Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Relational Spirituality and Transformation: A Relational Integration Model

Academic journal article Journal of Psychology and Christianity

Relational Spirituality and Transformation: A Relational Integration Model

Article excerpt

A model of relational spirituality and transformation is proposed in summarized fashion based on Shults and Sandage's (2006) Transforming Spirituality: Integrating Theology and Psychology. A methodological approach of "relational integration" is briefly described in which relationality is thematized at the levels of process and content. The model attempts to integrate a developmental emphasis with the maturity goals of spiritual intimacy and intercultural justice. David Schnarch's (1991, 1997, 2002) crucible theory of couples and sex therapy is integrated with contemporary appropriations of contemplative spirituality to describe the intensification dynamics of spiritual transformation.

Have you ever wondered why intense spirituality can seemingly promote both generosity and injustice, both virtue and psychopathology? Why can spirituality be so transformative and relationally-constructive for some people while others within the same spiritual communities cling to forms of spirituality that make them either impervious to positive change or even relationally-destructive?

Deloria (1909/1988), a scholar of Native American history, tells the following story from the 19th century Indian-White relations in his provocatively-titled book, Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto:1

One story concerns a very obnoxious missionary who delighted in scaring the people with tales of hell, eternal fires, and everlasting damnation. This man was very unpopular and people went out of their way to avoid him. But he persisted to contrast heaven and hell as a carrot-and-stick technique of conversion.

Correspondence regarding this issue should be addressed to Steven J. Sandage, Ph.D., Bethel Seminary, Dept. of Marriage and Family Studies, 3949 Bethel Dr., St Paul, MN 55112. The interdisciplinary research for this article was supported by grants from the John Templeton Foundation (#10987) and the Lilly Endowment, Inc. (#2078-000). We thank Gloria Metz for her assistance on the figure.

One Sunday after a particularly fearful description of hell he asked an old chief, the main holdout of the tribe against Christianity, where he wanted to go. The old chief asked the missionary where he was going. And the missionary replied that, of course, he as a missionary of the gospel was going to heaven.

'Then I'll go to hell,' the old chief said, intent on having some peace in the world to come if not in this world. (p. 152)

It is hard for a spiritual message to transcend the relational qualities of the messenger, particularly if that messenger's group is destroying the ecology of the recipient group. To warn a people of hell in the afterlife while simultaneously creating hell on earth for those same people represents a devastating contradiction that can be revealed by a relational approach to spirituality. Our guess is that since you are reading this journal section on "Spirituality and Mental Health," like us, you are intrigued by the complex relationship between pneuma and psyche. But even beyond the worthy goal of developing spiritually-healthy individual psyches, Deloria's story above raises communal and systemic questions about whether a particular form of spirituality promotes greater justice or oppression in relating to the other. One important test of a spirituality is the impact on alterity or the form of relating to others who are different, and our observation is that alterity is an emerging but frequently-neglected theme in our own tradition of evangelical Christian spirituality (Reimer & Dueck, 2000).

The construct of spirituality alone has generated such a massive popular and scholarly literature that the topic can feel overwhelming. Over 100 different definitions of spirituality have emerged in recent scholarly literature (Bregman, 2004). Surprisingly, integrative collaboration between psychologists and theologians in the study of spirituality has been under-developed. …

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