentic Christian spirituality should be able to be understood in any confessional denomination and fit within any ecclesiology.  From a phenomenological perspective, spirituality is not a categorical object imposed on a group but is rather disclosed through the particularities of the group’s self-understanding and tradition. (e.g. Eastern Orthodoxy, monasticism, Protestant, etc.)  There is argues Berdyaev, the Russian existentialist philosopher, a plurality of expressions corresponding to the plurality of people within the one Church of Christ.  This plurality is not problematic.

“The selfsame and eternal Truth of the Christian Revelation is individualized in different races, nations, personalities. The absoluteness of Christian Truth is in no way contrary to an individuation of this kind. There are no excluding oppositions between the universal and the individual. The universal and the individual have herein a concrete sameness. The absolute Truth of Christianity has a human recipient. The human element is not passive but rather active, and it reacts with a creativity different to that which is revealed from above. It creates a multiplicity of forms. And in this should be seen nothing bad. There are many mansions in my Father's house [John 14:2]. Thoroughly justified is the existence of an Eastern and of a Western Christianity, just as there is of a Romanic Christianity and of a Germanic Christianity” (Berdyaev 1925).

Contemporary Understandings of Spirituality

Spirituality understood in a non-religious or so called “secular” sense is defined by academics like Peter Van Ness, professor of religion at Columbia University, as “the quest for attaining an optimal relationship between what one truly is and everything that is” (Van Ness 1996:5).  Schneiders notes that by “everything that is” he means “reality apprehended as a cosmic totality” and by “what one truly is” he means all of the self to which one has attained at a given time (Schneiders 1999:3).  In the modern understanding of the term, spirituality is often understood according to existentially derived notions.  Spirituality is viewed subjectively and personally apart from abstract categories.  Its’ value is qualitative and is actualized in the secrecy of the persons own subjective consciousness but lived in concrete action.  Spirituality is the constitutive element of the human person. Kierkegaard articulated it as follows:

“Every human existence not conscious of itself as spirit, or not personally conscious of itself before God as spirit, every human existence which is not grounded transparently in God, but opaquely rests or merges in some abstract universal (state, nation, etc.), or in the dark about its self, simply takes its capacities to be natural powers, unconscious in a deeper sense of where it has them from, takes its self to be an unaccountable something; if there were any question of accounting for its inner being, every such existence, however astounding in its accomplishment, however much it can account for even the whole of existence, however intense its aesthetic enjoyment: every such life is  none the less despair”  (Kierkegaard 1989:76).

In other disciplines such as psychology, psychologists like Frankl understand spirituality as subjective unconscious existence, which is essentially “spirit”. 

“To take up once more the issue of “depth psychology” we have to extend the meaning of this concept, because up to now depth psychology has followed man into the depth of his instincts, but too little into the depth of his spirit. Since “depth” refers to the unconscious, it is necessarily follows that the person in his depth, or, for that matter, human existence in its’ depth is essentially unconscious.  This is due to the fact that spiritual activity so absorbs the person as executor of spiritual acts that he is not even capable of reflecting on what he basically is.  The self does not yield to self-reflection.  In this sense, human existence is basically unreflectable, and so is the self in itself.  Human existence exists in action rather than reflection.” (Frankl 2000:36)

Frankl, as a psychologist is touching on an important point.  We are known by our acts.  Because we are unable to consciously reflect on that most intimate aspect of ourselves, we refer to it as “spiritual”.  Therefore spirituality in an existential context denotes a sense of mystery.  Our decisive acts, whether derived from the conscious or unconscious shape our character.  This insight has led to understanding the human person in a holistic context – the whole being greater than the sum of all the parts.  Karl Rahner said it well:

“In the fact that man raises analytic questions about himself and opens himself to the unlimited horizons of such questioning, he has already transcended himself and every conceivable element of such an analysis or of an empirical reconstruction of himself.  In so doing this he is affirming himself as more than the sum of such analyzable components of his reality.  Precisely this consciousness of himself, this confrontation with the totality of all his conditions, and this very being-conditioned show him to be more than the sum of his factors.” (Rahner 1978:29)

Today spirituality, (or as it is sometimes described the transcendence of the human person), is an acknowledged phenomena recognized across disciplines. This does not mean, however, that every discipline deems it necessary to explicate it.  Very often social sciences while recognizing the phenomena pass over it in silence.  In order to understand and articulate spirituality, we need not embrace anti-intellectualism, throwing up our hands and dismissing spirituality as hopelessly elusive for academic study.  Nor should it be dismissed simply as a psychosocial expression of dogmatic or creedal statements issued by institutions and accepted by adherents as equivalent to their existential experience of God.  Inasmuch as spirituality is a human phenomenon, the human person will seek to understand and articulate it.  The job of articulation belongs by vocation to the theologian not the psychologist.  Psychology has not traditionally been understood as an ancilla theoligae.   Frankl draws a bright line between religion and psychology.  He grants psychology the autonomy it requires to serve the human person.  Religion is similarly granted the same autonomy.  Sciences are at the service of the human person in their totality not the other way around.  In a holistic context no approach or method should be excluded nor should any claim to constitute the totality of understanding.  As such each science should be clear on its particular ends as well as limitations.

“Although religion might have a very positive psychotherapeutic effect on a patient, its intention is in no way a psychotherapeutic one.  Although religion might secondarily promote such things as mental health and inner equilibrium, its aim does not primarily concern psychological solutions but, rather, spiritual salvation.  Religion is not an insurance policy for a tranquil life, for maximum freedom from conflicts, or for any other hygienic goal.  Religion provides man with more than psychotherapy ever could--but it also demands more of him.  Any fusion of the respective goals of religion and psychotherapy must result in confusion...

Thus we could say that whoever tries to make psychotherapy into an ancilla theologiae, a servant of theology, not only robes it of the dignity of an autonomous science but also takes away the potential value it might have for religion, because psychotherapy can be useful to religion only in terms of a by-product, or side-effect, and never if its usefulness is intended from the start” (Frankl 2000: 80-81).

The Contribution of Postmodernity

One of the critiques of Modernity by post-modernity is that modernity has set up a false confidence in rationality and science as being able to be adequately convey the totality of existential experience which as has been said is essentially spiritual.  Plurality and individuality are important notions in post modernity. The mistrust of totalizing systems is a strong theme in Levinas and Derrida.  Persons need freedom and liberty in order to fully actualize themselves in their context. No category, no system can ever capture or maintain the person as each person is unique and free in themselves.  Those that try to create a separate intellectual system (ontology) from the density of real live persons (existents) inevitably breed violence.  Emmanuel Levinas, the post-modern philosopher, rejects any kind of natural onto-theology placing instead the ethical response in the face-to-face existential encounter as the place where the Other discloses itself.

“Ethics is the spiritual optics...The work of justice - the uprightness of the face to face - is necessary in order that the breach that leads to God be produced - and “vision” here coincides with this work of justice. Hence metaphysics is enacted where the social relation is enacted - in our relations with men. There can be no “knowledge” of God separated from the relationship with men. The Other is the very locus of metaphysical truth, and is indispensable for my relation with God” (Levinas 1969: 79)  

Spirituality is not an interior construction applied to the world but is an unparalleled openness to the world, to others, to the “marvel of exteriority”.  It is a  “delightful lapse of the ontological order.”  Maintaining the alterior-ness of the other is fundamental.  “The nakedness of the face is not what is presented to me because I disclose it…The face has turned to me - and this is its very nudity.  It is by itself and not by reference to a system…” (Levinas 1996: 75).  Spirituality is disclosed through our own ethical response in human relationships, unmediated by any self-same system including any that might put us into contact with a rationally conceived God. 

“Revelation is discourse; in order to welcome revelation a being apt for this role of interlocutor, a separated being, is required. Atheism conditions a veritable relationship with a true God...A relation with the Transcendent free from all captivation by the Transcendent is a social relation. . It is here that the Transcendent, infinitely other, solicits and appeals to us...His very epiphany consists in soliciting us by his destitution in the face of the Stranger, the widow, the orphan.  The atheism of the metaphysician means, positively, that our relation with the Metaphysical is an ethical behavior...God rises to his supreme and ultimate presence as correlative to the justice rendered unto men.” (Levinas 1996: 78).   

We must acknowledge that no science and no systematic theology are ever equivalent to experience effected through relationship.  George Tyrrell wrote, “The Church of experience goes her way as little affected by the theorizers as is the orderly course of the universe by the speculations of science.” (Tyrrell 1907: 74). Historically religion has provided the categories and language for people to understand and integrate spirituality in their lives. George Tyrrell wrote that doctrine depends on religion more than religion on doctrine and it is the effort of religion to find utterance and embodiment.  “For as the strong creative thought of genius selects spontaneously the aptest language at its disposal, so a deeply religious spirit will not fail to respond to that doctrine or system which is more consonant with its needs and exigencies” (Tyrrell 1907:5). 

Current Theological Paradigms and Language.

The question that needs to be asked today is what are our need and exigencies.  The need to move past the totalizing Rational systems of the Enlightenment is being felt with greater urgency.  For the purposes of understanding the Modern period we should turn our attention to one of the fathers of the modern period Rene Descartes.  As David Tracy notes, “Descartes spoke for the entire modern era when he pleaded for certainty, clarity, and distinctness. He spoke again on behalf of modernity when he pleaded for a method grounded in the subjects' self-presence, a method, in principle, that would prove the same for all thinking, rational persons” (Tracy 1994:104).  The reaction to that notion applied to faith came from Soren Kierkegaard.  As Don Johnson points out, “For Kierkegaard, it was not possible to build a system of philosophy to arrive at knowledge of something that was inherently absurd and non-reasonable. God could not be apprehended through reason. Therefore, any system that claimed to explain the unexplainable, prove the unprovable, or know the unknowable, was to be rejected” (Johnson 2002).  New discoveries undercutting previous certainties in science have served to destabilize the confidence we once had in science as a means to organize life.  Jacques Maritain observed,

“In the realm of culture science now holds sway over human civilization. But at the same time science has, in the realm of the mind, entered a period of deep and fecund trouble and self-examination. Scientists have to face the problem of over-specialization, and a general condition of permanent crisis which stems from an extraordinarily fast swarming of discoveries and theoretical renewals, and perhaps from the very approach peculiar to modern science. They have, in general, got rid of the idea that it is up to science to organize human life and society, and to supersede ethics and religion by providing men with the standards and values on which their destiny depends. Finally -- and this is the point with which I am especially concerned in this essay -- the cast of mind of scientists regarding religion and philosophy, as it appeared in the majority of them a century ago, has now profoundly changed.

There are, no doubt, atheists among scientists, as there are in any other category of people; but atheism is not regarded by them as required by science. The old notion of a basic opposition between science and religion is progressively passing away. No conflict between them is possible, Robert Williken declared. In many scientists there is an urge either toward more or less vague religiosity or toward definite religious faith; and there is an urge, too, toward philosophical unification of knowledge. But the latter urge still remains, more often than not, imbued with a kind of intellectual ambiguity” (Maritain 1959).

This development combined with the subjectivity and personalism begun with Kierkegaard and others would eventually give birth to what today is ambiguously described as post-modernity.    Our time is unique and requires a creative theological imagination in order to read the “signs of the times”.  For post-modern thinkers ambiguity is not something to fear but embrace.  Any attempt to build an overarching meta-system separate from the density of actual existing human persons is viewed with suspicion.  The challenge of articulating and living out of such a notion is one that Simone Weil suggested is the primary challenge of our time.  In 1942 she noted, “we are living in times that have no precedent, and in our present situation universality, which could formerly be implicit, has to be fully explicit.  It has to permeate our language and the whole of our way of life.  Today it is not nearly enough to be a saint, but we must have the saintliness demanded by the present moment, a new saintliness, itself without precedent”  (Weil 1951:99).  She recognized then however that a certain liberality of language and expression is required and that the Church as an institution ought not impose specific language or systems that might frustrate the kind of broad catholicity she envisioned.  While acknowledging the Church’s role as preserving the deposit of faith she wrote, “But she is guilty of an abuse of power when she claims to force love and intelligence to model their language upon her own.  This abuse of power is not of God.  It comes from the natural tendency of every form of collectivism, without exception, to abuse power” (Weil 1951:80).   In early 1940 she recognized that religious christological truth transcended and was broader than the categorization of the Church.  While not referencing Tertullian the notion that anima naturaliter Christiana was one that pervaded her consciousness.

“For it seemed to me certain, and I still think so today, that one can never wrestle enough with God if one does so out of pure regard for truth.  Christ likes us to prefer truth to him because, before being Christ, he is truth.  If one turns aside from him to go towards the truth one will not go far before falling into his arms.

After this I came to feel that Plato was a mystic, that all the Iliad is bathed in Christian light, and that Dionysius and Osiris are in a certain sense Christ himself; and my love was thereby redoubled.

I never wondered whether Jesus was or was not the Incarnation of God; but in fact I was incapable of thinking of him without thinking of him as God.

In the spring of 1940 I read the Bhagavad-Gita.  Strange to say it was in reading those marvellous words, words with such a Christian sound, to put into the mouth of an incarnation of God, that I came to feel strongly that we owe an allegiance to religious truth which is quite different from the admiration we accord to a beautiful poem; it is something far more categorical” (Weil 1951: 70).

In Catholic philosophy, the notion that spirituality understood as the animating principle of life (esse) needed to break out of the spirit suffocating and reified Suarezian styled Thomistic systems of the nineteenth century was a major contribution of the neo-Scholastic revival of Maritain and Gilson.  Albeit with different emphases, it was also part of the transcendental Thomistic movement forwarded by Rahner and Lonergan.  Indeed it was Rahner who made famous the whole notion of the “anonymous Christian” facilitating the process of a unity in plurality.  From an institutional perspective it finally had its’ formal day at the Second Vatican Council when the Roman Church recognized in Lumen Gentium that “many elements of sanctification and of truth can be found outside of its visible confines” (Flannery 1987: 357).  One of the places in which the truth may be found is within the living culture itself.  In Modern times, therefore part of the exploration has been to look closely at the culture and discern the activity of the Spirit within it.  The Church today is understood as being a lived experience in the world as opposed to being an ahistorical superstructure separate from the living culture in which it is expressed. Robert Masson writes:

“Rahner himself argued that we are witnessing the beginning of a new epoch: the transition from a church of the Hellenistic and European culture and its colonies to a world -- church embodied in many different cultures. This "coming-to-be of the world-church," he insisted, "does not mean merely a quantitative augmentation of the earlier church, but contains a theological caesura in church history which . . . can be compared perhaps only with the transition from Judeo-Christianity to Gentile Christianity" (Masson 1984:340).

There were important antecedents to this view to be found in the persons of theologians like Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Pierre Teillhard de Chardin.  Bonhoeffer in his Letters and Papers from Prison wrote:

“The Church is the Church only when it exists for others.  To make a start, it should give away all its property to those in need.  The clergy must live solely on the free-will offerings of their congregations, or possibly engage in some secular calling.  The Church must share in the secular problems   of ordinary human life, not domination, but helping and serving” (Bonhoeffer 1967:203-204).

Teillhard applies a rich cosmic mysticism to the world, seeing the world sacramentally as a divine milieu.  He writes:

“…then we find ourselves (by simply having followed the ‘extensions’ of the Eucharist) plunged once again precisely into our divine milieu.  Christ - for whom and in whom we are formed, each with his own individuality and his own vocation – Christ reveals himself in each reality around us, and shines like an ultimate universal element.  As our humanity assimilates the material world, and as the Host assimilates our humanity, the eucharistic transformation goes beyond and completes the transubstantiation of the bread on the altar.  Step by step it irresistibly invades the universe.  It is the fire that sweeps over the heath; the stroke that vibrates the bronze.  In a secondary and generalized sense, but in a true sense, the sacramental species are formed by the totality of the world, and the duration of the creation is the time needed for its consecration.  In Christo vivimus, movemur et sumus” (de Chardin 1960: 125-126)

In Canada against the backdrop of the history of the Church’s involvement in residential schools, the Church today is beginning to acknowledge today how indigenous culture as an important place where spirituality is expressed and how the Gospel is more deeply understood. Consequently, the specialty of spirituality must not only look at religion as the sociological entity in and through which spirituality is disclosed but also culture itself.  To incorporate all of this in some kind of coherent schema, George Linbeck has published the book The Church in a Post-liberal Age forwarding a cultural/linguistic model that incorporate the insights of "cognitivist" and "experiential expressive" approaches (Tilley 2003).  The problem with such an approach argues Tilley is that, “For Lindbeck's version of postliberalism to make sense, this Christian story must also somehow float free above any and every inculturation. Despite the wild differences throughout global Christian communities over twenty centuries, the postliberal claim that all faithful communities have "the same" story requires either that—if the story is to be the story of each of them—the story be so minimal and thin as to be unable to sustain a communal tradition; or that all the thick, inculturated versions of the story that can sustain communities are, finally, confused or polluted versions of the true story” (Tilley 2003). 

For spirituality therefore another methodological interpretative framework might assist us in breaking free of the polemics associated with theological debates between “conservatives” and “liberals”.

As mentioned earlier, I believe that the phenomenological method of investigation is the preferred one for the specialty of spirituality today in a post-modern age.  Post modernity possesses at best an apolitical character tending towards a humanism ground in caring justice and at worst a tendency to anarchy.  Principled theories or systems, argue post-moderns like Noddings, Derrida and Levinas distance us from the concrete and personal qualities of other human beings.  Daniel Englster writes, “Rather than meeting them (other human beings) on their own terms we subsume them under objectifying categories. ‘The other’s reality becomes data, stuff to be analyzed, studied, interpreted’.” (Engster 2000: 2) Spirituality concerns itself with what is most human and what is most human transcends categorization.  It is disclosed.  “For Scheler, the person is never to be thought of as a Thing or a substance; the person ‘is rather the unity of living-through [Er-lebens] which is immediately experienced in and with our Experiences – not a Thing merely thought of behind and outside of what is immediately Experienced.” (Heidegger 1962: 73)

All of the historical factors with respect to religion and culture are brought to bear in the study of spirituality.  But they are not to bear in such a way as to try to create some kind of meta-spiritual over-system.  Rather the density of particular religions and peoples as they live within their culture and history are respected as given.  The process of inter-religious dialogue and co-operation as Rita Gross correctly notes is not the same as syncretism, a futile attempt to create a new religion by selecting the "best" features of the existing religions. Mutual transformation does not result in new religions or in one universal syncretistic religion, but in the enrichment of the various traditions that results when their members are open to the inspiration provided by resources of others. How much more satisfying is this both intellectually and ethically than mere tolerance or religious ethnocentrism and chauvinism (Gross 1999: 367)!

Traditionally ascetic or mystical theology covered much of what is intended by the term spirituality. Given, the emphasis on community, culture, anthropology, and language, spirituality must broaden its scope to account for the presence of these as well.  The specialty of spirituality can in fact do that by simply allowing these disciplines to “just be” thereby allowing a space whereby the animating and transcendent principle that is present within these disciplines to come into a spiritual presence.  Heidegger used the German term Anwessen Lassen meaning a coming-to-presence as such by simply “letting be” to articulate this notion.  By way of philosophical conception, Heidegger says the German language does not say “there is” but rather “it gives,” es gibt Sein. (Schurmann 2001: 207)  While sein is rendered as being, it can also more accurately perhaps be rendered as “spirit”.  It is this “spirit” that quickens and gives life.  Whether we understand the spirit in the context of the Hebrew ruah or the Greek pneuma, the breath of life permeating and animating all of life is what is meant.  It is not more real than that which discloses it.  As Levinas writes,

The world is what is given to us.  The expression is admirably precise! The given does not to be sure come from us, but we do receive it…The world offers the bountifulness of the terrestrial nourishment to our intentions – including those of Rabelais; the world where youth is happy and restless with desire is the world itself.  It takes form not in an additional quality inhering in objects, but in a destination inscribed in its revelation, in revelation itself, in the light.”(Levinas 1978: 39)


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Weil, S. 1951.  Waiting For God.  New York: Harper & Row Publishers.

Emerging Church Economics

There are too many errors in this book for unsophisticated readers. McLaren’s book has value only to readers who recognize the mistakes but are willing to learn about a position that springs from ideology and a theological framework. For me, the emerging church movement is enough to consider by itself without flawed economics intertwined

Mordecai Kaplan: Rethinking Judaism for the New World

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