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The Ecstatic Structure of Human Spirituality

blessing-prayerLast week I posted on What is Spirituality?”. This was my attempt to get a handle on what it might mean to call something “spiritual.” While spirituality is certainly a subjective phenomenon, I believe there is a way of talking about it and analyzing it, to some extent. I said:

Human spirituality is self-transcendence. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond our selves. The true essence of spirituality is to love God with all our heart, soul, strength, and mind; and our neighbor as much as we love our own self. (See Luke 10:27, etc.) There is both a vertical (God-ward) axis and a horizontal (other-ward) axis to this. But, spirituality is always being lifted out of ourselves. Spirituality connects us with God, with the community of faith and with the needs of other people outside the community of faith. These vertical and horizontal axes correspond roughly with the idea of God’s transcendence and God’s immanence. Traditionally, Christian theology has affirmed both God’s transcendence and God’s immanence.

Here is another way of saying it: there is an ecstatic structure to human spirituality. A spiritual experience is something that lifts us beyond ourselves. It may provide us a sense of connection to a higher reality or it may provide us with a sense of connection with other people. Or, it may do both. But, in any case, it lifts us beyond ourselves — outside ourselves.

I realize that this assertion (especially the language of “ecstasy”) is very much open to misinterpretation, so I feel the need to say more about it. (more…)

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What is Spirituality?

Oddly enough, Christians often have a difficult time talking meaningfully about spirituality. It is as if words fail us at this point.

candle-tipWe are at the edge of a mystery. We are talking about the ways of God — and the ways in which humans find connection with God. We are not used to thinking of this as something which is open to analysis and investigation. After all: “The wind blows where it chooses, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” (John 3:8 NRSV).

I certainly do not wish to deny this. But, this does not mean that the experience of human spirituality is beyond discussion or analysis — at least to some degree. Yes, there is a mystery to the way God works. But, truth be told, we are surrounded by mystery continually. there is a mystery to the way the world works. We are often unaware of this — but, still, it is true. There is so much about life and the world that we do not — and apparently cannot — fully understand. But, this does not stop us from talking meaningfully about the things we can understand. (more…)

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