The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West

The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West

The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West

The Story of Christian Spirituality: Two Thousand Years, from East to West

Synopsis

Beautifully illustrated throughout, The Story of Christian Spirituality is a readable and vivid guide to the spiritual riches of one of the world's most influential religions.

Excerpt

What is 'spirituality'? the word 'spirit' comes from the Latin spiritus, whose primary meaning is 'breath'. in this sense it is something physical but invisible: the air we breathe, the odours we smell. But spiritus had an important secondary meaning even in classical times: 'inspiration' (a word that literally means 'breathing in'), perhaps of a poet or a god. So Cicero could speak of people with a 'Sicilian spirit', and Livy of being 'touched by the divine spirit' (spiritu divino tactus). the word 'spirit', then, came to denote those invisible but real qualities which shape the life of a person or community — such as love, courage, peace or truth — and a person's or community's own 'spirit' is their inner identity, or soul, the sum of those invisible but real forces which make them who they are.

The link between 'breath' and 'spirit', between the physical and the incorporeal, is crucial for understanding one of the two great traditions which helped to shape Christian 'spirituality'. This is the Hebrew tradition, supremely manifested in the Bible. the Hebrew word ruach, like the Latin spiritus, means both 'breath' and 'spirit'. So when, in the opening verses of scripture, the writer of Genesis speaks of 'a wind from God' that 'swept over the face of the waters', the word translated 'wind' could as easily be translated 'spirit'. and that is precisely the point. Hebrew knows no absolute distinction between the physical, material world, and a wholly separate 'spiritual' world. the two are inextricably linked. the wind, or spirit, of God works together with the 'word' of God: God speaks ('Let there be light'), and what God says comes to be, is given breath, comes alive. So 'spirituality', in the Hebrew tradition of scripture, is that process by which God seeks continually to work upon, or address, the raw unstable chaos of our lives and experience, and of our world, drawing forth meaning, identity, order and purpose.

This fundamental notion of what is spiritual is further developed in the New Testament, and especially in the letters of the apostle Paul. His famous distinction between 'flesh' and 'spirit' can easily be misunderstood as implying an absolute separation of the physical from the spiritual. But Paul is a Jew; and his thought is rooted in Jewish ideas. By 'flesh' he does not mean what is physical: he means all of life (including religion) seen in a narrowly materialist, this-worldly, me-ccntred perspective. and by 'spirit' he again means all of life (including physical life) seen in the perspective of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ. So 'spirituality' comes to mean something more than simply God's continuing work of creation, though it certainly includes that: it denotes all that is involved in living 'according to the spirit' — a free dependence on grace, a longing for what . . .

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