Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Booknotes: Some Recent Works in Spirituality

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Booknotes: Some Recent Works in Spirituality

Article excerpt

The Need for Navigation

Why is there so much second-rate stuff out there in "spirituality"? One could analyze the sources of contemporary spiritual hunger for a long time (loss of transcendence in modern culture, over-extension and escapism, yearning for a next stage beyond therapy), but clearly the churches need to take very seriously the possibility that God is, by whatever means, awakening in us all a new desire for communion at the deepest level. The commercial publishing business has rushed in as we know, and the sheer volume of it all is overwhelming and confusing. And worst of all, the time clergy and laity have to spend just figuring out what is really worth reading begins very dangerously to cut into the time we have to read what we've finally picked out, and most importantly, to swallow up the time we might actually have spent praying.

My suggestion is that we impose a rough division of areas on the stuff out there and then use that to permit some comparison of books in the same field and to balance our reading among the different fields. What fields do I have in mind? Of course they overlap, and ideally the best works turn out to "fit" in all the divisions. But just as a crude navigational guide, I'd propose the following map:

A. Historical and Theological Studies. These are, especially for Anglicans, probably the most important works. They can provide the kind of depth and grounding in the great Christian traditions of the spiritual journey that save us all from narrow "techniques" and feebly contemporary perspectives whose superficiality we won't even notice unless we continue to enlarge our experience in the vast polyphonous heritage of Christian spiritual traditions.

B. Practical Studies in Spiritual Direction. In some ways these are the most dangerous works, but they can be enormously helpful. Dangerous because truly godly spiritual directors would never imagine helping others listen to God in their prayer unless the directors are themselves in some regular form of spiritual direction; and some of the books in this field can give one the illusion of readiness to set up shop on one's own. At this point in the history of our church, I cannot imagine any good reason for any of our clergy not to be receiving spiritual direction themselves and looking forward, if the Spirit so calls, to the invitation to help others in the same way. These are the books that will most directly and immediately be of help in that task, though of course those in the first area will be crucial continuing formation reading.

C. Personal Inspiration and Lectio Divina. It goes without saying that works in the first two categories might well, we hope, also happen to be inspiring and conducive to one's own prayer time. Nevertheless, I have found it refreshing and consoling to have sometimes a very different kind of book at hand-something that does not necessarily want to teach me anything directly but which perhaps opens my heart to God or eases my preoccupations or just gives me the sense of a good friend praying along with me. The range of such books is very wide, obviously; as they will be tied to your own character and particular needs at a given period of your life. Perhaps for that reason it is good to look carefully at what you choose for this purpose since there is, not to put too fine a point on it, a whole lot of drivel out there that would like very much for you to buy it for just these personal inspirational purposes.

In what follows, then, I'll just mention some of what have seemed especially helpful to me in each of these fields, noting particularly recent works (both good and not so good) sent to ATR for review. This is the most partial and inadequate of lists, a mere starting point. Perhaps someone would like to undertake the project of a communally annotated bibliography in the various fields of spirituality. What a gift that would be to the church!

Historical and Theological Studies

You can find real liberation bv immersing yourself in a good work in this field. …

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