Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

From Dis-Bodied Discipleship to Embodied Relationality: Experiential Formation in the Life of Prayer

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

From Dis-Bodied Discipleship to Embodied Relationality: Experiential Formation in the Life of Prayer

Article excerpt

The Context

"Can you put me onto a website with daily thoughts for the day? I want to be able to reflect and begin with a prayer while I'm travelling." This question, recently asked of me by a parishioner about to leave for an extended trip overseas, left me thoughtful. It spoke of a phenomenon that is not limited to New Zealand; it is one that we can all recognize as modern and which has become acceptable. Life is fast and demanding. Time is a luxury, and slow living, as in the culture of slow food, is something rather lost to many of us. Indeed, it has become an unquestioned given-even in the life of prayer, and of being formed in that life. Sites for a quick prayer, a paraphrased psalm to carry us through the day have become a kind of spiritual fix, downed like coffee, consumed on the run; the spiritual fife is mediated by gurus in whom we put our trust without the dynamic of embodied living relationality, letting them tell us how to be spiritual, making up prayers for us so we in turn can use them to talk to God. If prayer is about intimate relationship in and with God, then this phenomenon raises questions about why we would be letting others write the script for our souls, and what has caused our own relationship with Christ to become so estranged.

In the New Zealand context this is compounded by lingering hangovers of colonialism. Although some of us are part of families that have been here for five or more generations, the idea that we in our own church discover sources from our own southern-centered wisdom heritage is often discounted, particularly in those of us from English roots. The belief that contextual theology can have its own voice here is often betrayed by referencing and legitimizing what is being aspired to in the writings and teachings from alien cultures. In terms of being formed in prayerfulness, of living the life and letting it radicalize us into transforming yeast in society, we still prefer to look to the (usually) offshore academic, to a current venerated guru, to the latest website, to anyone and anywhere, except to the humility of the Christ contextualized in us and around us. The issue that is faced by those of us who teach and nurture the inner life with those who seek it is not so much that others from our own upper echelons of the church and the academies, or from other countries and cultures have nothing to offer. They do, and there is no excuse for ignorance when it comes to faith. The issue has to do with a kind of faith-based elitism that causes us to look beyond what is right in front of us, overlooking the gospel truth that the inner life is one of intimate relationship with Christ. In the formation process this relationship is treated as a primary source. When in the course of learning participants begin to express experiences that our fathers and mothers in the tradition have discovered before us, then we turn to them. As far as possible we turn to them in their original writings, keeping with a congruent practice of working with primary sources to learn from them, as opposed to learning about them. When in the context of holy companioning, we are always working with the "primary source" that is the person present with us. The formational process attempts to work consistently at this level.

The Formational Process

From the perspective of the Benedictine solitary life, I find that as a teacher the call to stability in the Rule of Benedict has much to offer and to guide. Benedict does not hold in high regard those who run after other spiritual homes, or live their Christ relationship out in spiritual stopovers; his descriptions of these monks are uncompromising and constitute the entire content of the very first chapter of the Rule. It is very much a spiritual affliction which he knew in his day. We can also recognize the parallels in our own. It is a perilous distraction that turns us to seek and look to anything other than actually staying focused on our Christ relationship. …

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