A welcome to this course on Christian Spirituality. This is a very important topic and I am so glad that you have decided to invest this time with me in the journey. The title more specifically is Dynamics of Christian Spirituality, the Theology of Prayer and the Christian Life. This is the first of ten lectures and I have entitled this one Getting Started. Let’s pray as we begin. Lord, may the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts be pleasing in your sight and nourishing to our needy souls. In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
I am a Canadian and years ago our family enjoyed attending a summer bible conference north of the big city of Toronto, Canada. It was in the exquisite Muskoka District, that means something to Canadians, nestled between a clear lake and rocky ridges covered in pine trees. And the smells of that camp still come to me: bacon grilling in the kitchen, tree gum oozing from the rough bark of those pine trees, used oil splashed on the gravel roads around the campsite to keep the dust down and the little shop, the tuck shop we called it, where bottles of pop or soda hung in rows in a dark tub of cold water. I remember the canvas walls of a hot tent we would sleep in during the summer time and gas fumes from an Evinrude outboard motor and those staring fish we triumphantly carried up from the lake to be cleaned and eaten for supper. But I also remember that the motorboats sat silent on Sundays so that we could take meditative walks in the forest and listen to mesmerizing bible teachers baptize our whole imaginations in the world of Scripture.
A plaque beneath the camp flagpole bore the names of heroic missionary martyrs. I remember how the loud speakers mounted on spindly poles around the grounds would at 6 a.m. sharp begin to crackle with upbeat trumpet music relayed from a record player in the conference hall down the hill. On the heels of that trumpet wake-up call, a voice over the PA system would give a cheery wake-up call inviting one and all to morning prayers. And then remarkably as it seems now, out from the cabins and lodges hidden in the trees, those old saints already dressed and ready for the day would begin heading for the chapel. There was a quality of holiness to it all. The ones who impressed me most were the broken down missionaries who had lost their health in prison camps or through repeated bouts of malaria in jungle locations. They took prayer very seriously, fasting too. They spent a lot of their time in the heavenlys. They were spiritual warriors, the real thing. Their petitions span the globe and their personal needs were few. And when they turned to us young people and spoke a kindly word or a godly admonition we felt their discerning eyes pierce right through our soul. They spoke of entire consecration in a way that made you feel they really new what they were talking about. And their ear was always tilted in an attentive way for the still small voice that guided them. The veil of separation between time and eternity seemed very thin indeed. It seemed a sacred place. But over time, for financial reasons and the changing demands and expectations of Christian guests, that bible conference’s emphasis shifted to more recreation and less spiritual renewal. The buildings were upgraded and the prices to attend rose. Eventually the whole camp was sold off and today it is an exclusive sports camp where rich parents send their kids for summers of parasailing and other elite recreational activities. As much as I long for those good old days, I am aware that we can never step in the same river twice. We cannot restore a cherished memory like that because time moves on. New wine cannot be put in old wineskins as Jesus taught.
Now the basic dynamics of authentic Christian spirituality will always be the same, but their forms and expression will be continually new and different. You know, the Holy Spirit is infinitely creative and we must be open to the fresh and unexpected, though strangely familiar ways he will graciously meet every new generation.
==II. The spiritual yearning of our times==
Now, a word about the spiritual yearning of our times. There is a great deal of interest in spirituality today. Just about everyone it seems is weighing in on the topic and you may have noticed, it is not just the Dalai Lama and the leaders of the other world religions, Hollywood stars, whole food stores, and sports heroes are into it as well. What’s going on? The explanation lies in a serious shortcoming of modernity, and by modernity I mean the modern world, the dominant cultural backdrop to the early 21st century we live in now. The defect of the modern way of life is that it is hopelessly materialistic. Day after day from morning to night the developed societies of this world operate on the assumption that the material world, the world of stuff, is all there is. Our world is thought to operate like a self-sustaining machine, according to fixed laws that can be explained by science and manipulated by technology. The notion of an unseen supernatural dimension beyond this is considered, well, silly, even stupid, the transcendent. If it exists at all is of no real concern to such people, nor is the question of possible life after death. They argue what you see is what you get, period, so enjoy, indulge, be happy. Let’s think about this world view of modernity, the way modern people see reality. Modernity depicts an absolutely empty universe, dark and friendless beyond the fragile bubble of our planet’s atmosphere. It has been skilled at describing what is, but it is at a total loss to propose what ought to be. It can offer no point beyond the material horizon by which we can aim our lives in straight, purposeful lines. It provides no help beyond what we can create for ourselves.
Now, the older religious world view depicted a three-story universe with heaven above and hell beneath. It envisioned a vast expanse of time from purposeful origins in the mind of an intelligent creator designer, through responsible living in the present, through life stretching beyond death even on to eternity. That was the older vision of things.
Modernity has locked that all away and collapsed this vast time-space panorama down to the narrow here and now, to movies, to cell phones, to protected sex in seventy to eighty years at the outside. In country after country it is embracing this restrictive modern world view. Now, for some time skeptical western philosophy and relentless materialism have ignored God and squeezed the remaining glimmers of the transcendent out of our human experience. Modernity is still seductive but notice this, it is failing to satisfy the soul hunger of a growing number of people for our contemporaries in the modern societies. The term “spirit” represents what is transcendent, what defies being reduced to just physical reality alone. You see, the contemporary quest for spirituality is a cry of the human spirit for satisfaction of the deeper needs of creatures with eternity set in their hearts to use a phrase from the Old Testament Book of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 verse 11.
==III. Spirituality and organized religion==
Now a word about spirituality and organized religion. Here is something you may hear a lot in modern societies, “I consider myself a spiritual person, I’m just not into religion.” This is a familiar phrase you will hear today. You see, attitudes toward organized religion have become increasingly negative. People, especially young people, are expressing their feelings with their feet, so to speak. They are walking away from the things they don’t find meaningful. And unfortunately attendance at church services in many western countries, including America, has been on a downward slide for a while now with no sign of turnaround. Religion is viewed as institutional and something that is not healthy.
Spirituality on the other hand is thought to be bigger than doctrines, to dwell in the region of the heart and to be ultimately empowering and helpful for people who get into it. So, religion meaning organized religion is out and spirituality is in. Now, some of this bad press for organized religion may be a result of the world’s hostility to Jesus Christ and his followers. It may be a result of this hostility that has been around since the very beginning of the Christian faith. As the apostle John explained, there is a spirit of falsehood circulating in the world order that predisposes people to react with destain and hostility toward the truth. John speaks of this in 1 John 4 verses 5 and 6. And you will recall that Jesus Christ himself endured unfair slander and warned his disciples that they should expect the same and he said this in Matthew 10 verses 24 and 25. But the real question is whether this explanation fully accounts for the growing destain for organized religion, which in the overwhelming number of cases means Christian churches, at least in the west. Is it possible that organized religion, if we can borrow that negative term for just a moment, has been at least partially responsible for making itself so unpopular?
Let’s be honest, is organized religion very effective at encouraging transforming encounter with God. We look back rather wistfully to the first century when the response of outsiders and seekers who visited the church was – God is really among you— as it said in 1 Corinthians 14 verse 25. To sum up the point, transcendence, a sense of the transcendent, is declining in many contemporary churches. Part of the reason for this is that marketing Jesus is intensely demanding. Selling Jesus takes a lot of energy and we have time for little else. And because we have time for so little else, our souls are becoming hollowed out. A while back we somehow made the fatal mistake of diving into the world, so to speak, without maintaining any transcendental air hose. We were like divers who went down under water without adequate oxygen and this is where we are. Nothing short of a spiritual renewal of the church will draw those who hunger for God back into the locus or unto the embrace of organized Christianity.
==IV. What is spirituality?==
What is spirituality though? You may be asking this question. I like what Gordon Fee says. He said, “Spirituality is that most slippery of words to pin down.” That’s true. But we won’t get very far in this course here unless we take a moment to think ourselves clear on what we mean by this word, spirituality.
1. Generic spirituality: Encountering the transcendent and being personally transformed by it
One of our three daughters is a 21-year-old literature major at university and she is well-connected to pop culture and contemporary values and I get pretty accurate reads on the current thought world by asking her what she thinks. So, I questioned her a while ago. I asked, “What does spirituality mean to you?” She paused for a moment and then responded very carefully. She said, “It is about encountering the transcendent and being changed by it”. Well, I think Sarah hit it right on the head. Spirituality in the general or generic sense involves an encounter with the transcendent and then it involves the positive, beneficial effects of that encounter on a person. In other words it is about establishing a transforming connection to something more, a connection that will shape who we become and how we live.
2. Distinctively Christian Spirituality: Encountering the living God and being renewed in Christ-likeness
Now as Christians we affirm a distinctive version of this general definition. As we see life through the corrective lens of biblical revelation, that transcendent reality of generic spirituality comes into focus for us as the living personal triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and this is as we will see a huge help in clarification and the effects of encountering this God will include growing in Christ’s likeness and participating in the larger purposes of God.
3. Christian Spirituality is Holistic: Living all of life before God
Now, next I want to remind you that Christian spirituality is holistic. Let me explain what I mean. There are two competing conceptions of spirituality that circulate among Christians these days; a narrow one and one I’m calling a holistic one. The narrow version is concerned with experiencing the presence, the voice and consolations of God in a direct right here, right now way. It pursues direct encounter with God’s presence experiences that have been called esoteric moments and points of wonder. Authentic Christianity has always celebrated this possibility of experiencing God in a direct and interactive way, but at the same time it has insisted that there is more to being a Christian than this, and this brings us to the holistic definition of spirituality. Such spirituality is about living all of life before God. In its full sense then, spirituality is synonymous with the Christian life lived with God. It involves more than experiences, although it has a very important place for those, but it also encompasses things like repentance, moral renewal, soul crafting, community building, witness, service and faithfulness to one’s calling in life.
A British woman by the name of Evelyn Underhill offers this holistic description of Christian spirituality and I commend it to you; here is what she says, “A spiritual life is simply a life in which all that we do comes from the center where we are anchored in God. A life soaked through and through by a sense of his reality and claim and then self-given to the great movement of his will.” We should aim for this more holistic understanding of Christian spirituality, but it should be with awareness that those who long to experience God have put their finger on one of the weak spots in the dominant brand of religion being offered by so much of institutional Christianity. You know, everything about Christian spirituality, indeed everything Christianity has ever had to offer is grounded in what Jesus Christ has done for us. The eternal Son revealed the face of God. He showed us what God is like and as a human being he also modeled what we are to become. He gave us a glimpse of his own restored humanity and not only that, by his life, his death and his resurrection and his ongoing ministry on our behalf he makes our own renewal possible. The saving merits and the energizing life of Christ now come to us through the Holy Spirit who is present with us in the world. Presently the Spirit is our point of contact with the triune God; indeed he is our lifeline to God.
4. Christian Spirituality is Spirit-uality: Life Lived in the Presence and Power of the Holy Spirit
Now the roots of the popular word spirituality are actually Christian. In the New Testament the apostle Paul wrote a great deal about the Spirit using the Greek word pneuma. And he wrote about spiritual persons using the Greek word Pneumatikoi. He had something specifically in mind when he did. You see, to Paul’s way of thinking spiritual persons are those who keep in step with the Spirit. The Spirit’s role is crucial for he is the one who transfers or mediates the presence and the character and the power of the ascended Christ to us. The Spirit brings Christ close. So, spirituality is about being attentive to the Spirit’s voice, open to his transforming impulses and empowered by his indwelling presence. The vital connection between the Holy Spirit and Christian spirituality has led New Testament scholar Gordon Fee, whom I mentioned a moment ago, to offer an intriguing suggestion to us all as a reminder to ourselves. He suggests, “Christians should consider spelling spirituality with a capital S and a hyphen so that it is as Spirit-uality. Now I think we can expand our definition of spirituality a bit further. It is this; spirituality is about living all of life before God in the transforming and empowering presence of his Spirit.”
Not long ago a man by the name of Thomas Cahill wrote a book entitled, “How the Irish Saved Civilization”. He happened to be from an Irish background, so he was proud to share this story. But the book itself is a captivating story of how the Christian faith did, during the first one-thousand years of Christian history, after its dynamic launch with the apostles, Christianity eventually fell under the spell and control of the powerful and administratively gifted Romans. Do you know what the outcome of that was? It was the near extinction of the faith and the onset of the dark ages. Things did not look good but in God’s providence, however, Christianity survived and eventually flourished again, but its recovery was not due to the Romans but through the contributions of some obscure but saintly Spirit-filled missionaries from a little island, remote island in fact, off the shore of Europe, Ireland we are speaking of. History has a way of cycling around again and Cahill concludes his book with this prophetic application to today. “The 21st century,” he says “will be spiritual or it will not be.” This remark by Thomas Cahill stimulated my desire to rediscover, if I could, the essential dynamics of Christian spirituality as set forth in the Bible and grasped at the higher points in Christian history. My search started on the little island of Iona, just off the west coast of Scotland where the Celtic Irish missionaries Cahill talked about had long ago established this center for evangelism in pagan territory. Iona Abbey still stands and I was determined one night to make it there for an evening service. It was raining, cold and blowing sideways. The air was full of sharp odors from the sea. This little abbey was about a mile from my lodgings and the night was pitch black and I had forgotten my flashlight, so I groped and stumbled my way past the ruins of an old building, along a winding, narrow road, through a little gate, and finally on to the property of the Abbey itself. The path before me cut diagonally across the premises and past the cemetery where converted pagan kings and warlords have lain beneath their tilting Celtic crosses for one and a half thousand years. The path itself was more like a gently molded trench worn progressively deeper by many feet through the centuries, and around the back of the building was a glimmer of light. Following it I finally pushed into a small, stoned, candlelit room and over the next few minutes other people found the door and quietly shuffled in. Without words they scraped their heavy, wooden chairs across the stone floors, they took seats around the long table and began to shed their rain gear and umbrellas. The room filled with the scent of soaked wool and hot wax from the candles. We celebrated a simple communion service together. The service was full of poetry by early Celtic Christians, words that celebrated nature and grace and the light of dawn. And as I walked back home afterwards, this time holding a bowed candle in my hand, I thought of the words of the prophet Isaiah—The people walking in darkness have seen a great light and those living in the land of deep darkness, a light has dawned and the darkness has never been able to overwhelm it.
Well that winter I also visited historic sites of spiritual significance in what was once ancient Asia Minor, and I participated in some active centers of spiritual practice closer to home. and during those travels and afterward I poured over the Bible and got into the literature of Christian Spirituality. The amount and the depth of this latter material was really daunting. The classics of Western Spirituality Series, to site just one example, has already grown to over one hundred volumes and more are anticipated. Unfinished books soon piled up all around my study and I began to lose control of my project, and the problem was compounded by the fact that many of these writers were advising me not to speed read but to slow down and meditate. Why, if I did that I would never get done. I realized that the best I could do was to survey this vast amount of material and despite the superficial nature of my survey approach, certain strong and persistent themes began to emerge. And in this course, together, I hope to share some of my observations about those themes and their implications for the church today.
==V. God's original design for human beings: We were created in the social, substantive and functional image of God==
Let’s start by thinking about how God designed us, the original design for human beings like you and me. You see, it will help us appreciate the dynamics of Christian spirituality, if first we recall what it means according to the Christian faith to be human and then remember the Bible’s analysis of what is wrong with us now. As we shall see, each dynamic of Christian spirituality addresses an aspect of our sinful human condition and thereby renews a dimension of God’s original design for us. You will remember that among God’s creatures great and small, human beings are uniquely like him. He says so in Genesis chapter 1 verses 26 and 27. This makes human life sacred and it gives us great dignity and worth to be created in the image of God. It is like an old Jewish rabbi once put it—whenever a person walks down the street, we should imagine a cloud of angels out in front shouting, “Make way! Make way! Make way for the image of God!” That is wonderfully true. I want to point out though, in addition this; the image of God in us has more than one dimension. To begin, and remember, God is triune, experiencing within himself an eternal fellowship or communion of the persons of the godhead. So, the image of God is first of all a social likeness. It indicates our ability to reflect in our relations, our relationships, something of the interactive loving, mutuality within the trinity. Remember also that God is holy and perfect, he is wondrous in his moral character, glorious in his essence and power and we have the capacity to reflect this holiness and glory for he has equipped us with qualities and powers that mirror his own including the powers of conscience, virtue, intellectual reflection, creativity and free will. And so we realize that the image of God in us, here is our word, “substantive” as well. God has crowned us with glory and honor and intends for us to be holy and whole as he is. And finally, God is a god who acts, who does things like creating, sustaining what he has created and redeeming the world when it’s got in trouble. God’s image in us therefore has a functional side as well. It involves a capacity for creative work, sovereignty over the rest of creation and participation in God’s own kingdom-building project in the world. You see, the image of God in us is a social likeness, a substantive likeness and a functional likeness. Keep that in mind as we move now to consider how something is wrong with us too.
==VI. What is wrong with us now?==
Our souls have become "curved inward" (Martin Luther), and now suffer from alienation, damage, and meaninglessness.
This is the bad news. Something very serious happened early on in history to mess up our original design. The image of God in us has been seriously defaced though not entirely erased. We are no longer what we once were. We are shadows of our true selves. We long to become fully human again. But in the meantime we suffer because the different aspects of the image of God in us have all been distorted. Our root problem is that our souls have become in Martin Luther’s famous phrase—curved inward. We have become self-absorbed and sealed off from what is outside of us. Here in summary form is the Christian pathology report on the human condition. we were designed for relationship but everyday we experience the opposite reality of alienation, of degrees of separation from God and from others and even from nature itself. Our varied experiences of distance and disconnect create what philosophers describe as the alienated self. And this explains why themes of reconciliation, belonging and community figure so prominently in the Gospel.
As indicated earlier we were also designed to image God’s holiness and wholeness but instead we now live with the realization that we are damaged persons. Sometimes Christians assume that the only significant consequence of sin is guilt. Not true. Sin is also enormously destructive, leaving human beings themselves weakened, bound, wounded and filled with self-loathing and so salvation as the imagery of the Bible makes clear is also about healing, the progressive, rediscovery of our authentic selves and restoration to wholeness. Now finally, part of the anguish of human existence is our frequent inability to find deep meaning in a profound sense of purpose for living. The question “why” haunts us, even more intensely as we age, begin to tire and see our end approaching. It accounts for our longing for significance in our restless running about. You know there is a simplistic kind of advice going around that we should content ourselves with being and not worry about doing. Such advice is always well meant, but nonetheless it is misleading. We were designed to be doers too and derive some fulfillment from our effort. The call to contribute to something that matters, to something bigger than our individual selves is not a duty imposed but in fact an incredible gift. It is part of what makes our lives meaningful. But now we are ready to consider the dynamics of Christian spirituality and to see how they each meet a fundamental human need.
==VII. The three essential dynamics of Christian Spirituality==
1. The Relational: With God and others
Now the first dynamic of Christian spirituality is a relational one. You see, there is a God and there are other people like us, and as humans we share this world with a host of other creatures. The fact is we are not alone, and if we try to live our lives as though we are alone we will only slide downward into dysfunction. As Jewish philosopher and mystic Martin Buber declared—All real living is meeting. I love that. Human existence is essentially relational and many cultures understand this better than the west does. Nonetheless, the impulse of this dynamic, this relational dynamic, move both vertically, upward, and horizontally, sideways. From the first chapters of the Bible where Enoch walked faithfully with God, according to Genesis 5, to Jesus departing assurance that he would be with us always as he promised in Matthew 28. From the beginning with Enoch to Jesus’ coming, the Bible attaches great importance to relationship with God and rightly so. Christians justified by faith in Jesus Christ have an official relationship with God that is established solidly and safely beyond fluctuations in our feelings from time to time, but this relationship is also meant to be experienced and living, a matter of keeping company with God and it can even develop, incredibly enough, into something like friendship with God which is how Jesus described it in John 15 verse 15. You see, left alone in our sinful state we tend toward self-love. We become in one of the Apostle Paul’s most sobering phrases—Lovers of ourselves, 2 Timothy 3:2. But once we open ourselves up to God, ah, then things begin to change. The life of God which is characterized by self-giving love turns out to be, well kind of, infectious, you can catch it. God draws us out of ourselves and into what one author has described as—into the grand objective realm of the not merely me. I love that phrase. God’s love, the apostle Paul recalled in Romans 5 verse 5—God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us. And this new experience creates a general disposition of openness so that our souls now have a capacity to connect with, plus an inclination to embrace rather than to exclude other human beings, so that love for God and love for our neighbor are really two expressions of the same divine impulse. That is the relational dynamic.
2. The transformational: Toward holiness and wholeness
Now, the transformational one. You see, though we exist in relationships and our profoundly affected and influenced by them, we will never become the other person, nor will we ever be absorbed into the other person. Our identity will always survive, that is the first thing. The second is that what we are is not what we ought to be, nor what we once were. This leads us necessarily to the transformational dynamic of Christian spirituality. As we have already noted, simply being in relationship begins our transformation. True friendship with God is always transforming friendship; it never leaves us unchanged. In 2 Corinthians 3 verse 18 the Apostle Paul explains this dynamic by drawing an analogy to Moses on Mount Sinai where you will recall he received the Ten Commandments from God and then came down with them to the children of Israel. Paul says—We all who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory are being transformed into his image with ever increasing glory. You see, it is a case of reflected glory. A great amount of the evil in the world, perhaps most of it, originates, begins within the human spirit and this toxic, poison well must be repaired. The biblical diagnosis of the human condition is that people need radical renewal from the inside out and this explains why classic Christian spirituality took the challenge of the sinful self so seriously, why it practiced self-examination, looking at its own faults honestly, intentionally cultivated virtue and character and embraced where necessary spiritual disciplines. The goal is the transformation of the heart, the transformation of this inner command center of one’s entire being and that kind of change, that kind of change is never easy. But there is another side to this whole story. Sin, whether it is the kind we commit or the kind that is committed against us is never good for us. Its effects are always harmful, disabling, disfiguring, leaving us as injured victims of a crime and in the end the Bible warns sin will always turn bitter and eventually lead to death. The Gospel includes the good news that God is not only our savior but our healer as it says in Exodus 15:26. He does not want us to live permanently with the wounds that sin inflicts. By his grace we are destined to become whole or healthy as well as holy. You will remember that healer is one of the great titles for God in the Old Testament. He is the one who heals his people. Time and time again the prophets promised the people of God that if they would return to him with their whole hearts he would heal their land as he said in 2 Chronicles 7:14. So, we have seen the relational dynamic addressing the alienation sin caused.
3. The vocational dynamic (from Latin, "vocare," to "to call": Discovering purpose and meaning.
We have seen the transformational dynamic addressing the damage that sin has done and now we come in the third place to the vocational dynamic of Christian spirituality. From the inner workings of the heart, Jesus once explained, flows every decision a person makes, every word they say, every action they perform, Jesus explained this in Luke chapter 6. You see, who we are becoming on the inside naturally and inevitably expresses itself in our outward conduct and behavior. The Christian life is about connecting and becoming, but it is also finally here about doing. The third dynamic of true Christian spirituality is the vocational. This word vocational comes from a Latin word vocare, which means to call. My intent in using it here is to underscore the fact that we have a calling upon our lives to contribute to, and to participate in the purposes of God. Authentic Christian spirituality follows the pattern of the original incarnation, it becomes flesh.
Vocation is following the heart of God into the world. The conversion biography of the Apostle Paul is just one of many biblical stories that illustrate and confirm this three-fold pattern of Christian spirituality. On the road to Damascus Saul encountered Christ in a memorable experience that left him temporarily blind. Immediately he started to undergo a major transformation of his whole life and character including a total reorientation of his world view. And following on from this he was eventually commissioned into service as an apostle to the Gentiles and he never to his dying day got over the privilege of it all. Paul’s story and stories of others like him might lead us to conclude that these are sequential steps in Christian spirituality, but they are more than steps, they are all continuing, ongoing realities of the Christian life.
==VIII. A comprehensive definition==
I hope it will become even clearer as we continue that these three dynamics, the relational, the transformational and the vocational are always vitally connected, overlapping and interdependent. It is not possible to choose one and neglect the others. And bringing these three themes together as we conclude this lesson we can say that authentic Christian spirituality or the Christian life, which is the same thing, is a spirit enabled relationship with the triune God that results in openness to others, healing progress toward Christ’s likeness and willing participation in God’s purposes in the world. Now you know that the longings of the human spirit are most fully satisfied in Jesus Christ as we encounter him through his spirit in the world today. From a Christ-centered prospective we can say that the first dynamic, that relational one, is about Christ with us, the second concerns Christ in us and the third is about Christ working through us. By his spirit then Christ is inviting people to come to him, to submit to his transforming influence and then to follow him into the world. The pattern is always the same. True spirituality involves continuous cycles of encounter, change and action.
As we conclude let us go back to those Irish saints we talked about earlier. Thomas Cahill, the author of that book I mentioned, warned that if civilization is to be saved, it will not be by modern copycats of the administratively talented and technologically gifted Romans, it will be by saints. I thought about this on another stormy evening on Iona as I walked alone to a stony bay on the west side of the island. There, some suppose, the daring missionary, Irish missionary Columba and a few other of his wild friends first blew ashore in their fragile coracles, that is the name of their little boats, many centuries ago. I gazed on the scene for some time until I was soaked through and chilled to the bone. I pocketed a little white stone from the beach to remember those strange saints and then turned back toward my lodgings some distance away. As I did, I marveled at their courage. What kind of persons were they? What resources were they accessing? What made them tick? Some words of Patrick, that great Celtic giant, spoken through my mind as I walked on. I remembered that he had said, “I bind until myself today the power of God to hold and lead. Christ be with me. Christ within me. I bind onto myself the name, the strong name of the trinity”. The answer to my question lies buried in this ancient, mystical, militant imagery. Hopefully we have caught a glimpse here of the timeless, spiritual dynamics operating behind the scenes, evocative words.
In the lessons that follow we are going to explore these themes more fully, but before we go there here is a summary of what we have just done. The modern way of life has left the human spirit unsatisfied, though organized religion has been found deficient and wanting, real Spirit-uality remains God’s gracious provision for the soul hunger of every age and every people. In this lesson we have introduced a framework for understanding such spirituality, one that highlights its three essential dynamics. The first, the relational, deals with being in healthy relationship to God and others. The second, the transformational, examines the sanctifying and healing changes God’s spirit works in our souls. And the third, the vocational, considers the new life and mission to which we are called. These three are interconnected and each is essential to life as God intended it to be.