What do we truly know about ourselves?
It is apparent that we are human beings who have hearts, minds and seeking spirits. If we are to be true to ourselves and the call that has been placed in us we must feed each part of our beings. Therefore, we need fellowship and intellectual stimulation; we need to know what we believe and who we believe in and also why we choose to. We need to be doers of the Word and not just hearers. Our faith cannot be simply esoteric it must be practical. We cannot simply feed our bodies but neglect to feed our spirits. To do this we must first employ our intellectual reasoning.
Upon reading the book, Understanding Christian Spirituality by Michael Downey we can surmise that Downey attempts to define religion by adopting the definition of Friedrich von Hugel as stated in von Hugel’s book The Mystical Element of Religion, the book informs us that ‘humans are intrinsically religious’ von Hugel believes that religion has various elements: and these elements are:
Institutional – it brings structure and is made visible (word & sacraments)
Intellectual– thought and reflection which clarify our understanding of the sacred
Mystical – speaking of the dimension of spiritual life as experience
Von Hugel believes that each of these elements must be present and also interactive.
“Because we are not pure spirits in our spiritual quest, we need structure, tradition, and community.” Downey (p25) The repeated theme is that we must engage all of the elements to become balanced in our quest for deeper knowledge.
We Gain Structure from the Institutional Church
The institutional element (church) gives us structure and has been developed over time. Becoming part of the institution brings us into a community that has formalized our religious traditions. The institution provides us with sacred texts and teaches us about other sacred elements of our faith. There we participate in the reception of the Holy Eucharist. Our spirits and our intellects receive nourishment through the institution, as we fellowship and work with others our call to service finds fulfillment.
Our Faith Must be Questioned and Tested
Knowledge and reason are important elements in our search for religious truths. We must never accept without questioning, because that would be to deny our own intellect. (Blind faith is no faith at all.) For us to follow we must first know and believe that what we are being taught is truth. Often this means sifting information and filtering out the banal to find the truths at the centre of our quest for true Christian spirituality.
Mysticism Transcends Knowledge and Reason
The mystical element is the most difficult to describe because it has to be experienced. Mysticism can be described as having spiritual insight. Seeing with the eyes of our spirits. Our faith is often built on the stories of the experiences of others. Many of the saints had visions that we read about and are edified by. It is mystical for us to put our hands together and pray to an unseen God and receive answers to our silent prayers. Mysticism transcends knowledge and reason and can elevate our faith to the level of the divine.
Transubstantiation is the greatest divine and mystical mystery. The bread and the wine are transformed into the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit. We don’t see the transformation physically but we accept and believe in the authenticity of this miraculous spiritual occurrence. “Blessed are those who do not see and yet believe.” John: 20:29
Not All Expressions of Spirituality are Authentic
Downey endeavors to define “spirituality” in general terms as being “ the deep desire of the human heart for personal integration in light of levels of reality not immediately apparent, as well as those experiences, events and efforts which contribute to such integration.” (p26) Also he cautions that not all expressions of spirituality are authentic, and so are unable to lead to personal integration and human flourishing. Therefore he would seem to recommend for us to exercise caution and employ spiritual discernment in our search for authentic spirituality. (again cautioning against faith without reason)
Prayer is Talking to God – Meditation is Hearing from God
In an attempt to define my own journey towards a deeper relationship with Christ and the church, the tools I have found most beneficial are scripture. “Seek Me while I may still be found.” Learning to listen to Jesus. “This is My own Beloved Son, listen to Him.” Searching scriptures to understand the real character of Jesus in an effort to emulate what he lived. I find great comfort when I spend time before the Blessed Sacrament meditating on the amazing gifts that He has given to all His followers such as the Eucharist, the Holy Spirit, enumerable graces and spiritual gifts. I also love to pray and spend one on One time with God. Someone said once that prayer is talking to God and meditation is hearing from God. I like to do both.
We are Body Mind and Spirit
I believe that we are body, mind and spirit and that we have to care for and nourish each part. My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. My mind is the part of me that can understand concepts and search out truths to share with others, the part where I can make the decision to strive for a higher awareness of Christian spirituality; my spirit desires to go deeper, to search for greater truths. My heart is the part that loves God, self and others which seeks a deeper relationship with Jesus through the integration of knowledge, structure and fellowship while also embracing some church tradition.
As Rowan Williams, The Wound of Knowledge: Christian Spirituality from the New Testament to St. John of the Cross (Boston: Cowley, 1991) stated so eloquently:
“And if ‘spirituality’ can be given any coherent meaning, perhaps it is to be understood in terms of this task” each believer making his or her own that engagement with the questioning of the heart of faith which is so evident in the classical documents of Christian belief…The questioning involved here is not our interrogation of the data, but its interrogation of us…And the greatness of the Christian saints lies in their readiness to be questioned, judged, stripped naked, and left speechless by that which lies at the center of their faith.” To which I say “Amen’.
Prayers for You
Hopefully these messages will resonate in your own heart, mind and spirit. God brought you here to find answers, keep on being a Godseeker and seeker of wisdom. I pray blessings on you, your circumstances and your loved ones.
Marion Sinclair-Simpson (c)