Monday, September 20, 2010

Recommended Reading: The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God, by James M. Houston

A modern day classic, The Prayer welcomes readers into profound spiritual formation. For James Houston, “prayer” is not simply the act of “praying,” rather it describes the whole of our walk with the Lord. Prayer is not a spiritual discipline—it is the sum of our relationship with the God of all love.

“I used to think that prayer was a spiritual exercise—something that needed to be worked at, like running or vaulting. But I was never any good at sports, and perhaps I would never be any good at prayer either” writes the author. “After years of feeling useless and guilty, I began to realize the truth of a comment made by one of the early fathers of the church, Clement of Alexandria. He said that ‘prayer is keeping company with God.’ This began to give me a new focus on prayer. I began to see prayer more as a friendship than a rigorous discipline. It started to become more of a relationship and less a performance (9)”.

Houston’s thesis is that we experience genuine transformation through healthy relationship with God and with others. In fact, the book was originally published under the title, Transforming Friendship. Friendship with God and friendship with others are inextricably interwoven. “It is precisely the wounds in our relationships that keep many of us from experiencing the life of prayer (52)”. As we experience healing, accepting friendships in our lives, we learn to open up to God. Conversely, the more we encounter the Lord’s unconditional love for us, the more we allow other people to get close.

A leitmotif running throughout the book is “that God calls us to use our Achilles heel, where we limp most, to lead us through our natural weakness or woundedness of personality, to grow spiritually strong (9-10)”. As fallen beings, we all have flaws and we all become wounded in one way or another in life. Instead of trying to cover these imperfections or simply cope with them, God wants to use them. Such vulnerable places inside us are actually the key to profound transformation in our lives, according to the author. In addition, once our woundedness has been healed, it will become the centerpiece of our ministry to others. It is where we have experienced the greatest grace that God extends his lovingkindness to those around us.

Houston brilliantly weaves together our friendship with God, our relationship with others, our prayer for those we are in relationship with, and the eternal relationship among the three Persons of the Trinity. Many gems will be gleaned from the first reading of this book. However, it will likely be the third or fourth time through that the reader begins to grasp the larger tapestry with its many interrelated strands of insight, challenge, theology and practical application. Few books today warrant multiple readings; however, The Prayer offers life-transforming insight each time one returns to study and reflect upon its pages.

James Houston. The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007. ISBN: 07814-44268.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers

Monday, September 13, 2010

What is Spiritual Theology?

Perhaps the strongest term for Christian spirituality is “spiritual theology.” Our lived faith can never be separated from our understanding of God as revealed in his Word. This is what separates true Christian Spirituality from the many other “spiritualities” in circulation today. The term “spiritual theology” is valuable because it seeks to keep together the content of our faith as Christians and the outworking of that faith in our lives.

Traditional Use of the Term

Classically, spiritual theology has been the academic study of Christian formation. It has been divided into two fields: ascetic theology and mystical theology.

Ascetic theology focuses upon much of what we term “discipleship” today. It looks at our training (ask─ôsis), especially in terms of practicing various spiritual disciplines, as practical steps in putting to death our old nature of sin so that we can walk in the freedom of the Spirit.

Building upon that foundation of discipleship, mystical theology looks upon our intimate encounter with God. What we call “experiencing God’s presence in prayer” or “feeling God in worship,” is what Christian mysticism is about. While the word “mystic” has developed a negative connotation in its contemporary usage, in its classical usage it simply emphasizes the heart-felt love for God and the experiential relationship with the Lord to which all believers are called.

Although the term spiritual theology has maintained this traditional, narrower definition since the nineteenth century—and though it was often seen as a subset of systematic theology—the term today often carries a broader connotation. In particular, spiritual theology seeks to integrate our faith with our practice, especially emphasizing the Trinitarian foundation of our Christian faith.

God is a Trinity of Persons: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit

Christian Spirituality, by definition, needs to be Trinitarian. Orthodox Christianity has always worshiped a God who exists eternally as three Persons. God is love (1 John 4:8), and love is of necessity relational. From all eternity the Father and the Son share intimate communion with each other, as seen especially throughout the Gospel of John. By the Holy Spirit, the Godhead invites us to participate in that love relationship.

Our Trinitarian faith shapes our relationship with the Lord. Spiritual formation is essentially relational. God is personal. That personal God invites us into the same love relationship that the Father and Son share (see John 17). For a valuable discussion of Trinitarian theology and spirituality, see Philip Sheldrake’s Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God.

Spiritual theology keeps our Christian formation from becoming simply one more self-improvement program on the market. It ties our practice with our personal relationship with God. Moreover, it emphasizes that relational character of our lives—spiritual growth is lived out in friendships with others and friendship with God.

© 2010 Glenn E. Myers

Selected Bibliography Spiritual Theology and Theological Anthropology
Allen, Diogenes. Spiritual Theology: The Theology of Yesterday for Spiritual help Today. Cambridge/Boston: Cowley Publications, 1997.
Chan, Simon. Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998.
Grenz, Stanley J. The Social God and the Relational Self. Knoxville: Westminster John Knox, 2001.
Houston, James M. The Prayer: Deepening Your Friendship with God. Colorado Springs, CO: David C. Cook, 2007. ISBN: 07814-44268.
McIntosh, Mark A. Mystical Theology: The Integrity of Spirituality and Theology. Malden, MA: Blackwell, 1998. ISBN: 1-55786-907-3.
Sheldrake, Philip. Spirituality and Theology: Christian Living and the Doctrine of God. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 1998. ISBN: 1-5707-5224-9.
Torrance, Alan J. Persons in Communion: Trinitarian Description and Human Participation. Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1996.
Zizioulas, John. Being as Communion: Studies in Personhood and the Church. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1985, 1997. ISBN: 0-8814-10292.
__________. Communion and Otherness: Further Studies in Personhood and the Church. Edited by Paul McPartlan. New York, NY: T&T Clark, 2006. ISBN: 978-0-56703-1488.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Selected Bibliography on the New Monasticism of the Middle Ages

Here are some great works focused on the New Monasticism of the Middle Ages. A great place to begin would be Southern’s paperback, which includes several good chapters on the developments of this time period. Lawrence would be the best single volume on the topic of monasticism, especially the new monasticism. Leclercq helps contemporary Christians appreciate the wonderful spiritual vitality of the men and women in the monasteries, and Grundmann provides an excellent overview of the spiritual renewal movements of the Late Middle Ages.

New Monasticism & Spiritual Movements in the Middle Ages
Bouyer, Louis. The Cistercian Heritage. Translated by Elizabeth Livingstone. Westminster, MD: The Newman Press, 1958.
Casey, Michael. Athirst for God: Spiritual Desire in Bernard of Clairvaux’s Sermons on the Song of Songs. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1988. ISBN: 0-8790-7877-4.
Constable, Giles. The Reformation of the Twelfth Century. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998. ISBN: 0-521-63871-2 or 0-521-30514-4 (1996 hardcover).
Grundmann, Herbert. Religious Movements of the Middle Ages: The Historical Links between Heresy, the Mendicant Orders, and the Women’s Religious Movement in the Twelfth and Thirteenth Century, with the Historical Foundations of German Mysticism. Translated by Steven Rowan. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1961/1995. ISBN: 0-268-01649-6.
Lawrence, C. H. Medieval Monasticism: Forms of Religious Life in Western Europe in the Middle Ages. 3rd ed. Harlow, England: Pearson Education, 2001. ISBN: 0-582-40427-4.
Leclercq, Jean. The Love of Learning and the Desire for God: A Study of Monastic Culture. Translated by Catharine Misrahi. New York: Fordham University Press, 1982. ISBN: 0-8232-0407-3.
Lekai, Louis J. The Cistercians: Ideals and Reality. Kent State University Press, 1977. ISBN: 0-87338-201-3.
Leyser, Henrietta. Hermits and the New Monasticism: A Study of Religious Communities in Western Europe 1000-1150. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984. ISBN: 0-312-36999-9.
McGinn, Bernard. The Flowering of Mysticism: Men and Women in the New Mysticism – 1200-1350. Volume 3 in The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism. New York: Crossroad, 1998. ISBN: 0-8245-1743-1.
Pazzelli, Raffaele. St. Francis and the Third Order: The Franciscan and pre-Franciscan Penitential Movement. Chicago: Franciscan Herald Press, 1989. ISBN: 0-8199-0953-X.
Thoman, Bret. The Road to Peace in Assisi: Following Francis and Clare in the Footsteps of the Lesser Christ. N.p.: Lulu, 2010.

A Few Primary Sources
Francis and Clare: The Complete Works. Translated by Regis Armstrong. In The Classics of Western Spirituality. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1982. ISBN: 0-8091-2446-7.
The Love of God and Spiritual Friendship. Translated and edited by James M. Houston. Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1983. ISBN: 0-88070-017-3.

A Few Reference Books
Jones, Cheslyn, Geoffrey Wainwright and Edward Yarnold, eds. The Study of Spirituality. New York, NY: Oxford, 1986. ISBN: 019-504170-4.
Leclercq, Jean, Francois Vandenbroucke and Louis Bouyer. The Spirituality of the Middle Ages. Volume 2 in A History of Christian Spirituality. New York: Seabury Press, 1968. ISBN: 0-8164-0326-0.
Sheldrake, Philip, ed. The New Westminster Dictionary of Christian Spirituality. Second edition. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2003. ISBN: 0-664-23003-2.
Southern, R. W. Western Society and the Church in the Middle Ages. Pelican History of the Church. London: Penguin, 1970.

2010 © Glenn E. Myers