Spirituality More Easily Found in the World Than in Churches

By Winter, Art | National Catholic Reporter, December 13, 1996 | Go to article overview

Spirituality More Easily Found in the World Than in Churches


Winter, Art, National Catholic Reporter


Spirituality is undergoing a major reversal, one that makes the world and not the church its primary focus, according to Elizabeth A. Dreyer, who explains this profound change in the following interview.

The interview was conducted in St. Louis for NCR by Art Winter, former editor of Praying magazine. Dreyer was teaching a workshop on spirituality at Aquinas Institute in St. Louis.

Currently, Dreyer is James Supple Visiting Scholar of Catholic Studies at Iowa State University in Ames. She taught for 11 years at Washington Theological Union in Silver Spring, Md., and for two years at The Catholic University of America, Washington, D.C. For 1997, she has received the Christian Faith and Life Sabbatical Grant from the Louisville Institute to write a book about the Holy Spirit. Her most recent book is Earth Crammed with Heaven: A Spirituality of Everyday Life (Paulist).

NCR: What do you mean by spirituality?

Dreyer: Definitions are very diverse. You can easily find 30 or 40. I understand spirituality to be the lived dimension of faith. It is what faith looks like in everyday and behaviors.

One can also speak in terms of individual or communal myths by which we live. In this sense, myth is the ultimate story in which a person chooses to locate meaning. For a Christian, this myth centers on a God who sent the Son and the Spirit to save us and be with us.

One's myth provides the reason to get up in the morning. It directs our values and behaviors. Spirituality emerges in the encounter between this wider faith story and one's concrete historical existence.

Many changes are occurring in spirituality, suggesting that some traditional notions no longer work. What parts no longer work?

Dualism is one obvious aspect of our spiritual inheritance that no longer works for us. Dualism refers to the separation of body and spirit, of secular and sacred. In the past, spirituality referred only to those things that were considered explicitly sacred or spiritual, like prayer and liturgy. Today we want spirituality to encompass our entire lives.

Second, many Christians today are not interested in a spirituality calling for a more or less automatic response, or one imposed from above. They want to be actively engaged-understanding, participating and directing the meaning of their lives at a deeper level.

What are areas where spiritual dualism no longer works?

Work and the marketplace are obvious ones. Dualism sees the church as a place of goodness and grace, the world as a place of evil and sin. Therefore, you look for spiritual sustenance in church but never at home or at the office.

Sexuality is another example. Dualism put physical sexuality on the negative side of the equation. As a result, people would not look for God to reveal God's self in their sexual lives.

In the area of sexuality, the results of dualism have been extreme, with abstention becoming the major virtue. A more holistic understanding sees sexuality as a gift of God, bringing joy and creating life. Instead of seeing abstention as the only or primary virtue, one would also find holiness in using sexuality responsibly, in enjoying, it and in celebrating it.

Sexuality would be a place where one could find God?

In a nutshell, yes. This involves noticing sexuality as a gift of beauty from God who made it part of the human condition. Because we now understand sexuality broadly, this has far-reaching effects for spirituality. We now see we do everything as sexual beings. We no longer limit sexuality to genital activity. We even see one's outlook on the world as male or female.

We also see, don't we, that through sexuality we become cocreators with God, passing on: not only our life but

Yes. This also goes beyond the usual way we think of cocreating. If you look at cocreation in a broad sense, we see that God's love always creates, bringing new life as it reaches out to the world and everything in it. …

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